“Can you make special breakfast today?”
My children love a “special breakfast” morning. That’s when we have the time to make food like pancakes or French toast or waffles, homemade from scratch, instead of having quicker options like cereal, eggs or frozen toaster waffles. Even within the “special breakfast” options, though, a hierarchy exists for how time-consuming a particular food is.
For mornings when we have more time for a special breakfast, but not quite as much time as I might like, French toast is a wonderful option. It’s a treat but also surprisingly quick to make and cook. What’s lovely for folks with food allergies and dietary restrictions is that French toast is also extremely versatile.
French Toast Information
1. The bread: At its inception, French toast was a wonderful way for folks to make use of stale bread instead of letting it go to waste. Today, we rarely let our bread go stale before making French toast, though some say day or two day old bread is the best. Other folks say that drying out your bread in the oven helps the bread to better soak up the egg batter. I’ve found that whether it’s fresh, day old or dried doesn’t make too much of a difference and that just about any type of bread can make a good French toast, but there are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
Firs, what type of French toast you prefer? Do you like it to be creamy and eggy on the inside? Or do you prefer a sturdier French toast? Do you like a softer style French toast? Or do you prefer a chewier style? Do you like a crispy crust or your French toast to be similar in texture all the way around? What bread you want to use is dependent on the texture and taste you prefer.
Softer breads like challah and most regular store bought butter loaf breads make for a creamier, eggy French toast. Hardier 100% whole grain breads, whether wheat or gluten free, give you a sturdier French toast. Most freshly made crusty loaf breads provide a chewier texture. Breads with thicker crusts will have a crispier outer edge while softer, thinner crusts make for a more evenly textured French toast.
Secondly, how much egg/milk mixture do you like your bread to absorb? If you prefer simply a coating on the outside of your French toast and not for it to soak through to the center, then you should opt for a hardier, tightly woven bread. If you like your French toast to be more eggy in the center, then you should choose a more porous bread.
Thirdly, how thick do you want your French toast to be? If you like a thinner French toast, softer breads which are more porous, are difficult to cut and are better for thicker slices of French toast. Hardier whole grain breads usually are better for thinner slices of French toast.
2. The dipping batter: People differ on what compromises the best French toast mixture. In many parts of the world, bread is only dipped into milk. Other places dip only into beaten eggs. In the U.S. we tend to use a mixture of eggs and milk.
What you want to use depends on your tastes and your diet. Richer French toasts use cream or whole milk mixed with eggs. Most homes use lowfat or skim milk mixed with eggs. We use soy or flax milk because of our allergies, and because I like to eat a bit healthier, I use half whole eggs and half egg whites.
The ratio of milk to eggs can affect the taste and texture of French toast, too. For folks who like their French toast softer and yielding, you want a higher milk to egg ratio (1/2 cup of milk for every egg). If you prefer your French toast to be more eggy you want a lower milk to egg ratio (1/4 cup of milk for every egg). And if you like your French toast to be more custardy, that ratio changes again (1/3 cup of milk for every egg). If you don’t care, simply beat some eggs and add whatever a dollop of milk looks like for you!
What’s important to keep in mind is that you should blend your batter well, whether you’re using a hand whisk, a blender or a fork, because if the eggs aren’t beaten well with the milk, there tends to be a separation and you’ll get clumps of egg on your bread.
3. The flavoring: Recipes vary and abound. Many just call for cinnamon. Some add nutmeg and/or vanilla, too. Others suggest changing it up and using a spice like cardamom and/or orange peel. It really depends on your tastes. I personally use a lot more cinnamon than most recipes call for. Recipes tend to call for 1/2 to 1 tsp of most any of the above spices. I suggest experimenting with the varieties and with amounts to see what you prefer taste-wise.
4. Sweeteners: I don’t add anything sweet to my French toast batter, but an American palate seems to like sweeter French toast, so you’ll see recipes which add honey or sugar or Agave. It’s not just for taste reasons, though. These sweeteners will help your French toast brown better, too, so if you like a crispier French toast in addition to a sweeter one, feel free to add the sugar — preferably, though, no more than a tablespoon or two.
5. Cooking: The most conventional method for cooking French toast is to simply cook both sides in a pan or on a griddle. If you prefer a more custardy center, you should have a hot pan where the outside of your bread will brown quickly while the center heats but remains softer. If you like a drier French toast, then use a more medium heat so the outside of your bread and the inside can both cook at a similar pace.
For what to cook your French toast in, that depends on your tastes and diet. Most folks use butter which browns your French toast more than oil will, but obviously, there are issues with having too much butter, as well as many folks have dairy allergies these days. If you use a plant based oil, opt for one with a more neutral flavor like a regular olive oil or a safflower oil or canola oil.
Another method for cooking French toast is to put it into the oven. You soak the bread in the egg mixture in a pan and bake the bread in the oven. A single layer of French toast will bake in about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
6. Mixing it up: The wonderful thing about French toast is that you can also jazz it up. One way is to make a fruit topping to have with your French toast. I simply put frozen fruit like strawberries or blueberries or sliced peaches into a pan and let it cook down with a little bit of sweetener like Agave.
Another way we make the French toast more special is to make a special French toast casserole where we put chopped fruit in between pairs of bread slices, put them into a large pan, pour the egg batter over all the pairs, let is soak overnight and bake the entire casserole in the morning for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
My children also like Monte Cristo French toast sandwiches which is where you put ham and cheese in between two slices of bread, dip the entire sandwich into your egg batter and cook the French toast sandwich. This was one of their favorites as little children.
A final way we jazz up our French toast is to put tofu cream cheese mixed with Polaner All-Fruit in between slices of bread, dip them into the egg batter and cook. Then we sprinkle the cooked French toast surprise with maple syrup or powdered sugar or flavored Agave.