Don’t you wish you could eat cherries all year round?
Unfortunately, the season for juicy, sweet Northwest cherries is a short one, lasting only from June until August. But fortunately, cherries freeze exceptionally well.
The good people who grow these cherries (at least 2,100 farmers throughout the Northwest) produce plenty of fruit during the short season for both eating fresh and to freeze, so don't hold back! Now is the time to stock up so you have plenty for later.
To freeze your own sweet cherries, just rinse and drain four to five pounds of cherries and spread them on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Pit them now to save time later.
Freeze the cherries overnight on the baking sheet or until firm, and then pack them into freezer bags or containers. Squeeze out excess air or pack tightly to remove as much air as possible. This helps keep the cherries protected from freezer burn.
Add these frozen cherries to smoothies, hot oatmeal, or turnovers throughout the year – or save them for a special treat, like this Baked Cherry French Toast Casserole!
Let's talk about this casserole for a minute. It's a riff on a recipe that we turned it into an easy breakfast casserole. It's layered with sweet cherries and topped with a crunchy mix of cinnamon, sugar, and sliced almonds. Serve it with an easy cherry sauce spooned over top.
You can assemble and bake the casserole right away, or you can put it all together the night before and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, pop the casserole in the oven while you fry the bacon and set the table for breakfast.
This French toast casserole would be such a fabulous treat on a lazy weekend morning, or over the holidays when the house is full of guests. Really, can it get much better?
Baked Cherry French Toast Casserole
- For the casserole:
- Butter (for the baking dish)
- 6 large eggs
- 1 3/4 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup honey
- Grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1-pound loaf good quality, sturdy bread (such as French Pullman, sourdough, or ciabatta), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 2 cups (8 ounces) frozen pitted dark cherries, cut in half
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- For the cherry sauce:
- 2 cups (8 ounces) frozen pitted dark cherries (left whole)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons water
Preheat the oven:
and prepare the pan: Set an oven rack in the middle position. (If making this casserole ahead, wait to heat the oven until you're ready to bake; see Step 3.)
Preheat the oven to 350oF. Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish.
Assemble the casserole:
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, honey, lemon zest, cinnamon, almond extract or vanilla, and salt until well combined. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat them.
Transfer half of the cubes to the baking dish. Distribute the halved cherries over the bread. Top with the remaining bread cubes. Pour excess egg mixture over the top if there is any. Gently press the bread down into the egg mixture with the flat of one hand.
Let the casserole rest:
Set the casserole aside for about 20 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the egg mixture. Before baking, gently press the bread into the custard one more time.
Alternatively, the casserole can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. Preheat the oven as directed in step 1 before baking.
Make the topping:
In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter, sugar, cinnamon and almonds for the topping. Spoon the mixture evenly over the casserole just before baking.
Bake the casserole:
Set the casserole on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the top is golden and crunchy. (Add a few extra minutes if the casserole was refrigerated before baking.)
While the casserole bakes, make the cherry sauce:
In a medium saucepan, stir together the cherries, sugar, and orange juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.
In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch with the water until smooth. Add to the cherries and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, or until the sauce thickens. Serve warm or cold.
With a large spoon, scoop a serving of the French toast into a shallow bowl. Surround with the sauce and enjoy.