Start with some bread, a few eggs, and butter and voila, you have French toast. Well, maybe not so fast. French toast has few ingredients, and it is a quick-cooking recipe, so it seems like it should be pretty straightforward. But for a dish so common, it is not that hard to make poorly. There is the burnt-outsides-and-raw-insides problem, that unpleasant-center-layer-of-un-eggy-bread issue, and the over-soaking-until-the-bread-falls-apart conundrum.
The real trick to making classic French toast is to pay close attention while you soak and cook. Here are some tips on how to do it well you always have the French toast you deserve.
Dry bread is your friend: The original point of French toast was to use up leftover bread. This is why the bread should always be dried out as dry bread helps the eggs soak in without the entire piece collapsing. The bread can be a few days old, but you should watch out for mold and the excessive hardening of crusts, which often happens in just a few days with fresh breads. Drying is the key, no matter its age.
Oven-drying of cut slices — super-lightly toasting it — works best of all, but in a pinch, you could also cut the bread the night before and let it sit on a cooling rack until morning, or simply lightly toast in the toaster. The key is to dry the outside while leaving the inside moist.
To dry out the bread, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 285°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a wire rack on top. Arrange the bread on the rack in a single layer and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. This will not toast or brown the bread, but it will dry out the tops and bottoms. Then, remove the baking sheet from the oven.
Pick your bread thoughtfully: To make classic French toast, you need bread without a hard crust. Look for a brioche, challah, or pullman loaf. The conventional wisdom of using one-day-old bread is best, but once you get the hang of what the bread looks like when it's soaked just right, you can be flexible, as long as it's not brick-like and stale through the center.
Eggy versus milky batter: This issue is a matter of taste rather than function. Some folks prefer a milkier, custard-like soaking liquid for the bread, which results in a creamier French toast. While others like an eggier soak, which leaves French toast firmer and somewhat richer. What that comes down to is the ratio of eggs to milk or cream. If you fall into the camp of milky-lovers, use only four eggs and add half a cup of whole milk to this mixture.
From there, you can build in flavor through classic French toast flavors such as the addition of vanilla and cinnamon. Most people avoid adding sugar to the batter as it tends to take your golden toast to blacken in a matter of minutes.
Use a mix of butter and oil: Beautifully cooked French toast has this deep-brown lacy appearance on its exterior. That is a sign it has been properly cooked and there are a few things that will help you achieve that. Oil and butter have long been used together to regulate the smoke point of butter. And while the mechanism behind this occurrence might have more to do with diluting the flavor of darkened butter rather than its actual smoke point, it is a combination that serves people well when they cook French toast. The oil helps to slow down the browning of the butter, but doesn't stop it all together. As you cook the French toast, bits of that nutty brown-butter flavor slowly develop — much slower than they would if you cooked with just butter alone — so the French toast has time to cook evenly without burning. A neutral oil, like canola, is the way to go since it won't disrupt the flavor of the butter.
Opt for medium-low heat: Medium-low heat is best for French toast; it won't cause it to burn, but it's aggressive enough for pan-frying. Add the butter and oil mixture to the pan and let it heat through before adding the French toast. Upon touching the surface, it should immediately sizzle and bubble. Use the spatula often and lift up the French toast to check it as it cooks. Reduce the heat if it you find it getting too dark. When in doubt, reduce the heat. If you choose not to keep the French toast warm in the oven, you can place it on a rimmed baking sheet or platter and cover lightly with foil. Just know that if you want to keep the outside crisp, the oven — or serving immediately to half the guests — is the right option.
Knowing when French toast is done: Some people like a wetter center; some like it cooked through. This is all about your personal preference. Taking note of the changes of the bread during the cooking process can ensure you cook it as you like it every time.
Sweet toppings for French toast: Maple syrup is classic, but you can branch out into other kinds of syrups, fruit sauces, or jams. Fresh fruit and powdered sugar are very popular with people.
For savory French toast: As it turns out, you can make your favorite breakfast the savory way as well. If you are up for a morning meal change-up, you can try a twist on the traditional French toast feast. Indulge in Savory Feta French Toast that has a tangy bite of feta complemented by fresh thyme, or relish a savory cherry tomato butter spread. Alternatively, a combination of dark chocolate, vanilla, ricotta and cream combine to create the ultimate post-brunch dessert. The topping options are endless.