Up until last weekend, had I the choice between French toast and French Toast Stix (‘x’ intended), I would always pick the Stix. Why? Because plain bread dipped in plain egg just isn’t good. Not even maple syrup can save it, and that’s bad. Maple syrup saves everything.
And of course, there’s something totally disgustingly addictive about those flash-frozen, greasy, fake maple-flavored Stix. Something that reminds me of being in elementary school where things like that were forbidden fruit at home, but presented themselves so readily in the school lunch line. The conversation at home went something like this:
My mom: “Honey, did you love your dry turkey sandwich on sprouted wheatberry bread?”
Me: “Of course. Dry turkey sandwiches on sprouted wheatberry bread bread are my favorite.”
What I neglected to say is that sandwich found its way promptly to the garbage so I could indulge on brain-power food, like French Toast Stix with pancake syrup. And I’m sure I traded someone for an extra Stix. When you live in a house where dry turkey sandwiches on sprouted wheatberry bread are commonplace, French Toast Stix are like crack. End of discussion.
One day I figured out that French Toast Stix bear no resemblance to real French Toast. At the insistence of my mom, who had probably wizened up to my dump-my-nasty-sandwich-in-the-garbage routine, I made my own with the bread available to me: sprouted wheatberry.
Guys, you can put a cute costume on a skunk and it’s still… a skunk. Well, you can dip sprouted wheatberry bread into egg and slather maple syrup on it and guess what? It’s still sprouted wheatberry bread. And it was nasty. Disappointed, I abandoned ship. Real French toast was nasty, the Stix were awesome.
(Just as a note, my mother, although totally the butt of this post, has been the most inspirational cook in my life and I love her dearly. She can’t help it that she went through a Jane Brody phase in the 80s and transformed our kitchen into an emporium of things like diet margarine, Egg Beaters and jars of things sprouting in our dark cupboard. She’s normal now. Except she does still eat sprouted wheatberry bread. So, normal except for that. Love you, Ma!)
Fast forward many years to a time of life when I make my own bread decisions. I now know better than to eat the Stix. (If you offered one to me, I’d indulge out of pure nostalgia, but they won’t find their way into my grocery cart… unless it’s late at night and I’m in disguise.) I made it again with glorious thick, white farmhouse bread, even with a little cinnamon mixed with the egg, and it was still not great.
WTH? Why am I an epic failure at French toast? I can’t explain why this bothered me so much, but it did, and I felt unfulfilled as a cook that I couldn’t make killer French toast.
Then I had a daughter. This created a sense of urgency because some day she’ll have a sleepover and her little girlfriends will want the Famous Food Hound French Toast. And if they find it inferior to the Stix, then I will have failed as a mother.
OK, mayyyybe that’s a little dramatic, but seriously. I need to develop some Famous Food Hound French Toast. Time’s a-tickin’. She’s already crawling.
I’ll save you the angst and drama of my attempts to make the perfect French toast, and I’ll just skip to the good news that I SUCCEEDED!!
Here are the steps toward French toast heaven:
First, you have to use a rich bread. I used challah, but brioche would be perfect, too. Second, make a custard- don’t just dip the bread in plain eggs. Then, fry it in butter so it gets brown and crispy, then bake it so it gets puffy and cooked all the way through (soggy French toast = no bueno). Then you drizzle it with browned butter and real maple syrup. Game, set, match.
Now, I am fully aware that little girls can be picky, and maybe some the babe’s little sleepover guests might still prefer the Stix. And maybe I’ll just tell her that they moved, and we can’t see them anymore.
I’m kidding!! I know someday that even my child, my own flesh and blood, will want something out of a box instead of something made with love by her mother, the woman who birthed, nursed, and sacrificed countless hours of sleep in the name of her comfort and wellbeing. I plan to remind her of all this in the grocery store as she’s trying to convince me to buy (fill-in-the-blank) product with her hands on her hips. If that doesn’t work, I’ll tell her that at least she doesn’t have to eat sprouted wheatberry bread. She, of course, won’t know what that is, so I’ll have to resort to plan (c), which is to buy it, feed it to the Booze Hound first, and make her watch as he makes all sorts of theatrical gagging and death noises, saying ‘if only I had eaten your mother’s homemade version, I would still be a happy, healthy individual!’
If she’s anything like me, that won’t work either, so I’ll give in, cry myself to sleep, and remind myself that I, too, loved the Stix as a kid, and now I like real French Toast, so there’s hope. Then I’ll pack her a dry turkey sandwich on wheatberry bread to show her how really rough a home-packed lunch can be, MUAHAHAHA!!!
One last note before I share the secret to a happy French-toast-making life. The term ‘French toast’ has caused such discontent throughout my life that from now on, I refer to it as ‘Pain Perdu.’ Turns out, every culture has a version of French toast because it became popular as a way to use up day-old bread. ‘Pain Perdu’ is just French for their version of… French toast. Fancy-pants brunch spots don’t even mess around with the plebeian ‘French toast’ and jump right to ‘Pain Perdu’ as a way to sound more fancy-pants and charge more.
So there you have it. Perfect French toast. Perfect Pain Perdu. Cheers!
- 8 thick slices thick challah or brioche
- 4½ T butter, divided
- 4 eggs
- 1½ c half-and-half or milk
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 1 t sugar
- Pinch nutmeg
- Pinch salt
- Maple syrup, for serving
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Whisk together eggs, half-and-half or milk, vanilla, sugar, nutmeg and salt in a shallow bowl.
- Heat ½ T butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches as needed, dip bread slices in the egg mixture and cook in the skillet until golden, 2-3 minutes per side, adding more butter as needed. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until puffed, about 8-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in the same skillet until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Drizzle browned butter over toast and serve with maple syrup.