Yesterday, Tuesday, the 27th of November, was National French Toast Day. Don’t ask me how these days are designated; how come it wasn’t National Turkey Soup Day? Well, there you go.
I dearly love French toast and treat myself to it maybe once a month. I usually make the simplest form of it: eggs, milk, bread, then eat it with butter and maple syrup on top. Years ago, I worked with a wonderful Jamaican cook at a bed and breakfast inn; Kerene Spence always added a splash or two of orange juice to her French toast mixture, but I hadn’t thought of that in years and years, so I decided to look to see what other possible variations there might be. Turns out, dozens—sweet and savory—that I found when I looked it up on the Internet and in various cookbooks I have.
You can vary French toast just by using different kinds of bread, though it always ought to be a little stale, by a day or two, (though, to be truthful, I’ve used fresh bread and it was just fine.) Store bread with lots of preservatives takes forever to get to the right state for French toast, and will probably turn blue before it does, but homemade or artisanal breads, or sweet breads like challah, raisin bread, or brioche are a good choice. I saw recipes for French toast made with croissants, gingerbread, pumpkin bread, and even pita! Good heavens!
You can vary French toast by using different kinds of milk—cow, almond, coconut, buttermilk, lactose-free, half ‘n half, cream, evaporated, and there is even a way to do it without milk just by using eggs alone.
Then there are all the seasoning possibilities: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla, lemon. Next are filling possibilities, delicious stuff laid between two slices of French toast, and toppings: cooked and raw fruits like caramelized apples or pears, or sliced strawberries, or raspberries and blueberries; whipped cream, mascarpone, fruit jams, gruyere, even a peanut butter and jelly version, and for even more savory versions, cheese, scallions, parsley, crumbled up breakfast meats. Some people sweeten the egg and milk mixture and for that there is sugar, both white and brown, honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.
Usually, we dip the bread into a mixture of milk with egg beaten into it, and then fry it on a greased pan. But you can also bake it. Then there are the versions that tend toward breakfast casseroles, which may have the character and flavor of French toast but which I am going to disqualify for now.
For me, French toast is a fried form of bread pudding. I want the outside to be a little crisp but the center ought to be soft and pudding-like, but not mushy. The usual proportion for the dipping mixture is a quarter to a third of a cup of milk to one large egg and that seems to do two slices of bread. I don’t sweeten mine because I put maple syrup on top. I might use a couple scrapes of grated nutmeg, or a sprinkle of cinnamon. Toby likes French toast, but less often than I, and in addition to the maple syrup and butter, he wants a generous shake of cinnamon sugar over the top.
Surely by now you have enough ideas for French toast variations that you can celebrate a month of National French Toast Days. As for me, I’m sticking to the old tried and true.
- ¼ to ⅓ cup milk
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional, more to taste)
- A sprinkle of grated nutmeg
- 2-3 slices of day old bread
- Oil or bacon fat
- Whisk together milk, egg, sugar, if using it, and nutmeg,
- and pour into a shallow pan, like a pie plate or cakepan
- Lay the bread in the mixture and allow it to soak up enough to soften bread, turning bread at least once.
- Heat a fry pan until a drop of water will bounce when dripped on it. Oil or grease lightly.
- Fry the soaked bread until it is quite golden brown, then turn and brown the other side.
- Keep it warm in the oven at a low temperature until you are ready to serve it.