Mexican Style Baked French Toast Casserole

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This Mexican Style Baked French Toast Casserole is a breakfast that’s sure to make your morning delightful. Thick, fluffy challah slices are soaked in a sweet custard mixture and baked to perfection.

The slices are then drizzled with a magical piloncillo and cinnamon-infused syrup, topped with plump golden raisins, crunchy pecans, and a bit of orange zest. 

Baked Mexican French Toast casserole served with flowers on the side

Some say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I say that breakfast is the most delicious meal of the day when my caballeros pobres style Baked French Toast Casserole is on the menu! Make your weekend extra special with a recipe that’s sure to have even the sleepiest of sleepyheads jumping out of bed and running to the table.

Spring is in the air, and with it comes all kinds of promise. Longer days, warmer weather, Easter, and Mother’s Day are all bright spots in my year. No matter what you’re celebrating, you’re sure to love this amazing, bread pudding that can be served as breakfast or dessert.

Holding a big loaf of the delicious challah bread on an incredible authentic board

What is Caballeros Pobres?

Caballeros Pobres, which roughly translates to “poor knights” or “poor gentlemen,” is a decadent Yucatecan dish made from pan-frying bread after it has soaked in a custard-like egg and milk mixture. You can think of it as the Mexican version of French toast.

The flavors are very similar to one of my favorite desserts – capirotada (Mexican bread pudding), but instead of using bolillos, I made this dish with challah bread. With the traditional recipe, you would dip bread in an egg-white meringue and then fry the slices. In my simplified version, I decided to bake the French toast as a casserole and used whole eggs for the custard to cut down on prep time.

While this recipe does have some European influences, it is unmistakably Mexican, with versions appearing in Mexican cookbooks as early as the 1880’s.

What makes caballeros pobres particularly Mexican (and particularly yummy) is the unique piloncillo and cinnamon-infused syrup and the addition of fruit and nuts.

slices of challah bread soaking in custard syrup in a baking tray

How to Make Mexican Style Baked French Toast

If there’s one thing I love more than tasty breakfast, it’s a tasty simple breakfast. This recipe for Mexican style French toast casserole fits the bill! Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, it’s as simple as 1-2-3!

Make the Egg Mixture & Soak the Bread

Beat eggs in a bowl. Whisk in milk, buttermilk, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt.

Working in batches, dip sliced bread into the batter to coat. Overlap slices in a 9-by-13-inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Pour remaining batter over top. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

TIP: Make your morning a little more leisurely by assembling the casserole and making the syrup the night before!

Make the Piloncillo Syrup

While the casserole is soaking up all that custardy goodness, make your piloncillo syrup.

Combine water, piloncillo, orange juice, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, creating a syrup. Simmer syrup uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep. Pour through a strainer and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves. Add raisins and set syrup aside.

TIP: Piloncillo may not be available at all stores, but I highly recommend you get your hands on some. Feel free to sub in brown sugar in a pinch.

Drizzling homemade piloncillo and cinnamon infused syrup over the challah bread french toast casserole

Bake and Enjoy!

The time has come for your masterpiece to bake. 

Bake the French toast casserole (still covered with aluminum foil) for 25 minutes.

Uncover; bake until top is golden brown and crunchy, 20 to 25 minutes more.

Serve with syrup, raisins, pecans, and orange zest. Enjoy with Café de Olla for an extra lovely morning!

Fantastic Baked French Toast casserole served on a white plate with piloncillo syrup, golden raisins and nuts

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do I have to soak the French toast casserole?

For best results, make sure to soak the casserole for *at least* two hours before baking. Since I serve this as a breakfast dish, I find it easiest to assemble the night before and let it rest while we sleep.

I can’t find challah… what other bread will work?

No worries! Any enriched white bread should work for baked French toast. Brioche, bolillos, and soft crusted French bread would all do the trick.

What can I use in place of piloncillo?

While I adore piloncillo for its distinctive caramel flavor, you can opt to use brown sugar instead.

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Mouthwatering Mexican Style Baked French Toast Casserole served in bed in a tray with a drink and one white rose next to the plate

Baked Mexican French Toast

The thick and fluffy challah slices soak up the egg, milk, and buttermilk mixture and bake to perfection. Once baked the slices are drizzled with a homemade magical piloncillo and cinnamon-infused syrup, topped with plump golden raisins, pecans, and a bit of orange zest giving this Baked Mexican French Toast a special twist.
Baked Mexican French Toast served with flowers on the side
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5 from 3 votes
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Ingredients

  • 10 slices day-old challah, brioche, or French bread (about 3/4 inch thick)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Piloncillo-Raisin Syrup:

Toppings:

  • Pecan halves
  • Orange zest

Instructions

  • Beat eggs in a bowl. Whisk in milk, buttermilk, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt.
  • Working in batches, dip sliced bread into the batter to coat. Overlap slices in a 9-by-13-inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Pour remaining batter over top. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Bake, covered with aluminum foil, for 25 minutes.
  • Uncover; bake until top is golden brown and crunchy, 20 to 25 minutes more.
  • Serve with syrup, raisins, pecans, and orange zest.

Piloncillo-Raisin Syrup:

  • Combine water, piloncillo, orange juice, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, creating a syrup. Simmer syrup uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep. Pour through a strainer and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves. Add raisins and set syrup aside.

Notes

  • Substitute: Piloncillo is not readily available and can be substituted with brown sugar.
  • Make ahead: You can assemble this casserole the night before, refrigerate, and bake it in the morning. If you want to bake your casserole right away, let the custard soak into the bread before baking.
  • Serve: Serve this dish drizzled with warm piloncillo syrup. This dish can be served warm, room temperature, or cold. 
  • Toppings: Feel free to serve with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon or a dusting of powdered sugar. 

Nutrition

Calories: 477.81kcal, Carbohydrates: 57.19g, Protein: 13.85g, Fat: 21.78g, Saturated Fat: 11.68g, Cholesterol: 234.96mg, Sodium: 543.54mg, Potassium: 142.77mg, Fiber: 0.64g, Sugar: 20.25g, Vitamin A: 887.25IU, Vitamin C: 1.57mg, Calcium: 128.35mg, Iron: 1.51mg

I’d love to see what you cook!

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Photography by Jenna Sparks.

Originally published: May 2017.