FRENCH TOAST WORTH STAYING HOME FOR
Here’s how you can transform yours to the kind offered at Sunday brunches, writes Julia Moskin
IF you’re like me when it comes to French toast, you’re a slosher, someone who just throws the ingredients together. Your method might go something like this: Slosh milk into bowl (I stock the 2 per cent kind), add a couple of eggs and whisk until it looks right. Soak the bread, and sizzle in butter until done. Sometimes it’s delicious, and sometimes it’s disappointing. But it’s rarely worth the US$12 (RM52) price and the hour’s wait, sometimes in the rain, that the mobs sign up for every Sunday at brunch destinations.
French toast that good demands a recipe. And, fortunately, it’s one that calls for no new ingredients, tools or technology. You don’t even need stale bread.
When I set out to make a travel-worthy French toast, my first call was to the ace of the new American breakfast: Jessica Koslow, the chef and owner of Sqirl, Los Angeles.
At Sqirl, the French toast is cut so thick that it’s cooked like a steak: seared on the stove, then roasted in the oven. (It’s also stuffed with a pocketful of jam.) I wasn’t interested in adding more steps to my process, but, knowing that Koslow’s judgment on morning flavours is spot on, I asked what home cooks could do to make their French toast more like hers.
“Cream,” she said immediately. Many cooks think of French toast as an egg dish, but restaurant recipes lean just as heavily on cream and milk, preferably whole.
“But that’s so rich!” I hear you wailing. There’s a lot of confusion about the fat content of milk. Whole milk seems like an indulgence on a par with Double Stuf Oreos these days, but the difference between whole and reduced fat isn’t that great; a cup of 2 per cent milk has 5g of fat, while a cup of whole milk has 8, and makes for much better French toast.
While whole milk may not be as rich as one might think, cream, it must be admitted, is full of fat, with 10g in two tablespoons.
But, Koslow said, “A little cream goes a long way.” She suggests adding a couple of tablespoons to the milk-egg mixture. And, she said, the bread shouldn’t be soaked, only dunked, making it possible to use fresh bread, which is less absorbent.
NOT A DESSERT
French toast that has been over soaked stays damp and gooey in the middle even after the outsides are crisp and brown. A dip lasting for a few Mississippis on each side is enough to coat the slices and keep them from falling apart, especially if you’re using fresh bread.
While freshness may not matter as much, the type of bread does. As a child of the food revolution, I was raised exclusively on whole-grain bread, and I’m here to tell you that nothing ruins the custardy pleasure of French toast faster than a stray rye grain or wheat berry between the teeth. Basic white bread is the clear choice. It’s worth seeking out a whole loaf, so you can make substantial slices.
Whether French toast should be sweet itself, or unsweetened, is a matter of taste. Many recipes include sugar (alongside Grand Marnier, amaretto and other cloying concoctions) in the egg-milk mixture. I prefer it unsweetened, to let the deliciously basic egg-milk-bread flavours shine through — the better to enjoy with maple syrup, preserves, sugared fruit and the like. Either way, French toast is not a dessert, so skip the whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
The final, irresistible flourish of restaurant French toast is in the lacy brown crust that adorns both sides. You’re looking for the golden brown of caramelised sugar, not the dull brown of overcooked egg whites, which often gives the dish a tough texture and a sulphurous taste. Adding egg yolks to the custard is part of the solution.
Dusting the French toast with sugar at the end of the cooking, flipping it often to build a crisp crust, is another. This step is optional, but it does make people mad with lust — for more French toast.
But if a slosher you are, and a slosher you wish to remain, think of these instructions not as a recipe, but as a formula. For every four slices of bread, slosh in about cup of milk (or milk with some cream). Add an egg and an egg yolk. Whisk vigorously. Dunk quickly. Cook slowly.
Eat immediately, and be glad you’re not standing out in the rain.