Make streusel: Combine flour and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in cold butter until coarse crumbs form (there should be no dry flour left - I just use clean fingertips to "rub" butter into flour/sugar). Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make egg mixture: Whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, sweetener and vanilla together in a measuring cup.
Layer casserole: Place ½ of bread in a greased 9x13 inch casserole dish. Top with cream cheese and ⅓ of strawberries. Pour over ⅓ of egg mixture. Top with remaining bread, strawberries and egg mixture, making sure all bread cubes are covered in egg mixture.
Chill: Tightly cover casserole and refrigerate for at least two hours, better overnight.
Bake: Once ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Bake casserole for 40-50 minutes, or until set. Allow to rest on counter for 10 minutes before serving.
Milk: We usually use whole milk or 2%, but use whatever milk you enjoy. If you want to use dairy-free milk, vanilla almond or vanilla soy would be great choices.
Maple syrup: You can use brown sugar in place of the maple syrup, or use both, or use none at all for a slightly less sweet breakfast.
Bread: I highly recommend using stale bread. If you only have fresh, cube it, spread it on a baking sheet and bake at 275°F for 10-15 minutes, until starting to feel dry (do not let it brown, though). My favorite type of bread for this casserole is a white sourdough or a simple white bread (I do often use homemade bread by my husband, but storebought is perfectly fine!). Challah or brioche is also delicious, but in my testing of this recipe I noticed you need to reduce the milk by ¼ cup if using a very soft type of bread (brioche, Texas toast, challah…) compared to a more sturdy one like sourdough.
Cream cheese: Regular cream cheese or reduce fat cream cheese both work in this recipe. Feel free to leave it out if you prefer.
Egg mixture: Use a measuring jug that’s large enough for some vigorous whisking. Trust me – you’ll regret grabbing that small one just because it’s in the front of the cabinet. And don’t be lazy with the whisking. You want the eggs all beaten up and mixed in with the milk, otherwise you’ll have scrambled egg in your casserole.
Bread: Best practice here is to go small enough so the cubes are bite sized, but not so small that they dissolve in the casserole. If you really want to bother yourself with an inch measurement, go about 1 inch. But please be kind to your sanity and don’t actually measure.
Chilling time: You have to chill the casserole so that the bread can soak up all the egg mix. If you don’t, you’ll end up with bread cubes baked into a custard. A soaked French Toast Casserole is big and puffy and bakes up really nicely. You can get away with ~2 hours, but best is always overnight.
Baking time: The casserole may seem like it is fully baked after 25-30 minutes, but it’s always still quite soggy for me. I do mostly bake it for around 45 minutes to get it fully set and easy to serve. It’s fine for the top to lightly brown, but if it gets too dark, either place it on a lower rack in the oven or loosely cover the top with aluminium foil.