Sunday, June 23, 2024

A weekly notebook about food during the Covid-19 shutdown. Remember, if you’re dining out, doing takeout or getting delivery, the people serving up the food are part of the front line; keep it in mind when tipping.

Make it at home: French toast


Make French toast with slightly stale brioche or challah and plenty of butter. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The other day I was having brunch with my daughter at a cozy bistro. She was digging into a stack of French toast as I relished a croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs, sautéed spinach and Gruyère cheese. When I asked how her meal was, she smiled, a healthy dusting of confectionary sugar around her lips, and said it was “Good, but kind of like custard in the middle,” and that mine was still the best – and I needed to step up to the task soon. She shared a bite with me and I knew instantly what she was talking about. It was really good French toast. The main difference, besides the glorious, artistic presentation with accents of ripe, fresh fruit vs. my unceremonious, random plops onto a generic plate, was essentially methodology. For me, French toast has to begin with either challah or brioche, which makes it rich to start with, with the bread sliced the night before and left out to get near stale.(I was just at a Fourth of July barbecue – with masks and social distancing – and the topic of French toast arose. In attendance was a French national who said it was funny how the breakfast staple, held in such gourmet regard here, was what people of scarce means in her country made with stale bread when there was nothing else to eat.)


For this round of toast, I went with brioche, because I always forget whether it’s Whole Foods Market or Shaw’s that has the perfect challah. Because of certain recent social movements, corporate policies and long queues, I’ve been less inclined to trek off to Whole Foods.

The slightly stale bread soaks up batter like a sponge. If I make four pieces, I’ll use three eggs; if I do six, that’s four or five eggs. Whip a batter of eggs and milk until it’s a creamy, homogenous yellow with a bubbly crown, then pour it into a flat pan next to the stovetop so you can soak each piece of bread until it’s heavy but move it to the pan with minimal drip. Each piece goes atop its own pat of melting butter. Spoon more batter on each piece and fill all those little depressions, adding a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg as requested, then another generous amount of butter to melt slowly as the bottom cooks. I put foil or a lid over the pan and cook at a medium to low heat, which really makes the soaked middles of each piece of bread cook through, plumping into little, golden brown pillows of eggy goodness. Once on the plate, another slather of butter is a must, and a restrained pour of microwaved maple syrup – real and organic only – to help melt that last bit of butter. Once you make your first cut, it soaks right into the the airy, light bread in the middle.