by Dennis Weaver
When four year old Anna, our granddaughter, shows up at our house in the mornings, she wants French toast. Nothing else will do. She wants French toast with powdered sugar and maple-flavored syrup.
In the mornings, I want French toast. But I usually put apricot syrup on mine or maybe some really good jam. And I prefer chewy, hearty breads or maybe a sourdough, not Anna's soft white breads. Breads with oats are particularly good—I like the chewy texture that oats give.
There are few meals that are as easy and foolproof as French toast. Maybe because it is so easy, we drop into a rut and make the same French toast over and over. That's too bad. There are countless ways, even adventurous ways, to make French toast. Today we're going to explore five different ways to make French toast.
How to Cook French Toast
At its simplest, French toast is merely sliced bread dipped in an egg and milk batter and then fried on a griddle. (We usually add a generous amount of really good cinnamon. See the section on tools and ingredients for choices of cinnamon.) The egg batter, because it is mostly eggs, is a custard and sets up like a custard. The proteins in the eggs don't coagulate until they reach 150 to 160 degrees and so to avoid soggy centers, the bread needs to cook until the center reaches that temperature.
French toast doesn't have to be plain French toast. Everyone cooks French toast on the griddle, but it can also be deep fried, baked, stuffed, or coated to make crusted French toast. We'll give you examples.
Baked French Toast
Baked French toast can be velvety, smooth, and luscious. There is a fine line between baked French toast and bread pudding.
Baked French toast is baked in a custard in an open pan. It can be assembled the night before and held in the refrigerator overnight to be baked in the morning. Debbie, our daughter, makes baked French toast on Christmas morning. It is spectacular, fitting for the occasion, and because all the work is done the night before, it doesn't distract from the celebrations of the morning. Consider baked French toast for company, for Easter, or for Christmas.
Stuffed French Toast
If you can make a sandwich, you can make stuffed French toast. Simply put a filling between two slices of bread, dip the sandwich, and cook it. Because it is thicker and you have to drive the interior temperature to 150 degrees or more, turn the heat down just a bit and then cook it twice as long.
Fillings can be cream cheese sweetened with jam, cream cheese mixed with fresh blueberries or strawberries, or pastry fillings. Often cream cheese fillings are sweetened with powdered sugar and flavored with an extract or citrus zest.
Deep Fried French Toast
We discovered deep fried French toast by accident. We were experimenting with Monte Cristo-type sandwiches-- sandwiches that are dipped in an egg batter and fried. We were cooking them on the griddle and then switched to more of a tempura-type batter and started deep frying them. The deep fried sandwiches with tempura batter are crispy and very good. Along the way, we made a peanut butter and jam sandwich, dipped it in tempura batter, and deep fried it. Viola! We had discovered deep fried French toast.
We made sandwiches with cream cheese filling and with pastry filling and deep fried them. Those visiting our test kitchen that day found the deep fried concoctions much better than those cooked on the griddle.
By the way, the deep fried peanut butter and jam sandwiches were very good. If you make them, sprinkle them with a little powdered sugar and serve them with maple or cream syrup.
Crusted French Toast
We would be remiss if we didn't mention crusted French toast. I think Debbie discovered this. She spread cherry jam between two slices of bread, dipped the sandwich in egg batter and then in chopped pecans, and cooked it on the griddle. She had pecan-crusted, cherry French toast. It was very good.
You can let your imagination run wild on this one. Coconut instead of chopped tree nuts is very good. We found some little candied coconut sprinkles and used them in place of the nuts. The sugars in sprinkles melted into a very nice, candied crust. But alas, we can't get any more of those little sprinkles.
Equipment and Ingredients
You probably have the equipment that you need for cooking French toast on the griddle: whisks, turners, and a griddle. If you are deep frying, a Fry Daddy is convenient although we typically use a large pot with a clip-on candy thermometer.
We would not think of making French toast without a selection of cinnamon. Most often, we use the best Korintje Cassia cinnamon we can. It's amazing what a difference a good cinnamon will make. (If you've been stuck with inexpensive grocery store cinnamon, throw it away. You should be able to dip your finger in a good cinnamon and taste it and it won't be astringent and mediciney.)
Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon has more cinnamon oil in it. It is incredible and we use it a lot, especially with apples. The flavor is much more pronounced than in Cassia. You deserve to have some in your cupboard. You will use it often.
Ceylon or Sri Lanka cinnamon is much more subdued, almost with a fruity tone. We use it in buttery pastries and such where we do not want the cinnamon to be too outstanding. We have a hard time keeping Sri Lanka cinnamon in stock but if we have some, pick it up.
You need great syrups and maybe jams for your French toast. We use fruit syrups a lot but the real find was cream syrups. They are made with a cream base and are thick and rich. They complement rather than compete with fruit fillings. As of this writing, we have maple cream, cinnamon cream, coconut cream, and vanilla cream syrup. The vanilla cream syrup is very much like a caramel syrup.
And if you're going to be serious about stuffed French toast, you need. They come in everything from Bavarian cream to raspberry. They come in two-pound squeezable tubes, are inexpensive, and leftovers will keep for a very long time in your refrigerator.
One Saturday morning we were making stuffed French toast in our test kitchen. (We call them classes but mostly they're an excuse to clown around and feed people.) Mostly we were using pastry fillings but made some with cream cheese fillings. Every once in a while, you hit an "ah-ha moment” when you find something that is hands down the class favorite. It was a mixture of blueberry filling and lemon filling in a stuffed French toast.
21 Stuffed French Toast Ideas
1. Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast: Just cream cheese filling.
2. Strawberries & Cream Stuffed French Toast: Bavarian cream filling with sliced fresh strawberries.
3. Raspberries & Cream Stuffed French Toast: Bavarian cream filling raspberry pastry filling.
4. Blueberry Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast: Blueberry pastry filling and cream cheese pastry filling.
5. PB & J Stuffed French Toast: Peanut butter and your favorite jam or jelly.
6. Banana Cream Pie Stuffed French Toast: Sliced bananas and Bavarian cream filling.
7. Cinnamon Burst Stuffed French Toast: Bavarian cream filling with cinnamon chips stirred into it.
8. Chocolate Cherry Stuffed French Toast: Cherry pastry filling with some chocolate chips or wafers sprinkled over the top.
9. Apple Pie Stuffed French Toast: Just apple pastry or pie filling.
10. Peanut Butter and Banana Stuffed French Toast: Creamy peanut butter topped with sliced bananas.
11. Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast: Canned pumpkin pie filling and cream cheese filling.
12. Toasted Coconut Stuffed French Toast: Cream cheese filling between 2 slices of bread dipped in the egg batter and then in coconut flakes, then grilled.
13. Strawberry & Banana Stuffed French Toast: Bavarian cream filling topped with sliced bananas and strawberries.
14. Huckleberry Stuffed French Toast: Bavarian cream topped with fresh huckleberries.
15. Chocolate Stuffed French Toast: Chocolate Pudding filled and then dipped in chocolate egg batter.
16. Peanut Butter Cup Stuffed French Toast: Creamy Peanut butter mixed with Bavarian cream, topped with chocolate chips or wafers, and dipped in chocolate egg batter.
17. Banana Split Stuffed French Toast: Bavarian cream, sliced bananas, maraschino cherries and chopped nuts, stuffed between 2 slices of bread.
18. Blueberry Lemon Stuffed French Toast: Blueberry pastry filling and lemon pastry filling.
19. Lemon Cream Pie Stuffed French Toast: Lemon pastry filling and Bavarian cream filling.
20. Cherry Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast: Cherry pastry filling and cream cheese filling.
21. Pecan Crust Stuffed French Toast: Bavarian or cream cheese filling dipped in the egg batter, then chopped pecans before cooking.
This is an unusual recipe with flour added to the egg and milk mixture, more like a tempura batter.
6 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon chips
10 slices good quality bread
1 large egg
1 cup cold milk
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Butter for frying
You can use this basic recipe and mix in three or four tablespoons of your favorite jam or jelly instead of the chips.
Maple Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast: Substitute maple chips for the cinnamon chips.
Raspberry Almond Cheese Stuffed French Toast: Omit the cinnamon chips and vanilla. Add three or four tablespoons seedless raspberry jam and one teaspoon almond extract to the cream cheese.
Bavarian cream pastry filling
4 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
6 to 8 slices of bread
Stuffed French toast is always a treat. This one is stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese and cherry jam, and then crusted with pecans. (We considered calling this Cherry Cheesecake, Stuffed, Pecan-Crusted French Toast but that seemed a little long.)
This is easy to make. Make a sandwich with the cherry cheesecake filling, dip the sandwich in egg, and dredge it in chopped pecans.
4 ounces cream cheese (regular or low fat)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 2/3 cup cherry jam
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 to 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
This recipe is one of Melissa's favorites.
It's a soft, French toast made by layering the bread and egg mixture in a baking pan the night before and baking it in the morning. It's almost a bread pudding layered with caramel syrup.
This is "bed and breakfast good”—and so handy. Because you mix it up the night before, it's easy to make on a busy morning. We're so glad that Melissa shared this recipe with us.
This baked French toast is made up the night before in an 8 1/2 x 13-inch pan. In the morning, you just pop it in the oven.
Let it bake while you are getting ready for the day and you'll have a wonderful breakfast for your family.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
12 slices soft bread
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dennis Weaver is the president of The Prepared Pantry, a full line kitchen store in Rigby, Idaho. The Prepared Pantry sells kitchen tools, gourmet foods, and baking ingredients including hundreds of hard-to-find ingredients.