Baked Challah French Toast Loaf with Cinnamon Bun Filling (Faith Kramer)
Baked Challah French Toast Loaf with Cinnamon Bun Filling (Faith Kramer)

Turn a loaf of challah into a striking New Year’s Day brunch

This recipe for Baked Challah French Toast Loaf with Cinnamon Bun Filling is perfect for a New Year’s Day brunch — or for any Sunday brunch.

It’s a whole loaf of challah stuffed with a spicy-sweet cinnamon mix, soaked in custard and then baked. I like to serve it with a drizzle custard on top, but the loaf is just as impressive-looking (and tasty) without it. It’s a long recipe, but there are make-ahead options.


Baked Challah French Toast Loaf with Cinnamon Bun Filling

Serves 6 to 8

  • Cinnamon bun filling (see below)
  • French toast custard (see below)
  • 1 lb. loaf unsliced, braided challah (see note)
  • 1 Tbs. butter, plus additional to grease pan
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. powdered sugar
  • ½ to 1 cup fresh berries
  • Maple syrup for serving, optional

Have ready the cinnamon bun filling and French toast custard (see below). Slice challah vertically into 12 equal slices but do not cut down to the base; leave the last ¼ inch to ½ inch uncut. (Place a chopstick on each side of the challah and use as slicing guide to prevent cutting through bottom.) Spread cinnamon filling between the cut slices. Insert 4 bamboo skewers horizontally (two from each end, about mid-loaf). Leave the last ½ inch exposed to provide “handles” for turning the challah in custard.

Pour the French toast custard into a container that holds the challah snugly. Place challah in a dish. Spoon custard on top to cover. Let soak for at least 1 hour or, preferably, 2 to 3 hours (or overnight covered in the refrigerator; let come to room temperature before proceeding). Flip the loaf periodically, spooning custard on exposed side. Bread should absorb much of the custard and seem saturated.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease large baking dish with butter. Place challah in baking dish, reserving any unused custard. Cut 1 Tbs. butter in small pieces, dot across top of loaf. Place in oven.

Remove any large crumbs from custard. Set aside 2 to 3 Tbs. of custard to baste loaf after it has baked for 20 minutes. Brush on and then bake another 20 to 30 minutes until heated through and cinnamon filling is hot. Rest in pan for 10 to 20 minutes.

While the loaf bakes, make pouring custard (optional) by placing remaining soaking custard in small pan over low flame; stir constantly until thick but still pourable. (If mixture curdles, use spoon to press custard through strainer before using. Discard solids).

Use 2 spatulas to remove challah from pan. Place on platter. Remove skewers. Drizzle with pourable custard (optional). Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Decorate platter with berries. Cut slices apart and serve with maple syrup.

Cinnamon bun filling: Use fork to mash ½ cup softened, unsalted butter with 2 Tbs. cinnamon, ⅛ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. vanilla and ½ cup brown sugar. Stir in 1 Tbs. milk, adding more milk as needed, just until the mixture is spreadable. Can be made in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.

French toast custard: Beat 4 large eggs. Stir in 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk, 2 cups milk, 1 tsp. vanilla, ⅛ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. cinnamon and ¼ tsp. grated nutmeg. Mix until well combined.

Note: Day-old challah is best. Do not use a round challah.

To make ahead: Cool cooked challah in pan. Remove with spatulas. Wrap well in foil. Refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature. Heat in foil in 250-degree oven until heated through. Reheat pouring custard (if using). Remove challah from foil. Place on platter. Drizzle with custard. Garnish as above.

Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. She blogs about her food at clickblogappetit.com. Contact Faith at clickblogappetit@gmail.com.