Make-ahead instructions: Assemble the casserole through Step 4, cover well, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, uncover, drizzle the casserole with the topping, and bake. Baking time will be slightly longer.
This casserole reheats well, though the chunks of bread on the top will gradually lose some crunch. The best way to reheat it is to bake it in the oven at 350F for 10 to 15 minutes to warm through and re-crisp the top.
For the casserole:
- 1 large loaf good-quality French loaf, sourdough, ciabatta, or challah (enough to yield 10 cups of chunks of bread)
- 1/2 cup (45g) chopped pecans
- 5 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- Zest from one medium orange (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the topping:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons (40g) dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
Optional toppings for serving:
- Dried cranberries
- Powdered sugar
- Maple syrup
1 Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Place an oven rack in the center position.
2 Slice the bread into 1-inch slices and then cut them into 1-inch cubes. You can also tear the bread apart with your hands. Leave the crusts on.
3 Layer the bread and pecans in a baking dish: Lightly grease a 2-quart (if you want thicker slices) or 3-quart baking dish (if you want thinner slices) with cooking spray or butter. Add enough bread cubes to cover the bottom. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of pecans on top. Continue layering the bread chunks and pecans.
4 Prepare and add the custard: In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together. Add the milk, sugar, orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and salt, and mix well. Pour the egg and milk mixture evenly over all the bread chunks. (I found it easier to pour the mixture into a large measuring cup with a spout first before pouring the mixture over the bread.)
At this point, the casserole can be baked right away, or covered and refrigerated overnight.
5 Drizzle with topping: In another bowl, mix the melted butter with the brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Using a spoon, drizzle the mixture evenly over all the bread chunks.
6 Bake the casserole for 35 to 45 minutes. I baked mine for about 38 minutes. Leave the casserole in the oven longer if you want the chunks of bread on the top to be more brown and crunchier.
7 Remove the casserole from the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle dried cranberries and dust powdered sugar on top, if you like. Serve with maple syrup at the table.