I assume everyone likes french toast, I would like for everyone to love french toast…
As the foundation of the meal, bread is the single most important ingredient so choose it wisely; the good thing is, you can (read: should) use stale bread. The French call it “pain perdu” which literally means “lost bread” so you kind of have to respect it’s origin. The bread needs to be hearty and thick like one of those giant loaves of sourdough you get at Whole Foods and can never finish before it molds unless you are using it to panel a wall. Look for tips on how to use the portions of bread you don’t use in my tips and tricks section here.
First you need to make the custard and, forgive me, I am not an exact science person unless I am baking (where it is required for me because I am not that experienced) so there are rough estimates here. I think, traditionally, there should be two eggs for every person you are serving and let’s assume there are six people for this recipe so we can use up the eggs and have leftovers! This should make 12 slices of french toast.
Make the Custard (the wet stuff)
Break 12 eggs into a bowl [Note: don’t break the eggs on the edge of the bowl, always on the counter so you don’t splinter the shell] and add some milk, maybe one and a half cups; for a richer and “less egg-y” taste, use the whites of only 6 or 8 of the eggs and increase the milk by 1/4 of a cup. Several things make french toast great like vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, maple syrup and even pumpkin pie spice mix in the fall so add in smaller doses. I always add vanilla and cinnamon because it is a good foundation for the custard but it’s your meal so add what you like/feel like. Smell is a good barometer to taste so start with small doses until you feel it is just right.
Spice Note: Careful with powerful spices like cloves and nutmeg because you can really ruin a dish with too much. The same with the syrup but that’s for a different reason, you can dilute the custard too much; I always err on the side of caution using the syrup.
Prepare the Bread
One of the most important characteristics of french toast (to me) is the “crust” on the completed dish so I like to prepare the bread before the custard and butter…. butter makes everything better!
I am assuming the bread is thickly sliced so we will go right to the prep, slather that bread with some softened butter but don’t overdo it because no one likes soggy French Toast. Put it on both sides so there is a consistent crust.
[Note: I always have a stick of butter on the kitchen counter just in case]
Start the Soak
Place the buttered bread in a 9×13 baking dish and pour the custard over the bread.
Custard Sidebar: Unfortunately it isn’t that simple, I routinely don’t have enough custard so don’t take it personally if you don’t. I just break some more eggs and use the reduced ration to keep it consistent then pour it over until the bread is covered.
The soaking time is important, you want the bread to really absorb the custard, the amount of custard you need and the soaking time is relative to the type of bread you are using. Pour until it is just covered almost to the top and turn halfway through the soaking time so you don’t get it too saturated.
Bread Note: If you are using regular white bread just throw it in the garbage and eat a banana, it isn’t even worth the calories.
You can soak for as little as 10 minutes or even overnight, it is directly related to how easy you need your morning breakfast to be.
Post Soak Cooking
There are two very acceptable methods of cooking french toast: baking and “frying” (in a skillet). They each have merits and it can be a heated debate, treat it like politics and don’t discuss your preferred method. Regardless of the method, sprinkle both sides with cinnamon and sugar before you start so it can caramelize during the cooking process.
If you are baking it you can either move the bread to a baking sheet or, if all of the custard is absorbed, just pop the baking dish into a 350 degree oven for ~30-45 minutes (again depending on the thickness of your bread); this results in a less crunchy version but it is still good. I turn the slices over about halfway through to try to get equal “bread to pan” action.
If you are cooking in a skillet, heat it first. You want the shock of the hot pan against the butter/sugar but don’t let it get too hot, use your best judgement. Place the bread in the pan and let it sit until the crust forms, it is important the heat is high enough to cook all the way through and low enough not to scorch the outside before the inside is done; I like to use a rule of 5-7 minutes per side but you can probably do it quicker if you’re in a time crunch. Seriously, the entire subject of French Toast is subjective to me so make it your own.
Top that Stuff!
Okay so this is where it really takes a turn to the independent. You can top french toast with almost anything and presentation is important so slice it on the diagonal before you top it and serve it straight away so it doesn’t get soggy.
Following are some of the options I like to add and it is never just one (Chris’ fave combo of mine is berries, granola, honey, powdered sugar and yogurt):
- Crumbled Cooked Bacon
- Crumbled Cooked Sausage
- Granola (thoughts on granola and my recipe coming soon)
- Nuts (I always have toasted nuts on hand but you can toast them while it cooks too)
- Fruit (any kind but berries, bananas and stone fruits are the best; I always use fresh)
- Pomegranate Seeds!!!
- Powdered Sugar
- Syrup (recipe coming soon)
- Roasted squash, sweet potato or pumpkin (for a more savory brunch option)
I hope you enjoy this much as he does…..