Hello gang! Ready for some French toast?
I do like to think of us as a gang, by the way: we, the writers of this madcap screed, and you, our wonderful readers.
Not a particularly effectual gang, I have to admit, not a gang to strike fear in the hearts of our enemies, et cetera, I certainly wouldn’t rob a bank together, no offense, I’m sure many of you have excellent heist skills.
But just as in the best gangs, I have little nicknames for you all. There’s “Lefty”, the stalwart pastry expert we all called “Righty” before her tragic incident with the Microplane. There’s “Twitcher”, who we trust with our lives but who wouldn’t necessarily be the best pick for delicate knife work . There’s Freckles, Charlie Boy, Other Dave. Oh, and we can’t forget JoJo the Dog-Faced Girl. I think you all know who you are.
We may not ever rob a bank, or do a crime, or engage in hijinks, fol-de-rol or devilry – we may never be Ocean’s Eleven – but I do see us all, one of these days, perhaps in ten or twenty years, looking back fondly at these, the early, funny days of “Nerds with Knives”. A reunion meal, if you will, perhaps a celebratory brunch of some kind. I see us downing fine Bloody Marys, Mimosas, or French Blondes, and tucking into plates of thick, delicious french toast.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent several formative years during your childhood camping, tying knots, and fiddling with your woggle – no sniggering, now, Twitchy – actually, you know, do check out that link, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “woggle” used IN CAPS to such an extent on one website. They have a woggle collection made up from woggles all over the world – right, Freckles, get out, you’re just disrupting the gang, there’s nothing remotely funny about the word “woggle”. Close the door behind you please. All the way. Thank you.
Where was I? Okay, Scouts.
Among the culinary treats that I remember so fondly from my camping adventures – burned things, peas in a can, twigs – one of the highlights was “eggy bread”. You’d whip up some eggs, throw in some sugar, dip a slice of sliced white bread in it until vaguely soggy, and then fry the bastard until it was dead. None of your bourgeoisie milk or cream, let alone half-and-half (not even a thing in the UK, unless you’re asking for a pint), just eggs, sugar, and bread, and whatever miserable fire you’d managed to cobble together out of found kindling, newspaper, and the rubbing together of two sticks.
I know I’m making it sound all very magical, and indeed it was. I’ve never lost my fondness for eggy bread, even after I moved to the US and had to start calling it “french toast”. It’s nothing to do with France, of course – they call it “pain perdu” which is a much better name – so you can call it whatever you like. Pretty much every diner or breakfast restaurant will have a variation on it, and I’m sorry to say that some of them use NORMAL SANDWICH BREAD. Do not use normal sandwich bread! It is an abomination and to be shunned. I don’t often say “you absolutely have to cook with this ingredient” but in this case, yes, you absolutely have to use unsliced brioche or challah.
French toast is usually fried in oil or butter on the stovetop but this version (adapted from Smitten Kitchen) bakes it in the oven instead. Not only does this make it lighter, it’s also a lot less work. We definitely recommend using a silpat for this (which ensures an even, golden crust and no sticking), but parchment will work as well.
You do need good brioche or challah – for this round, we used brioche from our local eatery Beacon Bread. The great thing about this method is that you can soak the bread overnight (provided you cut it thick enough), then bung them in the oven when you get up, and get on with making your coffee or whatever else you like to do for breakfast.
We’ve also discovered that cooking bacon in the oven is so much easier than frying it in a pan. Did you know this? We discovered this method a few months ago and it’s great. We usually use our little Breville convection oven and it comes out perfectly crispy every time (with no mess).
Yum! That’ll fuel us all up for the next crime spree. Or macrame, or whatever.
- 1 loaf unsliced brioche, challah or white bread
- 1⅓ cups whole milk
- ⅔ cup heavy cream
- 4 large eggs
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
- 2 teaspoons Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) or your favorite liqueur (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 scraped vanilla bean)
- Cut end crusts off bread and cut loaf into 1½-inch thick slices (you need thick slices to soak up the custard).
- Whisk together milk, cream, eggs, sugar, salt, liqueur, cinnamon and vanilla (extract or bean scrapings).
- Preheat oven to 325. Arrange bread slices on a rimmed tray and pour custard over slices. Let them absorb the custard for at least 30 minutes, turning the slices over at some point so they soak evenly. You want to make sure the custard gets to the middle of the slices, not just the edges).
- NOTE: You can also let the whole things soak overnight in the fridge.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or even better, a silpat. Transfer soaked slices to prepared sheet, arranging them with a little bit of space between them. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, flipping them halfway though. (They should be soft but not wet on the inside). Keep warm until ready to serve.