French toast feels like it’s simple, but it’s also insanely easy to screw up. The type of bread you use is a key factor, sure (thickness, etc.). Then there’s the custard or creamy egg wash for dipping said bread in — some recipes are closer to a scrambled egg wash while others are almost eggnog (plus there’s the matter of how long you soak the bread). Finally, there’s what you put on your French toast to give it that x-factor and really make it pop for Sunday brunch or a date night sleepover.
When it comes to bread, you want it thicker-than-a-regular-whitebread-loaf but not overly thicc. That way, you can get a crispier edge while holding onto a softer middle, adding a textural counterpoint. I love the heft of challah but you can really use anything you prefer. I’ve had French toast made with King’s Hawaiian Rolls before, which came out pretty great. (If you go with bread that’s full of seeds, know that the flavors of those seeds will be drawn out by the heat of your pan — do with that knowledge what you will.)
The next most important factor is the custard you soak the bread in. I like to go almost full eggnog with my French toast custard. That means egg yolks, heavy cream, a lot of brown spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice), plenty of bourbon, and dark sugars with a nice dose of vanilla. But really, this depends on your palate. Maybe use my recipe as a baseline, then find the balance you like and stick with that.
Lastly, there are the toppings. There are so many directions you can go from fruit and whipped cream to butter and syrup to peanut butter and jam (trust us, it’s good) to ham, turkey, and cheese to make a goddamn Monte Cristo. You can even go super luxe and top your French toast with avocado, poached eggs, Hollandaise, and caviar if you want (trust us, again … it’s delicious). You do you.
All of this is to say that the recipe below is a jumping-off point and not a French toast mandate. Good luck!
- 8 slices of dry white bread
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 cups heavy cream (32%)
- 1/4 brown sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2-oz. bourbon
- Pinch of salt
- Zest from one orange
- Unsalted butter (for cooking)
This time around, I’m using large-format Italian white bread they use for deli sandwiches down in Italy. It’s mildly sweet and already comes out of the package slightly dry. It’s good leftover bread that’s pre-cut about 1/2-inch thick. Again, if you can source day-old challah, use that.
When it comes to thickness, there’s a lot to go back and forth on. Too thick and your custard will be surface-level at best (or you’ll soak your bread for so long that the custard inside won’t cook). Too thin and that custard will completely disintegrate your slice. I like a thinner slice, but that’s just me. With a 1/2-inch but lightly stale slice of bread, you can get that custard into the body of the slice without it falling apart. It also allows for crisp edges with a soft middle — which is ideal.
- Unsalted butter
- Handful of roughly chopped pecans
- 1 cup Maple syrup
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- Pinch of salt
Again, this is personal. I like pairing the slight touch of bourbon in the custard with a hit of bourbon in the syrup. Plus, this is a great exercise to help you realize how easy it is to amp up your average bottle of maple syrup. You really just have to put everything in the pot and let it simmer for about 15 minutes while stirring occasionally until it has a nice, syrup-y consistency. Then you have bourbon-infused maple syrup with softened and candied pecans and a touch of salt.
It’s a winner.
What You’ll Need:
- Shallow bowl or glass baking dish (for the custard dipping)
- Large non-stick frying pan or griddle
- Baking sheet
- Wire rack
- Small pot
- Preheat over to 250f/120c.
- In a bowl or shallow glass baking dish add the cream, yolks, spices, sugar, vanilla, bourbon, salt, and orange zest from an orange and whisk together.
- Heat two large tablespoons of butter over medium heat until it just starts to foam.
- Soak the bread in the custard mix for about five to ten seconds on each side depending on the slice’s thickness.
- Add the custard-soaked bread to the pan.
- Brown the toast on each side until golden brown — about three to four minutes on each side.
- Remove the French toast to a wire rack and place it in the oven to keep warm and continue cooking, creating a more fixed crust to the toast.
- Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of toast.
Pecan Bourbon Maple Syrup:
- Add the maple syrup to a small pan, bring it to a light simmer.
- Add in the pecans and bourbon with a pinch of salt.
- Bring back to a light simmer while stirring.
- Once the syrup starts to rethicken slightly (while stirring periodically), remove it from heat.
Put Everything together:
- Fetch your french toast from the oven.
- Stack them up and top with a pad of unsalted butter and drizzle with the syrup.
What can I say? This is pretty damn good and incredibly easy. It’s decadent but not “I feel like I really shouldn’t eat for the rest of the day”-level rich. My version here isn’t perfect. I would have preferred challah for my bread base, but they were already out when I hit the bakery.
The overall flavor was pointed and lush. The bourbon and orange really stood out with a nice note of nutmeg. The syrup really was the brightest spot. The maple remained prominent but the bourbon really helped mellow it while the pecans added a nice earthiness and textural crunch.
If you like to cook, this is a nice one for your repertoire. Perfect for slow mornings after big nights (yes, we know “big nights” aren’t a thing again yet, but they will be soon enough.)