The history of French toast is actually quite interesting! Contrary to popular belief, the French did not invent the dish. French toast dates back to around 300 CE in the Roman Empire where it was featured in Apicius’ bookCooking and Dining in Imperial Rome.” Before Americans coined the term “French toast” due to its prevalence amongst French immigrants in the 18th century, the French actually called the dish pain a la Roman or “Roman Toast.” Despite the misnomer, French toast is a classic American brunch food and perfect for gatherings with friends or family. This Crème Brûlée Challah French toast recipe is a delicious twist on the typical French toast recipe and easy to make with minimal prep time.

What is Challah?

Cynthia Liu

Challah is a fluffy sweet bread, traditional in Jewish cooking. challah is typically baked for Shabbat every week and a staple of almost every Jewish holiday. Similar to other enriched bread doughs, challah’s main ingredients include eggs and sugar, allowing it to be light and airy while also giving it a “buttery” taste. However, challah is different from other enriched doughs since it is made to be pareve—unlike cinnamon rolls or brioche, butter and milk are absent from challah dough since it cannot contain meat or dairy products. This gives the bread more versatility during meals, for example, a slice of challah could be eaten with a slice of meat and still remain Kosher. Another distinct feature of challah is the shaping of the dough before it's baked. After forming and kneading the challah, the dough is split into portions to be braided, creating beautifully patterned loaves.

The Recipe

Growing up, after many Jewish holidays, my mother would take our day-old challah and make it into crème brûlée challah French toast. I would wake up to the smell of brown sugar and vanilla, and the sound of bacon crackling in the pan. Sometimes, I would get up early enough to help her make brunch for everyone. On these occasions she would let me sneak off with the bits of caramelized brown sugar that had coated the pan when the slices came out of the oven. The following is her adaptation of a New York Times recipe by Melissa Clark. It reminds me of family holidays, my mother’s cooking, and home. 

Crème Brûlée Challah French Toast

  • Prep Time:15 mins
  • Cook Time:25 mins
  • Total Time:40 mins
  • Servings:8
  • Easy


  • 6 eggs
  • 2 ¼ cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 loaf Challah bread
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter melted
  • Optional: 1-2 teaspoons nutmeg cinnamon or similar spices
Cynthia Liu
  • Step 1

    Whisk together eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, and salt to form your custard base. Depending on your preference you may also decide to add other spices to the mixture, such as nutmeg or cinnamon.

    Cynthia Liu
  • Step 2

    Cut the challah into 8-9 thick slices and lay them out on a baking sheet. Next, pour the cream mixture over the pan, making sure to thoroughly cover all bread slices.

    #SpoonTip: Stale bread works the best with this recipe!

    Cynthia Liu
  • Step 3

    Cover the pan in plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Since the prep time is so short, I’d recommend doing steps 1-3 the night before so you can let the bread soak overnight. However, at least two hours should be sufficient. Make sure to flip the slices over halfway through, or at least an hour before baking to maximize the bread’s absorption of flavors.

    Cynthia Liu
  • Step 4

    When you are ready to bake, set the oven to 375° and then whisk together brown sugar and butter.

    Cynthia Liu
  • Step 5

    Take out a new baking sheet and evenly spread the butter-sugar mixture over the surface. Transfer the bread from the custard baking sheet to the sugared baking sheet.

    Cynthia Liu
  • Step 6

    Bake for 20-25 mins. For the best bake, make sure the tops are browned well.

    Cynthia Liu
  • Step 7

    Time to eat! This pairs great with a slice of bacon or eggs on the side.

    #SpoonTip: Use the excess sugar and butter for a homemade syrup

    Cynthia Liu

The incorporation of a “crème brûlée like" mixture may add a somewhat accurate element of "Frenchness" to French toast. The bread’s rich and creamy center combined with a perfectly caramelized brown sugar crust is sure to impress your family and friends at your next brunch. The best part? The recipe’s simplicity allows you to sleep in and still deliver a delicious brunch meal on time!