French Toast is one of the most iconic breakfast and brunch staples out there. With its ability to take on so many different flavors and forms, it’s sure to win a place on the table. Knowing exactly how to make French toast is the key.
Where does French toast come from?
The French name for French toast is pain perdu, which translates to ‘lost bread.’ We’re not talking about bread that has literally been lost, but rather bread that would be considered not usable anymore due to staleness. French toast dates back to the 4th or 5th century in a collection of Latin recipes, where they would soak the stale bread in milk to bring it back to life for a sweet treat.
Many countries serve some variation of French toast. In France pain perdu may be eaten as a dessert, a breakfast or an afternoon tea snack. Deep-frying the egg soaked bread and serving it sandwich style with a sweet filling is Hong Kong’s style of French toast. In Spain they serve Torrija, which is bread soaked in milk or wine, sweetened with honey, and then dipped in egg before being pan fried in olive oil. Americans tend not to discriminate on how or when they enjoy their French toast. Whether it’s pan-fried, deep-fried or baked in casserole form, it’s a fun treat to make and eat any time of the day!
To make French toast there are several key ingredients:
The main idea behind French toast is to use that stale bread that didn’t get eaten. But what kind of bread? And does it really need to be stale?
I prefer to use a loaf of hearty French bread (Pillsbury’s French Bread works great!), or thick-cut Challah bread works well too. Try to stay away from cheap store-brand white sandwich bread. It’s too thin and pretty much always falls apart when dipped in the milk and egg mixture, resulting in tears.
I have mixed feelings on whether the bread truly needs to be stale. Some purists might argue that French toast is for using up day-old bread, but I don’t think it’s crucial to a good French toast. If your bread is stale, it will need to soak longer in the custard (the milk and egg mixture). If it’s fresh, it will soak up the custard quicker, so just don’t let it sit quite as long.
No stale bread lying around? You can still curb that French toast craving by using fresh bread. To easily dry it out, simply bake bread on a sheet pan in the oven at 350°F for 10 to 15 minutes. This will dry it out sufficiently to be used in your favorite recipe.
It’s fun to switch up the flavors of your French toast with specialty breads, too. Leftover banana bread makes for a fun twist, as does cinnamon raisin bread.
The Milk and Eggs
The correct proportion of milk and eggs is called custard. That’s the goal you’re trying to achieve when you make French toast. It’s important to dip or soak your bread in the right type of milk and high-quality eggs for best results.
When it comes to the eggs, use the best quality you can find. I have my own backyard chickens, so I totally luck out. But a good organic, free-range egg works just as well.
For the milk, I would go with at least 2% and up to whole milk. Half and half works, too. If you’re in the mood for a holiday-inspired French toast, try whisking in some eggnog!
When you whisk the eggs and milk together, make sure to whisk until there are no more yolk or egg whites visible. Smooth custard will result in the most desirable French toast.
As a dairy-free substitution, almond milk can be used in place of dairy milk and works quite well.
Typical French toast custard is lightly sweetened with brown sugar, powdered sugar or maple syrup. The key is to lightly sweeten. Too much sweetener can overpower the custard and cause the French toast to burn.
You may also want to add a hint of vanilla extract and, depending on the type you’re going for, you can boost the flavor with additional spices.
Cinnamon is the most common spice to add, but ground cloves, or ground nutmeg also make great additions to the custard.
Easy Methods for Making French Toast
Now that you have the winning lineup for some killer French toast, how do you cook it?
There are several methods for making French toast. The most common method is on a hot griddle that’s been slathered with butter. The butter is great for giving the bread that nice caramelized outside, while the custard on the inside stays nice and creamy. This is also the quickest method.
You can also batter and fry the French toast, but this method tends to be a little bit messy.
My favorite method for making French toast is to bake it. You’ll have to plan ahead, but in my opinion this is the easiest and least messy method. Plus, when it's baked, breakfast is served all at once and even the chef gets to enjoy it while it’s still hot! Baking French toast casserole-style is a great way to easily feed a crowd.
How to Bake French Toast
Start by slicing your bread into even, thick-cut slices.
Combine a mixture of ¾ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup melted butter on the bottom of a 9”x9” baking pan, then line with your sliced bread.
Whisk together your custard mixture, 6 eggs, 1 ½ cups milk, 1 tablespoon of your choice of sweetener and a dash of vanilla extract.
Ladle the custard over the bread, making sure to soak each slice of bread.
Sprinkle the top of the soaked bread with a mixture of ¼ cup brown sugar and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the top of the bread.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let soak in the fridge overnight. Before baking, remove from the fridge and set on the counter while the oven is preheating.
Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.
Serving French Toast
Now that’s it’s made, what do you serve with your French toast?
The options are pretty much endless. Think of your French toast as a blank canvas, ready to decorate with fresh fruits, nuts, jellies, nut butters, syrup and whipped cream.
My personal favorite is fresh fruit, whipped cream and a drizzle of syrup.
Seasonal Flavor Variations
French toast can take on so many flavor profiles. In the spring you might whisk a bit of lemon curd into the custard for a fruity burst of flavor. Fall begs for pumpkin. Whisk a little pumpkin puree in the custard and add some pumpkin pie spice. Winter is a great time to use extra eggnog in the custard with a hint of nutmeg.
You can even try a savory French toast, like this version, which is loaded with bacon, cheese, chiles and topped with cilantro.
Now that you know how to make French toast, you’ll be ready to give it your own special spin!