Adapted from Northwest Cherry Growers
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
1 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.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 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.)
6 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.
7 To serve: With a large spoon, scoop a serving of the French toast into a shallow bowl. Surround with the sauce and enjoy.