The original version called for the addition of raisins, and I believe chopped walnuts, but I don't like raisins, and my daughter is allergic to nuts, so I don't include them. If you want to add them, just include a cup of raisins and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans.
1 loaf French Toast Bread (I use the store-brand From Vons/Safeway)
8 eggs, room temperature
1 quart 1/2 & 1/2
1 cup + 1/4 cup Sugar
2 sticks butter, melted
3 tbsp. Cinnamon
2 tbsp. Vanilla Extract
2 large mixing bowls
2 small bowls
1 9x13 baking dish or pan
1 10x15 baking dish, roasting pan or lasagna pan
Preheat your oven to 350F.
Combine 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon in a small bowl, and blend well with a fork. Tear bread into 1" pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with melted butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, tossing the bread so that all pieces are coated. Transfer coated bread to a greased 9x13 baking dish and set aside. (If you are adding raisins or nuts, add them to the bread before transferring.)
In another large bowl, beat all 8 eggs with a whisk or hand mixer until well-blended, add 1 cup sugar and continue beating until sugar is dissolved, then add half & half and beat until incorporated.
This is where it gets tricky--
Open your oven, pull out the middle rack and place a 10x15 baking dish on the rack. Place the 9x13 dish with the bread inside the 10x15, then carefully pour the custard mix over the bread. Don't splash or the oven heat will turn any spills into concrete. When all of the custard mix is in, add enough hot water to the 10x15 dish to come up the side of the 9x13 to a depth of about 1 inch. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven and bake for 50 minutes.
When done, remove only the 9x13 and cover immediately with aluminum foil for at least 30 minutes. Turn off the oven, and remove the 10x15 with the water after it has cooled.