Baked French Toast
My mother would use whatever loaf of bread she happened to have on hand, which you can definitely do here. But I love French toast made with brioche or challah bread. They absorb the custard better and keep nice layers once baked. It's important to toast the bread before making the casserole so that it will properly absorb the custard.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and set oven to 300 degrees. Layer the bread onto 1 large (or 2 smaller) baking sheets and toast in the oven for 20 minutes, turning and rearranging slices halfway through. Let bread cool, then arrange in 13 x 9-inch baking dish, overlapping slices to fit in dish, and sprinkling raisins between layers.
2. In large mixing bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, ¼ cup of the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour evenly over bread in baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap so that plastic is touching the bread, and place another baking dish or book on top to weigh down the bread. Let sit for 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight (remove weight before refrigerating). If the casserole has been refrigerated, let sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before proceeding.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together melted butter and remaining sugar and spread evenly over bread. Bake until bread is puffed and nicely browned on top, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with spiced blackberry syrup (recipe follows).