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5 May, 2017

Restaurant-Worthy French Toast, Without The Wait

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Restaurant-Worthy French Toast, Without The Wait

If you’re like me, when it comes to French toast, you’re a slosher, someone who just throws the ingredients together. Your method might go something like this: Slosh milk into bowl (I stock the 2 percent kind), add a couple of eggs and whisk until it looks right. Soak the bread, and sizzle in butter until done. Sometimes it’s delicious, and sometimes it’s disappointing. But it’s rarely worth the $12 price and the hour’s wait, sometimes in the rain, that the mobs sign up for every Sunday at brunch destinations like Egg, in Brooklyn, and Sqirl, in Los Angeles.

French toast that good demands a recipe. And, fortunately, it’s one that calls for no new ingredients, tools or technology. You don’t even need stale bread.

 

When I set out to make a travel-worthy French toast, my first call was to the ace of the new American breakfast: Jessica Koslow, the chef and owner of Sqirl.

At Sqirl, the French toast is cut so thick that it’s cooked like a steak: seared on the stove, then roasted in the oven. (It’s also stuffed with a pocketful of jam.) I wasn’t interested in adding more steps to my process, but, knowing that Ms. Koslow’s judgment on morning flavors is spot on, I asked what home cooks could do to make their French toast more like hers. “Cream,” she said immediately. Many cooks think of French toast as an egg dish, but restaurant recipes lean just as heavily on cream and milk, preferably whole.

While whole milk may not be as rich as one might think, cream, it must be admitted, is full of fat, with 10 grams in two tablespoons.

But, Ms. Koslow said, “A little cream goes a long way.” She suggests adding a couple of tablespoons to the milk-egg mixture. And, she said, the bread shouldn’t be soaked, only dunked, making it possible to use fresh bread, which is less absorbent. “You want to just fill the pores of the bread to make it supple and fluffy,” she said. “You don’t want to cream-log it.”

French toast that has been oversoaked stays damp and gooey in the middle even after the outsides are crisp and brown. A dip lasting for a few Mississippis on each side is enough to coat the slices and keep them from falling apart, especially if you’re using fresh bread.

 

Of course, stale is the traditional choice. Like panzanella in Tuscany or chilaquiles in Mexico, French toast is a classic in part because it uses an ingredient that people tend to keep around. But I have found thick slices of fresh bread to work just as well. They soak up slightly less liquid than stale bread, but, if the bread itself is delicious, the result is just as good. (Heresy alert: Maybe even better.)

While freshness may not matter as much, the type of bread does. As a child of the food revolution, I was raised exclusively on whole-grain bread, and I’m here to tell you that nothing ruins the custardy pleasure of French toast faster than a stray rye grain or wheat berry between the teeth. Sourdough, with its chewy crust and tang, is almost as bad. French toast is simply not the place for them.

Basic white bread is the clear choice, as are brioche or challah, which have extra fat in the dough. If challah is hard to find where you live, go shopping on a Friday; many supermarkets receive shipments that day. I have no problem with packaged, sliced white bread, except that the slices are usually too thin. It’s worth seeking out a whole loaf, so you can make substantial slices. Many bakeries, even the kind that grind their own flour and brag of centuries-old sourdough starter, stock whole Pullman loaves, white bread in an artisanal disguise.

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