How to make french toast
It's neither French nor toast, but it's delicious!
French toast is neither French nor toast. Rather, it is one of the very happy illustrations of making a virtue of necessity. How to make French toast, therefore, is much more a method of cooking than a recipe with strict directions. Whether method or recipe, it is delicious and adaptable to every meal of the day.
Why French Toast?
Like many other dishes we enjoy, French toast surely originated as an act of desperation. We see the need to produce enough food out of less-than-ideal ingredients in many cuisines. French boeuf bourguignon stretches beef with mushrooms, onions and wine, stewing what may well have been a tough cut of meat and spreading it over more plates than the beef would have otherwise covered. Italian osso buco uses a similar strategy, simmering beef bones with vegetables, herbs, wine and broth.
Yes, gourmets will tell you that the marrow is fabulously delicious, but the origins of this dish lay in finding something to do with parts of the cow's legs that were left when the more tender meat had been eaten. Scrapple, headcheese, haggis and everything but the oink or baa went into the pot.
Let's return to how to make French toast: You need stale bread, eggs, milk and a little butter or oil. The virtue of stale bread is that it provides a wonderful sponge for an egg-and-milk bath, without getting as soggy as fresh bread would become. It's a good guess that methods of making French toast existed as soon as bread went stale and grew from there.
Today, we have a wealth of fresh breads available at every market, but to make good French toast, it is worth considering the kinds of bread first used. Bread, homemade or bakery-made tended to be fine-grained and heavier than some of the soft or light breads now available.
For peasant farmers, soldiers and travelers, bread was truly the staff of life. It was not unusual as late as the Revolutionary War for armies to plan a bread ration of two or more pounds a day, with less strict calculations reserved for meat, vegetables and fruit. When an army traveled on its stomach, the stomach was full of bread.
Making Stale Bread
To turn fresh bread into stale bread leave slices on a counter overnight or for a few hours. If it's necessary, dry at a very low heat for an hour in the oven. Choose fine-grained bread with solid or chewy crust. Consider all of the following: homemade-style white or whole-wheat bread, dark pumpernickel or rye bread for variety.
Challah, brioche and other egg breads make excellent French toast and need little, if any, additional sweetening. French bread (for French French toast) makes good toast, too. If your loaf is uncut, make slices a bit thicker than usual up to an inch thick.
What you need:
9x13 or other large, flat baking pan
A second pan, in the oven, warm setting
12 slices bread
2-3 cups milk
Sweetening (choose one: 3 tsp. white or brown sugar, the same of honey, or 2 tsp. vanilla and only a pinch of sugar)
1 tsp. salt
Butter or oil as needed (use 3 Tbsp. at a time)
- In a bowl mix all ingredients except bread
- Pour mixture into a 9x13 baking pan or a rimmed baking sheet
- Lay out bread slices in egg-milk mixture, let it sit two or three minutes, then turn it over to soak other side. If your bread is soaking up lots of the egg-milk mixture on side #1, add a little more milk when you turn slices over
- In a large skillet or a stove-top griddle, melt or pour three tablespoons of butter or oil over medium high heat
- Add slices of soaked bread to fit but not crowd the pan.
- Cook on one side until it's browned, turn it over and brown other side. Put the toast in the pan in the oven, refresh butter or oil and do again until all the bread has been cooked.
Breakfast or brunch: serve with syrup, preserves or powdered confectioner's sugar.
Lunch or a quick supper: You will need enough thin slices of ham and cheese to make six sandwiches. Leave the sweetening out of your egg-milk mix. Before you put bread in egg-milk mixture, assemble the sandwiches (a little softened butter or spicy mustard will help them stick together. Lay the sandwiches in the egg-milk mixture with a spatula then turn them over after two or three minutes or spoon egg-milk mixture over the top bread slices. Cook until they're browned on both sides, reducing the heat if needed to melt the cheese. You have just made what is often called a Monte Cristo or croque-monsieur sandwich.
As you eat, consider other fillings, seasonings or toppings. It's a method, and it's easy to make French toast very much your own.