I have always looked at French Toast on restaurant menus with disdain, snubbing my nose at people who order it for brunch because, come on, anyone can make French Toast at home. Why would you order it at a restaurant?
Alas, I have been sort of lying in my snobbishness. Because for most of my life, I’ve made very sub-par French Toast. I’ve made overly eggy fried sandwich bread that tastes vaguely of vanilla and cinnamon. With enough syrup it seems like a decent approximation, but it’s nothing like the golden, fluffy confections you get when you order French Toast at, say, Brasserie Liberte. Or even Clyde’s, which is never original but always satisfying.
I’ve found a way to make a satisfying French Toast at home now, though. I think I’ve cracked the code. The secret doesn’t lie in a super-custardy dip, it isn’t more butter in the frying pan, it’s two things: good bread and a broiler.
Let’s start with the good bread part. My last restaurant meal was a Thursday two-some weeks ago at Kindred in Davidson, N.C. I was feeling really glum, and the waiter knew it, and everyone was feeling it, and after I finished my fabulous meal quite late Jose, my server, asked if I wanted to take bread home. Well, if you’ve been to Kindred you know this is like having someone ask you, “Would you like the Queen’s Tiara? A lifetime supply of toilet paper? A free pass to go to the grocery, not wait on line, and be guaranteed not to contract the virus or endanger anyone at home or the store?” You say yes. Jose told me he loved to use it for French Toast, but I didn’t ask any more.
Knowing I only had one shot to make French Toast with Kindred bread, I didn’t want to screw it up. I didn’t want to do what I usually did, I wanted to do it better. I combed through recipes and my brain. I remembered my favorite French Toast that I ever made was when I basically made this recipe, but skipped the skillet stage and went straight to the oven.
I had four Kindred rolls. I beat together three eggs and an equal amount of milk, a huge glug of vanilla and an unwholesome amount of cinnamon. I poured that over the torn-up rolls then put them all into a cast iron skillet with some melted butter, slid it in the bottom rack of the oven at 350 and I waited until it started to look golden. I took it out, flipped over the mess of it, turned up the broiler, put it all back into the oven and waited again. And lo and behold, in a few minutes… an at-home golden, fluffy confection.
Since we’re at-home all the time now, I’ve repeated this process once more. Of course, no Kindred rolls the second time around. So I used the best bread a gal can get at the picked-over grocery stores: Sliced Brioche from Trader Joe’s. If you don’t know about this magical dessert-posing-as-bread, familiarize yourself with it. Again, I used a rough one egg to two slices of bread proportion, equal amount of milk, heavy pour of vanilla.
While I was making the “custard,” I preheated the oven and a rimmed cookie sheet with a pat of butter to 350 degrees. After dipping the pieces of bread thoroughly, I placed them directly on the piping hot sheet and let them bake for about eight minutes. Then I flipped the pieces, turned on the broiler, and sat staring hopefully through the oven window. And, yes, fluffing! Goldening!
We did in fact douse this meal with syrup because it turns out, we really like syrup, regardless of the quality of the baked good underneath. But we didn’t need to use it to cover up any lingering extra egg flavor.
Go ahead. It’s quarantine. Eat better breakfasts. But you know what I’m really excited to do? I’m excited to have a brunch sometime this summer after we’ve gotten through the worst of this pandemic. I’m going to invite all my best friends, and all the people I didn’t even realize were my good friends until the past few weeks when I’ve desperately missed them (looking at you, Melvin the Mailman and Jose at Martin’s). And I’m going to serve French Toast, but I won’t be slaving over a hot stove — I’ll just quickly, confidently pull three trays full out of the oven, piping hot, golden and fluffy, ready to eat with however much syrup anyone desires.
Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.