At first glance, it’s a dish that's so simple, a kid could make it. The ingredient list is short: bread, eggs, and milk. The cook time is quick. The hardware list is minimal: a baking pan for soaking, a buttered griddle pan for frying, and a spatula for flipping.
So, why is it so easy to screw up French toast? Burned, undercooked, hard, soggy, over-egged – we’ve flubbed on French toast more times than we can count.
Luckily, all that trial and error has taught us some valuable lessons in the labor of love that is necessary to make the most amazing French toast.
Lesson #1: Choose the right bread.
If you want soft, fluffy French toast, you need dense, soft bread, preferably challah or brioche. Avoid breads with hard crusts, such as French bread and ciabatta.
Feeling really fancy? Try using banana bread. Watch the video below to learn how they make banana bread French toast at Memphis St. Cafe in this episode of "Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives:"
Lesson #2: Fresh or stale? There's no right answer on this one.
It's all about personal preference. Lots of home cooks swear that stale bread is the way to go. However, we prefer our bread fresh when making French toast because it makes for a softer final product. But if you don't like your French toast with a gummy texture, stale bread is the way to go.
Lesson #3: Cut it thick, but not too thick.
We've found French toast cooks up perfectly when the bread is sliced about 3/4 inches thick. You could go thicker if you wanted, but never cut it bigger than about 1 inch; anything larger will burn up on the outside before the inside is cooked through.
Lesson #4: Soak it long, but not too long.
Allowing your bread slices to rest in the batter for 10 minutes will ensure they sop up enough of the egg mixture. Some chefs go so far as to allow their bread to soak overnight, but our French toast always falls apart when we do this, so we don't recommend it unless your bread is pretty sturdy.
Lesson #5: Use the proper egg to milk ratio.
We discovered that the best batter follows this simple rule: 1 large egg and 1/4 milk for each slice of bread. These proportions will ensure your French toast has a tender, creamy interior, without being too eggy.
Lesson #6: Use whole milk, half and half, or heavy cream.
Skim milk may be a smarter choice in terms of fat and calories, but if you want to make THE BEST FRENCH TOAST OF YOUR LIFE, you've got to go for something richer. Half and half or heavy cream will make your batter thicker and give your French toast a delicious custard-like texture. Trust us, it's worth the extra fat and calories.
Lesson #7: Don’t stop with cinnamon and vanilla.
These two ingredients are staple flavorings for French toast batter, but there are so many other additions that can take the mixture to new heights.
Add in nutmeg, cardamom, and a dash of salt for extra sugar and spice. Drop in a tablespoon of lemon or orange zest for brightness. Toss in a shot of Frangelico, cognac, bourbon, or orange liqueur for a spirited kick.
Lesson #8: Always use butter for the pan.
While using oil allows you to cook your French toast at a higher temperature, it doesn't give it the same richness that butter does. The only caveat about using butter: it browns and burns up quickly, so you need to clean the pan off and add a new tablespoon of butter after each batch you make. A small price to pay for perfection!
Lesson #9: Don’t walk away from your pan.
This is kind of Kitchen 101, but burnt French toast happens too often to assume everyone follows this rule. When cooking French toast in a buttered pan/griddle over medium-high heat, it should only take about 3 minutes to cook on each side. Keep a close eye on the French toast while it's frying because it can turn from golden brown to black very quickly if you aren’t paying attention.
For more mouthwatering ideas on making better French toast, check out the video recipes below:
Food Network’s Aida Mollencamp wakes up the flavors in her brioche-based French toast with ground cardamom, fresh orange zest, and honeyed strawberries.
Cooking Channel’s Kelsey Nixon stuffs her French toast with homemade strawberry jam, fresh blueberries, lemon zest, and cream cheese for a rich and fruity brunch treat.
Guy uses vanilla custard-soaked Texas toast as the foundation for his dreamy caramelized banana topping.
Written by: Amanda Patton
Recipe of the Day: Guy Fieri’s Bananas Foster French Toast
To learn how to make Guy Fieri’s Bananas Foster French Toast, click here.