Recipe Review

Cook’s Illustrated French Toast Is the Essential Recipe Everyone Should Know

published May 6, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Classic French toast is one of those recipes that requires a fair amount of trial and error. You need bread that is both absorbent and sturdy, a custard that is rich but also thin enough to soak into the center of the bread, and a cooking technique that gives you a tender center and a browned, buttery crust. Cook’s Illustrated is known for their extremely thorough recipe testing, so it stands to reason that they’ve cracked the French toast code.

Tons of friends (and even one Reddit thread) urged that Cook’s Illustrated‘s French toast recipe was truly the best of the best. One look at the recipe’s long directions made me concerned that it was overly fussy and potentially hard to pull off, but there was only one way to find out. I got into the kitchen and got to work. Here’s what happened when I tried Cook’s Illustrated’s French toast recipe at home.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Make Cook’s Illustrated French Toast 

Cook’s Illustrated has you start your French toast by toasting slices of challah in a warm oven, which is honestly great because there’s no chance you’ll burn the bread while you get a cup of coffee. While the bread toasts, you melt some butter and warm some milk to make the custard. This recipe calls for egg yolks instead of whole eggs; the yolks are whisked with brown sugar and cinnamon before the warm milk is slowly whisked in. 

Both bread and custard are slightly warm when you dunk the bread into it. The custard saturates the bread pretty quickly so you can either move the bread straight to the butter-coated skillet for cooking or move the soaked bread to a platter to wait for the pan to heat up. You can cook two pieces of French toast at a time, and Cook’s Illustrated recommends wiping out the pan between each batch to prevent any burned butter bits. 

The finished French toast can be held in the still-warm oven before being topped with more butter and syrup for serving. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Cook’s Illustrated French Toast   

This recipe makes an ideal French toast — tender, crisp edges with custard soaked through every crumb of bread and a wonderful sweetness that enriches each bite. It also makes a ton of dirty dishes. 

Brown sugar and cinnamon make this French toast taste amazing, and whisking brown sugar with the eggs also created the smoothest French toast custard mixture I’ve ever experienced. Unlike other recipes where cold custard barely soaked below the surface of the bread, this combination of the warm, toasted bread and warmed milk seemed to work like a vacuum, guaranteeing that the custard soaked all the way through the bread. 

Overall, this recipe was a little fussy. I wished the milk-warming directions were worked into the body of the recipe along with melting the butter, and I hated wiping the pan out between batches. That said, the recipe did make some of the best French toast I’ve ever eaten; the exterior was nicely caramelized, and it tasted amazingly buttery, thanks to the addition of butter in the custard mixture. 

If You’re Making Cook’s Illustrated French Toast, a Few Tips 

  1. Melt the butter and warm the milk in the same dish you soak the bread in. The recipe isn’t written to include this step, but if you want to cut down on dishes, do this: Put the butter and milk in a large baking dish and put the dish in the oven while it preheats. You want to leave it in there until the butter melts, which should take about 10 minutes. (Set a timer, as you’ll still be groggy and don’t want to end up with curdled milk.) Then you can build the custard in the egg mixing bowl and return the mixture to the baking dish. 
  2. Reuse the bread-toasting pan for holding the soaked pieces. Yes, this is another move for cutting down on dishes. After the toasted bread has cooled, move it off the baking sheet — you can stack it on your counter or a cutting board. After it’s soaked with custard, move it back to the baking sheet until you can cook it. 
  3. A little prep work can make this recipe even faster. While I do appreciate that this recipe can be made on a whim, if you want to cut down on work in the morning you can get started the night before. Here are a few things you can do: Slice the bread and return it to its bag for storage. Separate the eggs and store the yolks in a medium mixing bowl for the next morning. Heck, I’ve even made the whole custard the night before and reheated it the next day. 

Overall rating: 9/10

Have you tried Cook’s Illustrated French Toast ? Let us know in the comments.