[105] + [106] French Toast

How to Cook Everything, Revised Edition by Mark Bittman

Cover of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman

French toast is my breakfast enemy.

I like to eat good french toast. Most people and places, myself included, do not make good french toast. I really do not like to eat bad french toast. Most people and places, myself included, not only do not make good french toast, they make bad french toast.

That’s right. There is no “meh” in french toast. There’s only “good” and “bad”. I suppose there can be “excellent” and “horrible” as well, but there’s no “meh”. It’s that simple.

This french toast, amazingly, was in the “good, but could be excellent” camp. I’m astounded. I never thought I could make french toast that was even in the “good” category, much less in the “could be excellent” on as well.

Why did I feel I couldn’t aspire to such heights? Because, as far as I can tell, french toast is only 10% about the recipe you use and 90% about your technique. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I have tried, and even with all the lessons I’ve learned about french toast technique, I still always biff my french toast. I couldn’t tell you why. Thus, french toast is my breakfast enemy.

Until today. Today, something worked for me. If I can replicate it, I’ll be thrilled. If I can replicate AND improve on it, I’ll be overjoyed.

Now, you may be asking yourself, how did we come to have french toast, a decidedly “weekend” breakfast on a Tuesday? Actually, you probably aren’t, because you’re used to me posting entries a few days after we cook. But this entry is actually the result of “last night’s non-Valentine’s-Day dinner”:http://metacookbook.com/archives/205-I-failed-to-plan-a-special-dinner-for-Valentines-Day..html. Bill insisted I make it jump the queue and post it right away. He liked it that much.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, part of our dinner was Pioneer Woman’s “whiskey-glazed carrots”:http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2008/10/whiskey-glazed-carrots-major-league-yum/ and part of our dinner was homemade bread. I made dinner, including whipping up the carrots and the bread, and then found myself planning breakfast.

The inspiration for the meal was eating some the carrots and saying, “This sauce would be awesome on french toast.” Bill agreed. Then, because I am a bit immature, I giggled and insisted we should make french toast out of the homemade bread on the counter.

That doesn’t sound immature to you? That’s because I haven’t mentioned yet that the bread was my Grandma B’s “beer bread”. I was giggling at the thought of having an alcohol-themed breakfast.

What a way to plan.

Of course, I also insisted because I thought the glaze would compliment that bread better than a more plain white bread. But mostly it’s the not-boozy-but-boozy breakfast.

Also, as I type this up, I realize the horror. Because it’s a weekday and Bill had to get to work, I managed to photograph the ingredients and some of the cooking, but not the end result! TRAGEDY!

I’m sorry, guys. I’ll try to be a better food blogger tomorrow.h2. Ingredients

2 eggs
1 c milk

Dash salt

1 tbsp sugar (Optional; I used turbadano sugar for added “oomph”.)

1 tsp vanilla extract (Optional; except I don’t believe vanilla is optional for french toast.)

Butter or neutral oil, as needed

8 slices bread

h2. Instructions

If you don’t expect to eat the french toast right as it comes out of the pan, preheat the oven to 200F. Put a large griddle or skillet over medium-low heat while preparing the egg mixture.

Beat the eggs in broad bowl, then stir in the milk, salt and sugar & vanilla (if using). Add about 1 tsp of butter to the warmed pan, and when it’s melted, dip the bread in the egg mix one slice at a time and put them on the griddle. Cook until nicely browned on both sides, turning as necessary. It should be no more than 10 minutes total, and raise the heat if you need to. Serve immediately, or keep warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

Technique. I am, in fact, convinced that french toast is all about technique. My dad has it down. I do not. He’s tried to teach me, and I can’t get it1.

I don’t think it’s recipe, because I haven’t seen a recipe that isn’t basically what Mr. Bittman writes up here. Eggs, milk, maybe some vanilla, maybe some sugar. Bread, and some fat for cooking in. Oh, we can all debate whether or not the kind of bread matters (I say it changes the end flavor, but it doesn’t matter what you use), or whatever. In the end thought, it’s milk, eggs and bread.

What I’ve learned over the years is that this can be a fast recipe, but it still requires some patience, mostly in soaking the bread in the egg mixture. The worst french toast is bread with a light eggy veneer. BLEH!

Today I cut my bread slices by hand, and tried to make them fairly thin. For the most part, I got better at that as I cut more pieces. So the first pieces were very thick (which some people prefer) and the last two were extremely thin. As I cut each slice of bread, I put them in the egg mixture and left them to soak for a bit.

My dad always flips the bread in the egg mixture with a fork. I have never managed this without breaking the sopping bread, so today I used a pair of tongs, so I could get a good grip on most of the bread before flipping. This worked out fairly well.

And I waited. I left each piece of bread in the mixture for probably a minute a side. Possibly more. After both sides had been thoroughly soaked, I removed each slice of sopping bread to a plate and started soaking the next two slices.

I could only fit two slices of bread in the egg mixture at a time in my pie plate. I use a pie plate because that’s how my dad does it. My change today, though, was to use a deep-dish pie plate, so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about spills and drips. I’m sure my dad uses a pie plate because it’s a nicely wide dish that’s good for soaking two or more slices of bread at a time.

I don’t own a griddle and I decided against using my biggest skillet, so I couldn’t cook more than two pieces of french toast at a time. This gave me a chance to do some experimenting with soaking times and cooking fats. Also, to eat my own french toast as it came off the heat.

I cooked each slice of french toast for what felt like a very long time. I would guess that this recipe, for me, took about 15 minutes just for cooking. I didn’t flip my slices until they released from the pan (as if I were sauteing them). I also turned the heat up a decent amount. From medium-low to high, I’d say. That was a good choice. Unlike sauteing, I turned each piece of french toast about three or so times. They got a nicely browned crust.

Finally, I should make a couple of notes about the sauce. Last night, after we ate all the carrots out of it, I poured what was left of the sauce into a tiny sauce pan and reduced it by about a half. We ended up with ~75 mL (1/3 c) of sauce that night. This was reduced in the morning when I pulled it out of the fridge and skimmed the thick layer of solid fat from the top2. Probably there was about 70 mL of fluid for topping pancakes. The other note is that we used bourbon3 rather than the Jack Daniels or other non-bourbon whiskey she calls for. I think, though don’t know because I don’t know my whiskeys, that this made the whole thing sweeter.

h3. Consumption

What a success!

No, my french toast wasn’t “excellent”. I think I needed to soak some of the slices yet longer (my last two pieces were the thinnest and longest-soaked pieces, and I thought they were the best), and I need to turn up the heat more and cook longer.

However, this was basically a reasonable workday breakfast. All the time is in the cooking, rather than the prep, which is nice. You can eat them as they come off the heat, while still chatting and socializing with the whole crew (I know, because we also fed Rob this morning).

The sauce was a total success over the french toast. No one used anything else on their toast. I think it was such a success because the beer bread had a slight hint of bitterness to it, and the rather sweet bourbon glaze really complemented that bitterness. Well, more likely, the bitterness cut the sweetness of the sauce.

It was so good. It will be better someday, I hope.

fn1. In fact, I think of french toast as the quintessential “Dad’s cooking!” breakfast. I’m sure my mother made french toast for us from time to time, but I have no memory of it. Dad, however, made us a lot of french toast over the years. It was always good, and I always wanted more. Ah, memories.

fn2. Bill talked me into cooking four of our eight french toast slices in this skimmed fat. It smelled like it burned really fast, but it was much more of a caramelization. Those four slices were extra good, but all eight were darn good.

fn3. I actually didn’t know bourbon was a kind of whiskey until two or so years ago. My friend Marty told me this while we were discussing some other PW recipe I can’t find now. Apparently she likes the boozy food too.