“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.” –John Gunther
I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Gunther. Some of my favorite moments at home are spent during the “slept-in” hours of the morning — that arbitrary time between your normal workday waking hour and mid-afternoon. You’ll find me casually reading the paper, enjoying a warm cup of coffee (or a bloody Mary), and taking a bit of time to savor a delicious breakfast sans any agenda or to-do list on the immediate horizon.
I must admit though, those days are getting harder and harder to come by. Since welcoming our sweet baby girl into the world 3 months ago, my wife and I are now finding ourselves very much sleep deprived — deciding whose turn it is to feed and change the baby while tackling all the other things that come along with being new parents. In other words, breakfast usually gets pushed to the back burner.
So, it was with open arms that I welcomed Brett’s idea of testing and perfecting one of my favorite breakfast staples — French toast. I thought I had outsmarted my wife when I told her I had a work assignment this past weekend. As it was, I was a bit caught off guard by how surprisingly supportive she was of my efforts to perfect this dish. It was only when we sat down to eat that I realized she had been playing me all along — my “work” soon became her enjoyment with each and every bite.
We Americans call it French toast, though it’s likely the French weren’t the original creators of this dish. That said, our American name doesn’t do as much justice to the dish as does its French counterpart, pain perdu — literally translating to lost bread. It’s been said that such a dish (or method) dates back to Roman times. Soaking otherwise inedible stale bread into an egg and milk mixture, followed by a quick fry, allowed folks to stretch the bread into another meal. Or in other words, no bread was wasted.
Whatever the myth and origin, I do know one thing: It tastes good. In fact, damn good.
French toast is my go-to breakfast when I’ve got a loaf of bread that’s just about past its prime. In my mind, making use of techniques to stretch the life of ingredients is the definition of comfort food. Over the years, I’ve found that thicker slices of certain breads yield better results. As the name implies, a thick-sliced French loaf is perfect for this breakfast favorite. Italian loafs, brioche, or challah bread all make for wonderful substitutes. Whatever your choice of ingredients, this dish will impress your guests and make use of any bread that might otherwise go unused.
Using my normal KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) philosophy in the kitchen, I finally settled on the exact combo of elements necessary to pull off a classically delicious, yet simple French toast base recipe for all you gents out there. Of course, if you want to step things up a notch, check out some of my favorite variations and suggestions that follow.
Classic French Toast
Serves 4-6 people
- 3 Eggs
- 2/3 Cup Milk
- 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon Sugar
- 6-8 Thick Slices French Bread
- Unsalted Butter
- Maple Syrup
- Fresh Cut Berries
1) In a small mixing bowl, beat together the first four ingredients until well combined. Dip and coat both sides of each bread slice in the egg mixture, allowing it to soak in the mixture for about 15 seconds on each side.
2) In a preheated skillet over medium heat, add butter. When the butter begins to foam, add the bread slices, careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side, or until the bread is golden brown on each side. Remove from heat and serve with syrup and fresh berries.
Note: If serving a larger group, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and add the cooked toast to the oven to keep warm until ready for service.
My Favorite French Toast Varieties
Nutella + Banana French Toast — schmear the toast with Nutella once it has come off the heat and top with sliced banana. Drizzle with honey or syrup for even more indulgence.
Cap’n Crunch French Toast — after soaking the bread in the egg mixture, coat it in a bowl of crushed Cap’n Crunch cereal prior to adding to the skillet. The cereal will add an enhanced, sugary sweet texture to the final result. Serve with your favorite accoutrements.
French Toast + Bourbon Peaches — top the toast with peaches cooked in bourbon. In a skillet over medium-high heat, add a tablespoon of butter followed by 2 cups of chopped and peeled peaches. Sauté the mixture until the peaches are softened. Off the heat, add 1/4 cup of good bourbon. Carefully flambé the mixture (technique here) allowing the alcohol to cool off. Sprinkle peaches with brown sugar, and fold in another tablespoon of butter until melted. Top French toast with peaches and drizzle any remaining sauce over the top.
French Toast Sandwich — it might be gluttonous, but sandwich crispy bacon (or sausage), a fried egg, a slice of cheese, and a drizzle of maple syrup together for your own sweet and savory concoction. It might require a fork and knife to eat the thing.
French Toast for Dessert — make the breakfast swap to dessert. Serve the warm toast with a dollop or two of ice cream, caramelized fruit, and a drizzle of warmed fudge.
What’s your secret for great French toast? Do you have favorite toppings and accoutrements? Let me know in the comments!
Matt Moore is a regular contributor to the Art of Manliness and the author of A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen.