This pumpkin French toast casserole combines a few of the season’s best baking ingredients like pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and pecans. Pour a smooth & thick pumpkin custard mixture over cubes of challah bread (or your desired loaf), and then top with a brown sugar pecan crumb topping. This unforgettable dish hits the sweet spot in the morning and you can prep it the night before, so it’s convenient for Thanksgiving brunch or any busy fall morning.
The fall baking season is here and we’re making quite the indulgent breakfast! Or should we say breakfast-style dessert? Because, truly, French toast casserole is dessert that we eat when we wake up. Good morning!
Details About Overnight Pumpkin French Toast Casserole
- Flavor: Each serving of today’s pumpkin French toast casserole tastes like a pumpkin cinnamon roll with maple syrup on top. And you didn’t even have to mess with yeast (if you use store-bought bread!). Though I have a soft spot for this blueberry French toast casserole, these warm spice, pecan, and pumpkin flavors are especially satisfying and I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it all too.
- Texture: If you crave texture, you’ll fall in love with each sweet and spiced bite of this bread pudding-like breakfast. As instructed in the recipe below, if you let the bread get a little stale before assembling the casserole, it will absorb more of the pumpkin custard. This means every bite will be thick, soft, and dense rather than flimsy, wet, and soggy. Makes a big texture difference! It’s also important to choose quality bread and my recommendations are in the next section.
- Ease: If you’ve never made French toast casserole before, you’ll be delighted to read that the process is very, very simple. In fact, choosing which loaf of bread to use may be the hardest part of the recipe! You don’t have to stand over the stove cooking each individual serving– rather, everything comes together in a casserole dish and you can prep it all the night before. (French toast casserole tastes better if it takes a nap before baking. How convenient because you’ll be sleeping too!)
Best Bread to Use for Pumpkin French Toast Casserole
Start With Some Great Bread. Bread is the main ingredient in any baked french toast casserole, so don’t skimp here. Flimsy sliced white bread won’t do the casserole any favors because it’s unable to soak up excess moisture from the custard– the entire dish will taste flat, soggy, and wet. I recommend sturdy flavorful bread like challah bread, French bread, brioche, or even this homemade artisan bread. Challah bread is my #1 recommendation and I usually pick up a loaf from a local bakery. Feel free to use homemade or store-bought.
- Can I Use Sourdough Bread? Yes. Sourdough bread is wonderfully sturdy and flavorful, so it’s an excellent choice for pumpkin French toast casserole.
Somewhat Stale Bread. When you have the quality bread you need, let it sit out for a few hours to get a little stale. Like my herbed sausage and apple stuffing or everything bagel breakfast casserole, French toast casserole is best when the bread is somewhat stale. Slice and cut the bread into 1-inch cubes, then let it sit out uncovered for a few hours or up to 1 day. The less moisture in the bread, the more pumpkin custard it can soak up!
More Success Tips for Making the Best Pumpkin French Toast Casserole
- Perfect Pumpkin Custard. The fabulously rich and spiced custard comes together with a whisk, mixing bowl, and a few basic ingredients. When testing this recipe, I used a mix of milk and heavy cream (because I love that in pumpkin pie), but the casserole ended up too thick and heavy. You can use lower fat or nondairy milk if needed, but I recommend whole milk for the best taste and texture.
- Let It Soak. Compared to regular French toast where slices of bread take a quick dip before cooking, baked French toast requires a longer soaking time. In fact, it gets better with age! The more the bread soaks up the custard, the less time the casserole takes to bake (check at 45 minutes as instructed below) and the less soggy the casserole tastes. I recommend at least 3 hours and up to 1 day in the refrigerator.
- Prepare Crumb Topping in Advance & Top Right Before Baking. Prepare the brown sugar pecan topping in advance so it can also chill in the refrigerator. Remember, crumb toppings are butter heavy which means they’ll melt quickly in the oven. The colder the crumb topping is, the less likely it will melt down and disappear in the casserole. To prevent it from getting soggy, sprinkle the crumb topping on top right before baking. The crumb topping requires the only special tool you need for this recipe: a pastry cutter. (In a pinch, use 2 forks or your hands.) If you love the crumb topping here, try this sweet potato casserole with pecan topping next.
Can I Make Pumpkin French Toast Casserole in a Slow Cooker?
Yes, you can make pumpkin french toast casserole in your slow cooker but keep in mind that when cooked in the slow cooker, the bread doesn’t have quite as much texture compared to baking in the oven. See specific slow cooker instructions in the recipe notes below. French toast casserole is done when center appears set and is no longer runny.
Add Cream Cheese!
If you love pumpkin and cream cheese together (think pumpkin cream cheese muffins, pumpkin bars, and pumpkin cake), you’ll enjoy a cream cheese version of this recipe. In the pictured casserole below, I added dollops of sweetened vanilla cream cheese between layers of bread. It’s the same exact process I use for baked cream cheese French toast casserole and I include those instructions in the recipe notes below. It’s all very easy and results in an even richer breakfast (ahem, dessert) dish.
PS: This has been added to my new recipe category Breakfast Casserole Recipes
More Fall Breakfast Recipes
Start this overnight pumpkin French toast casserole ahead of time so you can wake up and bake a deliciously spiced fall breakfast or brunch.
- 1 (12-14 ounce) loaf french bread, sourdough bread, or challah*
- 1 cup (227g) pumpkin puree
- 3/4 cup (150g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 2 and 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice*
- 6 large eggs
- 2 and 1/3 cups (560ml) whole milk
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup (69g) packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (41g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 3/4 cup (100g) roughly chopped pecans*
- for serving: pure maple syrup
- Slice and cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Let the cubed bread sit out uncovered for a few hours or up to 1 day. (If you don’t have enough time, see Bread note below.)
- Grease a 9×13 inch (or any 3.5-4 quart) baking dish or spray with nonstick spray. Spread cubes of bread in the dish.
- Whisk pumpkin, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, eggs, milk, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Pour evenly over bread.
- Cover the pan tightly and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. This gives the bread a chance to soak up the pumpkin custard and is a key step in this recipe.
- Make and refrigerate the crumb topping too: Mix the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together. Add the cold butter and using a pastry cutter or fork, cut butter into the brown sugar mixture until pea-size crumbles form. You can also use your hands to mix it together. Stir in the pecans. Cover and refrigerate (separately, do not add to soaking casserole) until ready to use in step 7. Can be refrigerated for just 15 minutes or up to 1 day. The colder it is, the less likely it will sink down and get lost in the casserole.
- Remove casserole the refrigerator and preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over casserole and bake uncovered for 20 minutes, and then cover with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 25-35 minutes or until center appears set and is no longer runny. The total time this casserole takes is 45-55 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving. Casserole deflates slightly as it cools. Feel free to drizzle maple syrup on top of entire casserole or on individual servings.
- Cover leftovers tightly and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: You can prepare the casserole up to 1 day in advance before adding the crumb topping, see step 4. You can prepare the crumb topping separately 1 day in advance, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator. Sprinkle over the soaked bread right before baking. For freezing, prepare the recipe through step 3 and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, make the crumb topping, sprinkle on top, and then bake the casserole as instructed. You can also freeze the leftover baked and cooled casserole for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, then reheat to your liking in the microwave or cover and bake in a 300°F (149°C) until warm throughout, at least 20 minutes.
- Bread: Crusty, somewhat stale bread is best for French toast casseroles. When all is cut into cubes, you’ll have around 12 cups (slightly more or less is fine). If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to let the bread sit out as instructed in step 1, spread the cubes in a single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 300°F (149°C) oven for 10 minutes.
- Pumpkin Pie Spice: If you do not have pumpkin pie spice, use 1/2 teaspoon EACH: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground ginger, and ground allspice.
- Milk: Whole milk is best because it produces a rich casserole that isn’t too heavy. You can use lower fat or nondairy milks in a pinch. Half-and-half could work, but casserole will be quite heavy.
- Slow Cooker: Keep in mind that when cooked in the slow cooker, the casserole doesn’t have quite as much texture compared to baking in the oven. Step 1 is especially important if you are using the slow cooker. Instructions: Follow step 1. In step 2, grease your slow cooker insert and spread cubes of bread inside. Follow steps 3, 4, and 5. Let slow cooker insert completely come to room temperature, and then sprinkle crumb topping over soaked bread. Place slow cooker insert into the base, cover with lid, and cook on high for 2.5-3.5 hours, or on low for 4-5 hours. Casserole is done when center appears set and is no longer runny.
- Individual Cups/Muffin Pan: We haven’t tested this option, but let us know if you try it!
- Half Recipe: This recipe can easily be halved in a 9-inch square baking pan. The total bake time will be shorter, around 30-35 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil after 15 minutes of baking.
- Nut Free: Leave out the pecans if needed.
- Cream Cheese Version: Follow step 1 above. Beat 8 ounces (224g) brick-style cream cheese that’s softened to room temperature, 2 Tablespoons (15g) confectioners’ sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract together until smooth. In step 2, layer half of the bread into greased casserole dish. Drop spoonfuls of cream cheese mixture all over the bread. Top with remaining bread. Continue with step 3 above.