Throughout the years, my feelings regarding Valentine’s Day have run the gamut. In elementary school, I loved it: I relished getting to have a party during school hours, exchanging cards with classmates, and experiencing the general merriment sugar rush. But the parties ended by the time I got to middle school, and by high school, I dreaded Valentine’s Day, when it became a painful reminder of my perpetual singleness, as I watched the never-ending parade of giggling girls flouncing around with over-the-top, sappy gifts from their boyfriends and/or secret admirers. In college, I was immersed in my studies and generally couldn’t have cared less—except for the year I had to clear out of the apartment so that my roommate could enjoy a romantic dinner with her boyfriend…and the next morning I found two lobster carcasses in the kitchen trash, creating a smell so offensive that I’m pretty sure it could have constituted a crime against humanity.
These days, I find Valentine’s Day a pleasant enough affair, provided that it doesn’t bring with it expectations of grand gestures or exorbitant expenditures. One sure-fire way to keep costs down is to make a special meal at home, and since Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, it’s the perfect time to whip up a decadent brunch! This cherry pie French toast casserole will make everyone at the table (and their taste buds) feel exceptionally loved—and it feeds a crowd, so invite your family and friends to join in! I’m a firm believer that Valentine’s Day isn’t just for couples; it’s a fun opportunity to do nice things or make little treats for all the loved ones in your life.
When I first drafted the recipe for this cherry pie French toast casserole, I fully expected it to turn out well, but the finished product surpassed my expectations like whoa. The challah makes for a delightfully fluffy and springy texture to the casserole base, and dollops of cherry pie filling create pockets of juicy sweetness throughout.
Don’t you kind of want to dive head first into that pillowy-soft challah?!
To top things off, a sprinkling of cinnamon almond streusel provides a buttery crunch!
The smell alone is enough to conjure up that cozy feeling of a leisurely weekend day spent at home without a care in the world. As for the taste, well…conversation while we were eating it was pretty much limited to “Oh man, this is SO good,” “Mmmmm,” and “Wow, this is amazing!” So if you’re looking for a way to make Valentine’s Day memorable from start to finish, this cherry pie French toast casserole has got the morning covered!
Where do you fall on the spectrum of feelings regarding Valentine’s Day?
- 3 cups tart cherries, pitted (fresh or frozen)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 loaf challah (1 pound), cut into cubes or torn into chunks
- 8 eggs
- 3 cups milk (non-dairy is fine)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine (non-dairy is fine), chilled and cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and ground cinnamon. Mix the dry ingredients together with the pitted cherries. Heat the cherries in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat until the white coating of sugar and cornstarch has turned completely translucent and small bubbles are forming in the liquid. Continue cooking until the sauce has thickened (you want it to be about the same consistency as canned pie filling). Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13 pan. Put the bread chunks in the pan. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the milk, sugar, and cinnamon. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread chunks.
- Spoon dollops of the cherry pie filling in between the bread chunks.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients until the largest pieces are no bigger than the size of peas. Stir in the sliced almonds and sprinkle the mixture on top of the bread chunks.
- Bake for 40-50 minutes, depending on the consistency you prefer: 40 minutes for a softer/wetter texture, up to 50 minutes for a firmer texture.
- The casserole can be assembled in advance, covered, and refrigerated overnight. I recommend taking the casserole out of the refrigerator while the oven is preheating. You may also need to bake the casserole a few minutes longer, since it is going into the oven cold rather than at room temperature.
- If you are using frozen cherries, you do not need to thaw them first. You can make the cherry pie filling ahead of time, in order to speed up the prep time in the morning.
- You can also substitute canned pie filling (approximately 1 1/2 cups) if you can’t find fresh or frozen tart cherries. If there is more than 1 1/2 cups in the can, just go ahead and throw in the whole thing—no one is going to complain about too many cherries! If you use canned pie filling, I recommend that you still stir in 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon almond extract.
- Casserole recipe adapted from The Casserole Queens Cookbook.
- Pie filling recipe adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.
- Streusel topping recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman.