You don’t have to choose between breakfast and dessert with this amazing lemon cheesecake french toast casserole! Assemble this overnight french toast in advance and bake in the morning for an effortless brunch.
I think we can all agree that French toast is basically an excuse to eat dessert for breakfast, yes? This Lemon Cheesecake French Toast Casserole has to be one of my new favorite ways to eat dessert for breakfast! You can expect me to find any excuse to do so in the near future.
Pick a holiday where a make-ahead breakfast is desired, and this should make the short list on your recipe plans. A list short enough to need just one thing, an overnight cheesecake french toast casserole.
Darlings, I wish I could give you some fun backstory for this recipe. I think the last sweet breakfast casserole I posted was the blueberry macadamia french toast. Breakfast was also my birthday cake that year. But this one doesn’t really have a fun story. Honestly, I think we may have just finished the lemon cheesecake I posted recently. I just wanted a reason to enjoy more cheesecake without actually making another cheesecake. This recipe fits the bill and then some!
Basically what I’m saying is, don’t worry about having a specific reason to make this recipe. Just pick a day, call it a celebration, and it will be as soon as you take the first bite!
What I really love about this lemon cheesecake french toast casserole is how easy it is to assemble. I use a store-bought thick-sliced brioche loaf, then mix the cheesecake ingredients and custard ingredients, pour into the pan, and let it sit overnight. The overnight soak isn’t exactly a requirement, but you’ll get a better texture if you let the bread really soak up the liquid ingredients for at least an hour.
If you’re making this for a holiday breakfast – say Mother’s Day or Christmas – preparing the casserole in advance keeps you out of the kitchen when you’d rather be with family. If your people aren’t early risers like mine, maybe even sleeping in?
Just know that the best results come if you prepare the casserole the evening before. You don’t want it soaking too long so it gets mushy. I haven’t had this happen yet though, and have made these casseroles as early before dinner the night before baking with no issue.
I think the key is to make sure you choose the right bread. You don’t want anything too light, and nothing with too open a crumb. A brioche works well here because – as a bread made with butter and eggs – the dough has a good amount of elasticity and the structure to hold up in liquid. Challah also works well if you can’t find brioche.
Slightly stale bread will also work better than fresh bread. But if your house is like mine, there’s never a loaf of “forgotten” bread to be found. So when I make a french toast casserole, I buy bread for it and warn everyone in the house to stay away!
There are two ways to dry out your bread so it’s at its best for use in a french toast casserole. One is to lay all your bread slices on a baking sheet the morning of the day you plan to assemble. Let them sit out all day and dry.
Otherwise, you can do what I usually do and use the oven. I cut my bread into cubes while I preheat the oven to 300 F. Arrange all the cubes on 1-2 lined baking sheets in as close to a single layer as possible. Place the baking sheets of bread in the oven for 7-10 minutes until the bread has dried a bit. Not so long that I’ve made croutons, but just enough for a little dryness on the surface of each cube. A little dryness means more room for the bread to soak up the delicious lemon cheesecake goodness in our french toast casserole.
What if you forget to dry out your bread? It’s okay. I’ve done that too and the casserole still turns out delicious. Just because this is a special occasion breakfast recipe doesn’t mean it has to be complicated! The best thing about it is that anyone can make it!
When you assemble your casserole in the pan, use the sandwich trick I demonstrate in the assembly video. By smearing your cheesecake filling between two slices of bread before cutting into cubes, every bite gets cheesecake and french toast! This method is also far less messy than trying to dollop and swirl.
When it’s time to serve, top your casserole with a light dusting of powdered sugar and top with a drizzle of syrup – if desired. The Godfather ate leftovers for lunch 2 days in a row and didn’t bother with the syrup. He liked it plain. I like to serve some fresh berries on the side for color and to add a fresh element to the meal.
A simple, yet easy breakfast menu featuring this casserole would be the lemon french toast cheesecake casserole, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs (made in advance), and your breakfast beverage of choice. It’s simple, filling, and with some fresh flowers on the table, makes a lovely and welcoming presentation. Of course, the smell alone will bring everyone running to the table!
I hope you enjoy this cheesecake french toast casserole recipe, darlings!
- 16 oz cream cheese
- zest from 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 lb loaf of bread (use a thick-sliced brioche type bread)
- 2 cups of milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 5 large eggs
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- zest from 1 lemon
- 2 T lemon juice
- Whip the cream cheese and lemon zest, then scrape the bowl and whip in the rest of the ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.
- Take the slices of bread and make "cheesecake sandwiches" with the filling. Cut the sandwiches into cubes. You won't use all the filling.
- Spray a casserole pan with nonstick spray. Put the cubes in your prepared 9x13" dish.
- Whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Pour over the bread cubes evenly. Dot the remaining cheesecake mixture over the casserole. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, remove the casserole from the refrigerator while you preheat your oven to 350 F. Bake for 50-60 minutes until the center is cooked. Check at about the 45-minute mark and loosely tent with aluminum to prevent excess browning if needed.
- Enjoy warm dusted with powdered sugar (for looks) and maple syrup (optional - we did the first time and didn't bother when we ate leftovers).