This vegan berry French toast casserole is a perfect illustration of the timeless cooking rule that simpler is better.
I learn this again and again and again in my life as a home cook. Sure, there are those moments when an extra step or two, a longer process, a specialty ingredient, or an added seasoning really do make a meal measurably better. But those instances are fewer and farther between than the times when simple combinations of everyday food, thoughtfully put together, add up to something that’s just right. And all the better for being straightforward.
There are many ways to replace egg in vegan baking, which means roughly an equal number of ways to make vegan French toast. When I first tested this recipe, last weekend, I used a mixture of cornstarch and chickpea flour that’s based on what I used for the vegan French toast in Power Plates.
Funnily enough, what worked for that recipe—which, in fairness, isn’t a casserole—didn’t really work this time. My casserole ended up gummy, with that slightly gelatinous texture that can happen with cornstarch. So then I tried a version with arrowroot and with nutritional yeast, which is sometimes used in vegan French toast for eggy taste. It’s a good idea, and it works in tofu scramble, but it gave my casserole too much savory flavor, even with a small amount.
Finally, I decided to use a mixture that felt intuitive to me, but almost suspiciously simple: non-dairy milk, flax egg for binding, cashew butter for richness. And, lo and behold, it worked beautifully.
So beautifully, in fact, that this is now going to be one of my go-to, make-ahead breakfasts. Baked oatmeal is lovely, and I’m still making plenty of that (now with summery fruits!), but sometimes a girl craves change.
In spite of the DI craziness, I’ve still been baking bread every weekend, and I often have a half loaf of sourdough or country bread lying around. This is a perfect way to use it up once it’s gotten a bit dry, to employ the whole loaf over the course of a week rather than freezing half, and to mix up my morning meals.
As far as type of bread goes, I’d recommend a Pullman white, a French country style loaf, a peasant bread (like Alexandra’s loaves), or a round sourdough boule. A white whole wheat or wheat boule will work, too, but I think the best texture for this recipe is a bread that’s more white than wheat, or a more a delicate wheat bread. Save the super seedy, dense, and sprouted loaves for toast ? If you’ve got a gluten free bread that’s similar to sourdough that you love, by all means, use it.
Bread aside, this recipe can be modified to fit what you have. I recommend almond or cashew butter, but if you have sunflower seed or pumpkin seed butter, those would both work. Or feel free to throw a heaping 1//3 cup cashews into the blender instead. Any non-dairy milk is fine, and I’ve tested the recipe with both maple syrup and whole, pitted medjool dates. They both work, though I preferred the version with dates for that magical, caramel-like flavor.
And finally, you can use blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries in place of strawberries, if that’s what’s local or your preference. I’ll likely try the casserole with both peaches and apples at some point.
Without further ado, the recipe.
- 1 small (14-16 ounces) boule French style country bread, pullman white, sourdough, or vegan challah, cut into large cubes (or half of a 2-lb loaf)
- 1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries, or another berry/fruit of choice
- 2 1/4 cups non-dairy milk of choice
- 1/4 cup cashew or almond butter (substitute another nut/seed butter or a heaping 1/3 cups raw cashews if you have a powerful blender)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/3 cup maple syrup or 6 pitted, medjool dates
- 2 tablespoons ground flax meal
Preheat your oven to 350F and lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Place your cubed bread and chopped strawberries into the baking dish.
Blend the non-dairy milk, cashew butter, salt, cinnamon, syrup or dates, and flax meal in a blender till smooth. Pour the this mixture over the bread and berries. Allow the bread to soak up the liquid for at least 30 minutes. You can also prep the casserole the night before breakfast, cover it, and let it sit in the fridge overnight.
Bake the casserole for 45-55 minutes, or until the top is golden and the bread cubes are getting a little brown and crispy at the edges. (Check the casserole at 35 minutes, and if it's browning too quickly, you can cover it with foil and continue baking for 15 more minutes or so.) Allow the casserole to cool for at least 15-20 minutes before serving.
A little drizzle of maple syrup doesn’t hurt, if you’re hankering for something especially sweet.
And that’s the lovely thing about this breakfast. Just like the lasagna and enchilada casserole that I made recently, it feels special, like a treat. It’s not overtly eggy, but it has a creaminess that feels custardy for sure. It turns my portable, on-the-go, rushed weekday breakfasts into a Sunday-brunch-worthy special occasion. The sweetness here goes beyond maple syrup or dates; it’s been a sweet and comforting surprise to find the leftovers in my fridge every morning during an otherwise rocky week or two. I hope you’ll feel the same way about the dish, whether things are rocky or smooth sailing.
Speaking of that, thank you for kind responses to this rough patch. They mean so much. I’ll see you back here soon.