Fine Cooking

October/November 2011

Repertoire column
How to Make French Toast

A breakfast staple every cook should know how to make.

French toast is a Sunday morning classic, in part because it’s a crowd-pleaser, but also because it’s quick, unfussy, and made with ingredients you likely have on hand. Just grab some fresh bread, slice it into thick pieces, soak it in a mixture of milk and eggs, and fry it until golden. Simple as that sounds, there are still a few pointers to keep in mind, like choosing the right bread and using the correct proportion of milk to eggs (see Need to Know, below). Follow the recipe and tips here, and you’ll have warm, slightly sweet French toast that’s crisp and browned on the outside and creamy on the inside. Serve it drizzled with maple syrup, and you’ll wish every day were Sunday.

Choose bread with a fine, dense crumb and a soft crust. Try chllah, brioche, or a hearty white sandwich bread. These are perfect for soaking up the batter, and they produce luxuriously soft results. Bread with large air pockets and a hard crust, like ciabatta, won’t absorb the batter evenly and will give your French toast tough, chewy edges.

Go with fresh bread, not stale. Although stale bread may absorb somewhat more batter, fresh bread, which is softer to begin with, makes more tender French toast.

Bring your eggs and milk to room temperature. This keeps the butter in the batter melted so that it can be readily absorbed by the bread. Milk and eggs straight from the refrigerator would cause the butter to harden into small bits.

Use one large egg for every 1/3 cup of milk in the batter. This makes a milk-heavy batter, which will give your French toast a creamy, custard-like interior. A batter with a greater proportion of eggs to milk will produce firmer, chewier French toast with a stronger egg flavor.

Add cinnamon and vanilla. Cinnamon adds subtle warming notes, while vanilla enhances sweetness and gives a greater depth of flavor to the batter and bread.

Clean the skillet between batches. French toast is fried in butter, which burns easily. Use a paper towel to wipe out the pan between batches and start each batch with fresh butter to avoid a scorched flavor.

Soak only a few slices at a time. Work in batches, soaking only as many slices of bread as will fit in your skillet in a single layer. This will keep the bread from getting too soggy while it waits to go in the pan.

Have these kitchen essentials on hand before you start the recipe:
Measuring cups and spoons
Serrated knife
Baking sheets
Small saucepan
Medium bowl
Large baking dish
12-inch skillet
Slotted spatula

Classic French Toast
For perfectly golden, crisp results, use a heavy-duty pan that distributes the heat evenly. The batter can be made ahead and kept at room temperature for up to 1 hour.

Serves 4

3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter; more for the pan
2 cups milk, preferably whole, at room temperature
6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 Tbs. sugar
4 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Kosher salt
8 to 10 3/4-inch thick slices challah, brioche, or hearty white sandwich bread
Maple syrup, heated, for serving

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, put a baking sheet on each rack, and heat the oven to 250°F.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and 1 tsp. salt and whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Transfer the mixture to a large baking dish.

Working in batches, add 2 or 3 slices of bread (or as many as will fit in your skillet in a single layer) to the mixture and soak, turning once, until saturated but not falling apart, about 2 minutes total.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, melt about 1/2 Tbs. butter. When the foaming subsides, use a slotted spatula to add the soaked bread in a single layer. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet in the oven, arranging the pieces in a single layer, to keep warm.

Repeat with the remaining bread, briefly rewhisking the batter before soaking, and wiping out the skillet and adding fresh butter between batches.

Serve drizzled with maple syrup.