11 oz of crusty French or Italian bread, cut into large cubes
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
heavy pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups half and half
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet chocolate)
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350º. Arrange the bread cubes in single layer on a large baking sheet, and bake until dry and crisp. This will depend on how fresh your bread is, and might take upwards of 30 or 40 minutes, but monitor it closely to avoid browning, and rotate the pan occasionally. Cool completely – either leave the pan on the counter to cool, or pop it into the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so.
Generously butter a deep 8×8 or 9×7 pan. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir in the half and half and melted butter.
Add the dried bread to the egg batter and toss them together until the liquid has absorbed by at least half. Fold in the chocolate chips and pour the mixture immediately into the prepared pan. Cover the casserole with plastic wrap, and weigh down the top. I like to use a slightly smaller pan with a box of kosher salt or bag of rice in it. Refrigerate overnight, 6 to 8 hours.
Remove the dish from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350º.
Uncover the casserole and bake until golden brown and puffy, about 45 minutes.
Cool slightly. Serve warm, topped with fresh whipped cream.