Snack Break: French Like You've Never Had
For us aptly named ‘French toast,’ in France it’s called “pain perdu,” or ‘lost bread.’ Though in the States stale bread is usually thrown to the birds or eaten begrudgingly with a lot of mayonnaise, you have the give the French credit for making things interesting. Only in France would a stale, throw away baguette be soaked in an egg custard and fried crisp and chewy in butter. Now that’s resourceful. I make my French toast a little different than most people. Firstly, French toast was originally made with stale French bread - the most important ingredient of the dish that has been carelessly replaced with American sliced bread. The reason French toast is so good is because the bread soaks up the custard mixture which sets up when the bread is fried creating a crispy outer crust while leaving the inside soft and creamy. The design of sliced bread just doesn’t cut it; there’s too much area and not enough crust causing the custard interior to all but disappear leaving a rather dry, sad piece of toast. No wonder we have to drown it in syrup.
So with that in mind, if you follow no other part of this recipe, at least make your French toast using actual French bread. You can even buy the bread frozen and toast it up yourself in the oven before using it. Once you’ve tasted the difference, you may not be so keen on the sliced bread/ Texas toast alternative.
Ok, once you have your French bread sliced in half inch to one-inch pieces depending on your preference (I tend to go with half-inch slices because I like my French toast on the crispy side), it’s time to make the custard batter. There are tons of recipes for French toast batters, but as long as you use eggs, you can pretty much do whatever else you want. I love cream so I always make my batter in the following way: soften about a ¼ cup of cream cheese and mix it in to heavy whipping cream and a splash of half and half or milk, stir this mixture into slightly beaten eggs, add about two tablespoons of sugar, some cinnamon, and vanilla, and stir. That’s my batter. By adding sugar to the mixture you insure that the French toast is slightly sweet all the way through and the cream cheese (although sometimes I use sour cream with equal success) provides a subtle tang that balances out the sugar.
Soak the bread slices in the custard and place them in a pan on medium to medium high heat with a generous amount of butter. Cook until the bread turns golden brown and then flip. Now comes the fun part. Pouring liquid syrup over wonderfully crispy French toast just seems like a crime. No one likes soggy bread, right? To get around this, you can caramelize the French toast in syrup which adds a decent amount of sweetness, a wonderful crème brulee-like crust, and saves you from the heartbreak of a mushy breakfast.
To achieve this, you’ll need 100% maple syrup. Any syrup mixture like Mrs. Butterworth won’t crisp up, it’ll just get really sticky. When you turn the French toast over for the first time allow it cook for 10-15 seconds and then add about 1-2 tablespoons of syrup. The syrup should start to bubble immediately. Shake the pan a little to make sure that the syrup gets underneath the toast pieces and then quickly turn the pieces over again and shake the pan to coat the opposite side with syrup. Try to get the toast pieces to soak up all the syrup so that very little, if any appears to be left in the pan. At this point there are two important things to remember: the syrup is basically boiling sugar which will burn like crazy if it gets on your skin, so don’t touch it! And secondly, the syrup will burn very quickly and will taste terrible if it does. To prevent this, once you add the syrup, hold the pan over the heat without letting it touch the burner and continuously swirl the syrup around until it seems to disappear. (Really the syrup is just thickening and crystallizing to the toast.) This whole syrup process shouldn’t take any longer than 30 seconds. Any longer and you’ve probably burned it. It’s also very important to wash out the pan in between batches. Never cook a new batch of French toast in the same pan as the leftover syrup or the syrup will burn and ruin it.
Because the syrup is already added, this French toast doesn’t really need anything else, though for sheer elegance, a sprinkle of powdered sugar and a few sliced strawberries is always a nice touch.
So…what time is breakfast again?