Start with some bread, a few eggs, and butter and voila! You've got French toast. Right? Well, maybe not so fast. French toast has few ingredients, and it's a quick-cooking recipe for sure, so it seems like it should be pretty straightforward. But for a dish so common, it's not that hard to make poorly. There's the burnt-outsides-and-raw-insides problem, that unpleasant-center-layer-of-un-eggy-bread issue, and the over-soaking-until-the-bread-falls-apart conundrum.
The real trick to making classic French toast is to pay close attention while you soak and cook. We're going to show you how to do it well so you always have the French toast you deserve.
French Toast Even Better than the Diner:
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Dry Bread Is Your Friend
The original point of French toast or pain perdu was to use up leftover bread. It was, in essence, no longer "lost bread," but found in its new purpose. The bread should be dried out, without any doubt. Dry bread helps the eggs soak in without the entire piece collapsing. Old? Sure, the bread can be a few days old. But in old bread, watch out for mold and the excessive hardening of crusts, which often happens in just a few days with fresh breads. Drying is the key, no matter its age.
Oven-drying of cut slices — super-lightly toasting it — works best of all, but in a pinch, you could also cut the bread the night before and let it sit on a cooling rack until morning, or simply lightly toast in the toaster. The key is to dry the outside while leaving the inside moist.
Pick Your Bread Thoughtfully
To make classic French toast, you need bread without a hard crust. Look for a brioche, challah, or pullman loaf. The conventional wisdom of using one-day-old bread is best, but once you get the hang of what the bread looks like when it's soaked just right, you can be flexible, as long as it's not brick-like and stale through the center.
Eggy Versus Milky Batter
This issue is a matter of taste rather than function. Some folks prefer a milkier, custard-like soaking liquid for the bread, which results in a creamier French toast. Some like an eggier soak, which leaves French toast firmer and somewhat richer. What that comes down to is the ratio of eggs to milk or cream. This recipe is in the eggy camp. If you fall into the camp of milky-lovers, use only four eggs and add half a cup of whole milk to this mixture.
From there we're building in flavor through classic French toast flavors. Vanilla and cinnamon lend flavor and fragrance, but there's no sugar in the batter. We're leaving it out here to avoid burning — it will quickly take your golden toast to blackened in a matter or minutes — and to make room for that generous pour of maple syrup.
Butter and Oil and a Medium-Low Flame
Beautifully cooked French toast has this deep-brown lacy appearance on its exterior. That's a sign it's been properly cooked and there are a few things that will help you achieve that.
- Use a mix of butter and oil: Oil and butter have long been used together to regulate the smoke point of butter. And while the mechanism behind this occurrence might have more to do with diluting the flavor of darkened butter rather than its actual smoke point, it's a combination that serves us well when cooking French toast. The oil helps to slow down the browning of the butter, but doesn't stop it all together. As you cook the French toast, bits of that nutty brown-butter flavor slowly develop — much slower than they would if you cooked with just butter alone — so the the French toast has time to cook evenly without burning. A neutral oil, like canola, is the way to go since it won't disrupt the flavor of the butter.
- Opt for medium-low heat: Medium-low heat is the way to go with French toast; it won't cause it to burn, but it's aggressive enough for pan-frying. Add the butter and oil mixture to the pan and let it heat through before adding the French toast. Upon adding, it should immediately sizzle and bubble. Use the spatula often and lift up the French toast to check it as it cooks. Reduce the heat if it's getting too dark. When in doubt, reduce the heat. If you choose not to keep the French toast warm in the oven, you can place it on a rimmed baking sheet or platter and cover lightly with foil. Just know that if you want to keep the outside crisp, the oven — or serving immediately to half the guests — is really the way to go.
Knowing When French Toast Is Done
Some people like a wetter center; some like it cooked through. This is all about what you like. Regardless of your preference, looking at (and especially touching) the French toast before you take it out of the pan can ensure that you cook it as you like it every time.
How To Make French Toast
What You Need
8 (3/4-inch- to 1/2-inch-thick) slices challah or brioche bread
6 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 teaspoons canola or peanut oil, divided
Butter and maple syrup, for serving
Rimmed baking sheet
Casserole or baking dish
Large nonstick skillet or frying pan
2 slotted spatulas
- Dry out the bread: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 285°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a wire rack on top. Arrange the bread on the rack in a single layer and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. This will not toast or brown the bread, but it will dry out the tops and bottoms. Remove the baking sheet from the oven.
- Reduce the oven temperature: Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F (if your oven goes to 185°F, that's even better). Transfer the bread to a platter and reserve the baking sheet and rack.
- Prepare the egg batter: In a 9x13-inch or 10x15-inch casserole dish or glass baking dish, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, cream or half-and-half, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt until frothy and completely combined.
- Soak half the bread: Place 4 slices of bread into the egg mixture. Let sit without turning for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes for challah or 2 minutes for brioche. Use a slotted spatula to flip the bread over. Let the second side sit in the egg mixture for the same amount of time. (The objective is to have the bread keep its shape but get soaked through.) While the bread is soaking, prepare the pan.
- Prepare the pan: Place 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and 1 teaspoon of the oil in a 14- to 16-inch nonstick frying pan or skillet. Heat over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted (past the foaming point), tilt to coat the pan.
- Cook the French toast: Working with 1 slice at a time, lift the soaked bread out of the egg mixture with the slotted spatula, allow any excess to drip off for about 5 seconds, and place in the hot pan. Cook until golden-brown on the bottom, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes for a 3/4-inch-thick slice, or 1 to 1 1/2 minutes for a 1 1/2-inch-thick slice. Flip the bread over and cook until the second side is golden-brown, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes more. Reduce the heat as necessary if the bread is getting too dark too fast.
- Soak the rest of the bread: While the first 4 slices are cooking, soak the remaining 4 bread slices in the egg batter.
- Finish the first batch: Transfer the French toast to the reserved rack and baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven to keep warm.
- Refresh the pan: Wipe the pan clean with paper towels. Return the pan to medium-low heat. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1 teaspoon of oil and heat until the butter is fully melted.
- Cook the remaining bread: Cook the remaining soaked bread slices. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup.
- Pan size: If your skillet is not big enough to hold 4 slices at a time in a single layer, soak and cook the French toast 2 slices at a time.
- Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 day. The French toast can also be frozen in a single layer and then stored in a freezer bag for up to 3 months.