Anatomy of the Perfect French Toast
It’s ubiquitous. It’s basic. It’s an American breakfast staple, and it’s often boring. Yes, I’m talking about french toast. Stale bread, soaked in a milky-egg batter, seasoned with cinnamon, and thrown on the griddle until crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. I learned the art of french toast making from my girlfriend, Izzi, and I’ve come to deeply love the dish. So, I’m here to share a bit of knowledge about the components and construction of perfect french toast. If you’re off meal plan, I entreat you to take these lessons and bake a (perfect) weekend brunch for your friends or roommates. If you’re still suffering under the yoke of Brown dining services (I kid, I kid—they’re pretty good), treat yourself to this sweet, cheap, tasty breakfast for a special occasion.
You can make decent french toast out of a simple supermarket loaf, but if you want to really refine the dish, you wanna go for something better. Now your best options for the best bread on College Hill are as follows:
-Olga’s – It’s technically off the hill, across the river on Point Street, but it’s well worth the walk. Their sourdough is the best I’ve ever had, and it makes for some banging french toast. (Their homemade french toast is pretty good too, if you’re in a pay-for-brunch kind of mood)
-Silver Star Bakery – Clara Beyer wrote about this Ives Street joint the other week, and she rightly praised their Portuguese sweet bread. What’s that, you ask? Portuguese Sweet Bread, well-known to New England because of our region’s substantial Portuguese population, is a fluffy, yeasty, round bread that’s sweetened with honey or sugar. It’s damned tasty in it’s own right, but believe me, it kicks butt in the french toast arena.
-Seven Stars Bakery – Seven Stars has a few locations, the closest of which is a ten-minute bike ride or three-minute bus trip up Hope Street. I can’t praise their bread enough. They are, consistently, one of the best bakeries that I’ve ever had the pleasure to step into. All of their products are good, so feel free to pick whatever you want for your eggy, bread, breakfast. However, I am utterly in love with their ‘Durum Stick,’ a crusty, savory bread made from ‘rustic Italian’ flour. It’s my favorite bread for french toast. Now, if you don’t wanna bike or bus up to Seven Stars, let it be known that East Side Market carries their breads and that they show up every Wednesday from 11-2 at the weekly farmers market next to MacMillan.
-Challah (from any number of places). Challah might be one of the best bases for French toast, and you can get good challah from East Side Market, Seven Stars, and the folks who run ‘Challah for Hunger,’ the student group that bakes and sells the bread for the benefit of local and international anti-hunger activities.
Oh, and two more things about bread. First, you need to cut it thick. Each piece should be somewhere in the neighborhood of one to two inches thick, so don’t get it pre-sliced. Cut it yourself. Second, don’t waste fresh bread. The dish is meant to be made from stale bread, because it soaks up batter really well. So, go buy yourself a good, fancy loaf from one of the places I mentioned above, eat it throughout the week, and make it into French toast after a few days.
This part’s pretty simple. I don’t like my french toast too eggy, so I do a batter made up of 50% eggs and 50% milk, beaten with a whisk until the eggs are integrated. But that’s your prerogative; all you need to know is that you want a batter made up of eggs and milk. Now, in terms of seasonings, here’s where you can get really creative. Definitely put in cinnamon, nutmeg and a bit of salt, but on top of that, you can throw in whatever you like. A dash of vanilla or almond extract works wonders, as does some orange peel or ginger. Oh, and alcohol is a great addition. Amaretto makes for an awesome component of french toast batter, as does triple sec or curaçao. And I don’t doubt that Bailey’s or Kahlua would work as well. Oh, and you don’t need sugar. Sure, you can put some in if you want your toast to be on the sweeter side, but I don’t think it needs it, especially if you’re gonna pour syrup on it anyway.
Last but not least, make sure to soak your bread in your batter. If you just dredge your french toast in batter and throw it on the stove, it’s not gonna soak into the center of your bread. Instead, let the bread sit in the batter for as long as you can. This can mean overnight, or just for 30 minutes to a few hours. I personally like to cut my bread, make my batter, soak it in a shallow dish, and shower and read until I get really hungry.
This is important: don’t put your french toast in a cold pan. One of the best parts of French toast is the eggy, slightly crispy crust that you get on the outside of the bread, and this only forms through high heat. So, make sure to get your pan good and hot before you drop the toast in. Then, after a few minutes, flip it once and serve a few minutes after.
If you’re cooking the toast in a nonstick pan, you don’t exactly need butter or oil, but either way, I encourage you to put in some. It helps develop that crispy outer crust, and if you put in butter (as I like to do), it imparts that rich savoriness that is so beautiful about good butter. On average, I go with about a tablespoon and a half of butter, enough to coat the pan pretty well. But don’t fear the calories; only about 1/2 to 3/4 of that butter is going to soak into your french toast anyway, and the flavor is worth it.
So, there it is, folks—the anatomy of perfect french toast. Now, pour some maple syrup on top, serve it up with some fresh fruit, or a side of good, salty sausage or bacon, and you’ve got yourself an epic little brunch.
Oh, and one more pro-tip: french toast is an excellent meal for the Saturday of Spring Weekend. Wake up early, hydrate, pop some Advil for you hangover, make a big batch of french toast, serve it up with some coffee and mimosas for your friends, and you will be beloved by all.