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French Toast Technique

April 23, 2010

Mother’s Day is coming up.  No, it’s not this weekend, but it’s soon enough.  And everybody is going to start talking about brunch.  Really, it’s already happening.  Restaurants are putting together fancy menus and planning elaborate buffets.  You may already have reservations.

Yes, I understand a grand champagne brunch is an entirely separate creature from breakfast.  Brunches can have several carving stations and mounds of shellfish as well as standard breakfast items like omelets and waffles made to order.

But sometimes simple is better.

No meal is simpler to prepare than breakfast.  And no breakfast dish is as foolproof as French toast.  Plus if you start practicing now, you can have it down in time for Mother’s Day.  Even if you have no plans to cook for some lucky mother on the ninth of May, everyone should know how to make a good pain perdu.

Last thing is first.  Before you even begin, make sure you have some Grade B maple syrup in the house.  Don’t get put off by the fact that it may be called cooking syrup.  And don’t think for a second that it is inferior in any way shape or form to Grade A.  Whoever came up with the grading system was not optimizing for awesome maple flavor, and they should be sacked.

I like my French toast custardy, which drives some of my decisions in how I approach making the dish.

For example, I insist on a batter of eggs and plenty of milk.  After all, eggs alone do not a custard make.  I also have a preference for thicker pieces of bread, which allows the outside surfaces to get nicely golden and still leave a soft eggy center.

Because of this I prefer to use a bread with some guts, like a traditional baguette over the more popular options of challah or brioche.  I supersaturate my bread, which first needs to be either naturally stale or dried in a very low oven.  Dry bread sucks up more egg.  And the heartier crust on the baguette helps hold together the supersaturated crumb.

Softer breads work, but they are much more difficult to work with when they get sodden.

To help the egg penetrate the bread, I will often tenderize the sliced bread with the tines of a fork, especially along the edges of the crust line.  Patience pays.

You can flavor the batter with anything you like: Sweet spices, vanilla extract, black pepper, etcetera.  That is about personal preference, and is entirely up to you.  The only thing I will insist upon is a pinch of salt.

Only when your bread is ready should you begin to preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat.  Finding the right heat is really the only tricky part of this technique.  Too high and the insides will be completely raw mush while the outsides are charred.  Too low and the interior will dry out by the time the outside is nicely golden and crisp.

Throw in a few tablespoons of butter, enough to generously coat the bottom of the pan, and wait for the foaming to subside.  Generally I know when to flip when it smells right.  I really push the browning.  You can keep an eye on the browning milk solids in the butter, or you can peek using a spatula during cooking.

Flip and brown the other side.

When your slices are done, decide which side looks better, and call that your presentation side.  Personally I like these unadorned.  No dusting of powdered sugar, no chocolate drizzle, no decorative orange slice.  A few breakfast sausage links go a long way in balancing out the sweetness of the syrup.

Sure, it’s brown food.  And it’s not fancy.  But it’s made with love.  Not to mention it’s delicious.

After a bit of practice, and refining the technique to suit your own personal taste, you will stop ordering French toast out in restaurants.  It just won’t be nearly as good as what you make at home.

Now go buy some Grade B syrup.

And while I am being demanding, if you have yet to vote in the 2010 Times Union Best of the Capital Region poll, do it now.  Today is the last day.  Please consider voting for the FUSSYlittleBALLOT.

If you have voted, please tell just five people about what we are trying to do, and ask them to check out the ballot for themselves.  Maybe we can end this campaign with a bang.

Thank you.  For everything.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Elyse permalink
    April 23, 2010 9:41 am

    Where can you get a decent baguette around here? Seriously?

  2. Phairhead permalink
    April 23, 2010 2:25 pm

    I think the type if bread that’s used makes a big difference. I prefer challah, the sweet vanilla eggy mixture gets all soaked up in there so nicely.

    Check out epicurious.com for the most awesome Creme Brulee French toast receipe

  3. Andrew permalink
    April 23, 2010 5:58 pm

    My wife actually makes a custard adds a little baking soda and lets the stale Italian bread cut Texas size soak in the batter overnight. She then bakes it for about a 1/2 hour at either 325 or 350 I can’t remember the temp.

  4. April 24, 2010 2:38 pm

    I’m totally with you on the Grade B syrup. It’s hard to find in stores but most sugar bush maple syrup stores sell it. Up Saratoga way, Saratoga Apple on Rte 29 has it for $30 a half gallon which is a good price.

  5. Susanr permalink
    April 30, 2010 3:46 pm

    Okay – here is my secret french toast recipe – revealed at last:
    I agree with Daniel about lots of milk whisked into the egg, but also add a pinch of nutmeg.I even agree about GRADE B syrup HOWEVER, not for this french toast. You want to use a high quality delicious fruit jam – such as black or red seedless raspberry or blueberry. Mix 1 heaping TBLSP sugar with 1 teas cinnamon, and once the bread is in the hot pan (in plenty of bubbling sweet butter), gently sprinkle each slice over the tops with a thin, even coat of cinnamon/sugar. After about 4 minutes, flip the toast over. Now the miracle happens – yes, the bottom carmelizes – creating a fantastic slightly crispy crust.Make sure to brown both sides well – especially the cinnamon/sugar side. I do use syrup, but on the sausage or bacon that accompanies this Hungarian style french toast.(Can you tell that I have a sweet tooth?) And I am not too fussy about which type of bread to use – as long as it is DRY. As long as your pan is it other than non-stick, you should achieve a nice crust.I actually spray the pan with PAM first before adding butter to insure easier cleaning.
    Bon appetit!

  6. Susanr permalink
    April 30, 2010 3:49 pm

    P.S. sorry about my type-o’s is there no way to edit? I am a dyslexic
    typist! ( :

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