Fond memories of childhood. The occasional Saturday when my mother would make French toast. Soft, custardy bread dripping with butter and syrup.
French toast was not an everyday breakfast. While it is not hard to make, with five kids it took more time than a bowl of cold cereal on a school day. Bread is soaked in eggs and milk and then fried. It was an economical way to use up a loaf of bread that had gotten a bit stale by the weekend, while simultaneously giving the kids a treat. My mother was all about economy, saving money, and loving her kids.
Several years ago, we were visiting friends in New Zealand and I decided to make French toast for our hosts. I mixed the ingredients and reached for the vanilla. Our host’s sister objected, “That’s our mother’s secret ingredient!”
Vanilla is one of those things that you may not notice is in a dish, but it’s absence would be leave the feeling that something was missing. The tastes of the cinnamon and nutmeg seem flat without the vanilla. Like salt and sweet tastes, vanilla makes warm spices “Pop!”
You may use any bread you have available—fresh challah makes great French toast. It is a good way to use up any day-old, dry bread. I am using the leftover rustic Italian bread that I made for when the family visited.
Dipping or soaking. I have watched chefs on television quickly dip thick slices of bread into the batter and then throw them on the grill. This produces a toast that is regular bread on the inside coated in a bit of custard. This method makes a very pretty French toast and it is easier to grill, because you do not have to worry about cooking it all the way through.
I prefer to leave my bread in the egg and milk mixture until every bit of the bread is completely soaked. It is hard to transfer the soggy bread to the grill, without it breaking, and you must carefully control the heat. It is difficult to cook the eggs/bread all the way through without burning the crust. However, the custardy, bread-pudding final product is worth all of the effort.
Claudia’s French Toast
½ cup milk
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon, ground
¼ tsp. nutmeg, ground *
½ tsp. vanilla
pinch Kosher salt
4-6 slices of bread
1+ Tbs. butter (optional)
*my addition to the original recipe
1. In a flat bottomed pan, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, spices, vanilla, and salt.
Tip: I use an old pot that has lost its handle. It is deep enough that it prevents splatter when I am mixing the custard, but flat enough that the bread will lay flat in the mixture.
Note: How many eggs and how much milk you use is very flexible. If you are make French toast for more than 2-3 people, add another egg and/or a bit more milk. If the first toasts you soak have sopped up most of the spices, feel free to sprinkle in more—or even sprinkle them directly onto the uncooked side on the grill.
2. Soak two slices of bread at a time in the egg/milk mixture.
3. Melt some of the butter on the grill, set to medium high, and grill the toast until well browned on one side.
4. Flip the toasts over, and continue frying until the bread is cooked through.
Tip: The bread will begin to puff up in the center when it is nearly done.
Note: You may need to adjust the heat or flip the toasts over again to prevent them from burning.
5. Serve hot with butter and your choice of syrups, jams, or powdered sugar.