French Toast. The breakfast of champions – champions who like nothing more than bread, butter, salt, sugar, and eggs fried into sweet delicious perfection.
What are the elements of the perfect French Toast? When I was growing up, french toast was wonder bread soaked in eggs with a little bit of milk, cooked on a lightly buttered griddle, and served with massive quantities of Breakstone’s whipped salted butter and Aunt Jemima maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup. As I matured and lived in New York City, french toast became one of those things that I at when I was out – at diners, in the fine NYC tradition of diners that serve breakfast anytime. This was mostly because I tried making french toast twice and just couldn’t get it quite right. NYC diner french toast tends to be made with thick slices of challah – that’s a kind of Jewish bread, for those who don’t know, usually made with egg in some capacity. Challah french toast was served with powdered sugar and real maple syrup, which I find I actually don’t like, so in the last ten or fifteen years I basically haven’t eaten french toast at all – maybe once or twice when I was at home on a weekend and my dad or stepmom made it for me, but that’s it.
French toast, in short, has been missing from my life, and from my repertoire as a master at producing delicious breakfasts.
Then one day, I found myself in Georgia with half a loaf of inedibly stale whole wheat bread. What to do with stale bread? It wasn’t long before the idea of reviving it as french toast popped into my mind. So I made french toast out of it, but it didn’t absorb the egg well, and I had no syrup, so basically it sucked. However, my desire for french toast was awakened. By now I have perfected the recipe for Georgian french toast:
Ingredients: (all widely available in Georgia and the US)
First, I make the syrup: I dissolve a bunch of brown sugar in maybe half a cup of water, heat it and let it boil for ten minutes or so. This results in a thin but very sweet simple syrup with notes of molasses and caramelized sugar.
While the syrup boils, I slice the bread. Thin slices work best – with my stale whole wheat loafs, I slice them even thinner than Wonder bread.
Then, I beat two whole eggs and add a dash of milk – actually more like two dashes, because it helps to soak the mixture into the bread.
Next, I prepare my nonstick pan for cooking. I apply a liberal amount of butter (a tablespoon or two) and heat it until it coats the entire skilled and just about starts to turn a yellowish-brown. Since I’m using some kind of unsalted Slavic butter, I then sprinkle several pinches of salt around the bottom of the pan. The salt is very important for the final taste of the dish so don’t skip it unless you have salted butter.
I soak the bread in the egg/milk mixture and put it on the pan. Soak is a key word, it’s not just a dip, you want to really work the egg into the bread. Generally, about one egg works for about two slices of regular-sized bread – I used two eggs and four slices for a nice stack. I cook the french toast until it starts to turn a golden brown around the edges and fluff up a bit in the middle. It’s best to cook on a medium to low flame, since you don’t want the toast to burn before the insides are cooked.
Finally, the service – and this is an important part of my french toast ritual and in getting the taste right, so don’t think you’re done when the cooking is over. I take a big slice of butter and put it on a plate. On top of this goes the first french toast slice. On top of that, another slice of butter, then the next slice. And so forth, ending with a final slice of butter on top of the last slice of bread. Let the butter melt a bit, spread it around, cut the french toast into pieces, and drip the syrup onto the whole plate.
The only real difference between this recipe and regular American french toast is the syrup. I mean, the bread is slightly different, but not really in a relevant way. If you’re really used to maple syrup, the homemade brown sugar syrup probably won’t cut it, but if you’re more used to the fake American stuff, which is just sugar and corn syrup anyway, the homemade stuff is actually somewhat tastier.
If you’re inclined to make a bunch of syrup and store some for later use, store it in the fridge, preferably in some kind of sealed container – sugar water is basically the perfect medium in which to grow a culture of things that you don’t want to pour onto your breakfast.
Anyway, I have now made very successful french toast twice in Georgia, which is twice more than I’d managed in the States. I’ve also had the dish independently verified as delicious. Bon appetit!