What could be simpler? A few eggs, some old bread, and maple syrup — voila! Yes, French toast. This morning stalwart most likely got its name from the French dish pain perdu — “lost bread” — a poetic way to say “stale bread.”
And slightly stale bread is one of the keys to good French toast: a crunchy exterior, with light and airy insides. Essentially, it’s bread soaked in custard and pan-fried — perhaps it was the precursor to bread pudding.
We experimented with loads of different breads and soaking times and found that the following recipe makes exquisite French toast that won’t chain you to the stove. Country-style sandwich bread works well (we used Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse “Country White”) — but brioche or challah bread (sliced 3/4-inch thick) put us over the moon. Lay fresh slices on the racks of your unheated oven overnight, and by morning they’ll be ready and waiting for their big dip.
We’re partial to keeping things traditional — just a drizzle of maple syrup — but we’ve been known to occasionally indulge in other French toast toppings as well: heavy cream whipped with a touch of Grand Marnier, a hearty drizzle of Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread), warmed for a minute in the microwave, or vanilla yogurt with nuts and fresh berries.
An easy way to add more crunch is to coat the egg-dipped bread in cornflakes before hitting the pan.
And if you want to get really fancy: Dip a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (or cream cheese and blueberries) into the egg mixture and pan-toast as directed. Or, omit the vanilla and sugar, and create a twist on the “croque monsieur”: Dip a ham-and-cheese sandwich in the egg and fry it up.