Want some toast, Ray?
July 13, 2007 4:06 PM   Subscribe

What is the best kind of (readily available from a grocery store in a large midwestern town) bread to make French toast from?

Mrs. jferg loves her restaurant French toast (First Watch, Mimi's Cafe, etc), and I've been trying to figure out how to make similar quality French toast at home. I'm pretty sure my problem is the bread I'm using -- usually whatever generic sandwich bread we've picked up for the week, but I've also tried raisin bread, Texas toast, and sliced bagels -- but I don't know what I _should_ be using. Any suggestions?
posted by jferg to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
i've has french toast made with challah bread. mmm…that is some serious yum.
posted by violetk at 4:10 PM on July 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

The best french toast I've ever had was made with homemade bread. Making bread from scratch isn't really that hard- brief spurts of labor in between long bouts of waiting around and the results are usually quite satisfying. (And you don't need a breadmaker either.)

If making it from scratch is completely out of the question, try looking for some Challah bread.
posted by ambrosia at 4:13 PM on July 13, 2007

The best kind is home baked bread from a frozen dough but then you have to raise that dough and bake the bread beforehand. It is very easy to do but it isn't an instant solution. It is worth every bit of extra time to make though.

I usually let the dough raise over night in a greased bread pan and then in the morning bake the bread. Let it cool about 10 minutes and then you are ready to slice it to make french toast.

Another good bread is fresh uncut vienna bread from the local bakery. Slice the pieces a little thicker than normal and you are good to go. You want a good light bread that will soak up the mix.
posted by JJ86 at 4:14 PM on July 13, 2007

Italian bread works well too-- especially if it is slightly stale. Another hint is to use some vanilla extract in the egg batter.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 4:15 PM on July 13, 2007

I get the white loaf made at my grocery store's "own" bakery (Roche Bros.) and then I have them cut it to the thickest width. it's like wonder bread but thicker, denser and fresher. It makes the best french toast..
posted by mds35 at 4:18 PM on July 13, 2007

Texas Toast. I forget the brand name, but it's like this.
posted by Liosliath at 4:20 PM on July 13, 2007

What Maxwell_Smart touched on... Have you been letting the bread go stale (at least overnight, preferably a full day) before you use it? This really helps, even if you're just using good old store brand in a bag.
posted by anaelith at 4:20 PM on July 13, 2007

Oh, crap. Never mind. That's what's given me the best results (most like First Watch), though.
posted by Liosliath at 4:22 PM on July 13, 2007

cinabon makes bread, it make very good french toast. mmmmm
posted by yodelingisfun at 4:23 PM on July 13, 2007

KC is not that backwards. Farm to Market is a local high-end bread company that sells to area grocery stores, the link goes to a list of those locations.

There's a Wild Oats across from Sprint, which has everything you'd expect from it.

The best bread, outside of little shops in Downtown/Westport that I'm unaware of comes from the grocery stores. Seriously you live in the 'breadbasket of the nation", finding seafood is another story. The farmer's market in the River Quay area is good, but I never get down there.

I recommend going to a place on 39th street that serves good French toast and just asking. There's a few dozen restaurants that are as good as the independent places in Williamsburg or the Village. The community is small, but very unpretentious. Just asking should get you great bread recommendations, if they don't personally make it themselves.

Note: Is there enough of us stuck here that we should have a meetup?
posted by geoff. at 4:23 PM on July 13, 2007

This fabulous book explains all about how to make the best French toast of your life. They recommend Challah bread, enthusiastically, as well as a recipe that includes some flour in the batter -- and it does make a big difference. They did actual research to find the best French toast recipe -- actually two recipes, depending on the bread you're using.

I recommend the book.
posted by amtho at 4:28 PM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just make it with any stale bread. It's the staleness that makes it sop up more egg and be rich instead of gooey. The purpose of French toast is using up unpleasantly stale bread that's going to be way too dry if you toast it. J
posted by Listener at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Try getting unsliced homestyle bread from a place like Breadsmiths or really any local mom-and-pop bakery. Then slice it extra thick and it will be more like restaurant french toast.

But that said, nthing homemade.
posted by nax at 5:34 PM on July 13, 2007

Get some of the cinnamon swirl bread. So delish. All the markets in my area carry it in the bread/bagel/donuts aisle. If you can't find it, then use the most dense, hearty white bread you can find, cut thick.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:36 PM on July 13, 2007

Nthing challah (egg) bread and/or stale bread.

Other things to try adding to your egg mixture, find what you/she likes best. Start w/ very small amounts, mix several together, etc. Then it becomes your "secret ingredient" for your awesome french toast:

Vanilla extract
Almond extract
Orange extract (yes, really)
Kittens (You mock, but have you tried my kittens n' bacon special? Then shuddup.)

Cut/serve in triangles when ever bread shape allows. Also, drizzle with butter afterwards and put sliced strawberries & powdered sugar on top.
posted by bartleby at 5:53 PM on July 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

King's Hawaiian Bread (link goes to french toast recipes) guaranteed to lead to a mouthgasm and an almost instant increase in your serum cholesterol. Seriously, they must bake this stuff with heroin and catnip, because you will be jonesing for it at breakfast time.

Properly warned ye be, says I....
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 5:58 PM on July 13, 2007

Challah all the way...there's nothing else that can compare.
posted by tastybrains at 6:08 PM on July 13, 2007

Sourdough bread, like the kind you can by at Cracker Barrel.
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:17 PM on July 13, 2007

Yes, challah is excellent, but King's Hawaiian seems to be everywhere I've been in the west (mostly the mountain west), whereas challah would definitely be more of a specialty item. (And the Hawaiian bread is similarly rich). In many grocery stores around here, if the Hawaiian bread isn't with the other breads, it's near the deli or bakery counter.
posted by rossmik at 6:21 PM on July 13, 2007

second to challah, i've also had brioche french toast. also very, very tasty.
posted by violetk at 6:35 PM on July 13, 2007

I'm gonna nth the sweet bread suggestion. Weird to hear it called "Hawaiian bread" on that King website, though. Here in Hawaii it's universally called Portuguese sweet bread. :)
posted by flod at 6:42 PM on July 13, 2007

Thanks, everybody! Lots of good answers. I'll definitely be trying the King's Hawaiian - I know that my regular grocery store carries that. I've been looking for someplace to get challah bread, because I've heard that's the key, but haven't seen it at any of the places I've looked. I will admit to not having looked overly hard, though, because the real goal is something I don't have to make a special trek somewhere to get. I've also made my own bread, but that's not really an option for an unplanned Sunday morning French toast craving. If I'd have followed through with my New Year's resolution of baking bread once a week, though, I'd be all set. *sighs*

geoff. - I know KC isn't that backwards, but since I live and work near downtown, I don't make it out to Whole Foods or Wild Oats that often. I do hit the River Market occasionally, and have gotten Amish-baked bread there that's worked decently. And yes, I'd be interested in a meetup at some point, but don't really have time to try to organize it.

HotPatatta - Unfortunately, it's the sliced-thick thing that's the problem with all of the cinnamon swirl bread I find around here - everybody pre-slices it way too thin around here.

bartleby - Can I use full-grown cats instead of kittens? I have a couple of those that just spend all their time laying around.
posted by jferg at 7:18 PM on July 13, 2007

Oh, and amtho - curse you for pointing me at yet another cookbook that I may feel the need to go buy. :->
posted by jferg at 7:19 PM on July 13, 2007

A little bit of orange marmalade added to the wet ingredients will wake up the flavor of a bland bread. I usually use stale Italian bread and either use a bit of flour in the egg mixture.

If I'm feeling wild, I use a dusting of crushed corn flakes on the outside.
posted by 26.2 at 7:41 PM on July 13, 2007

I work at a bakery and have spent a few weekends practicing my french toast.

Brioche is what you should be using to get "restaurant style" french toast. Brioche is similar to challah in the respect that it is enriched with eggs, fat and sugar. Butter is used in brioche; and oil in challah. These additions ensure a closed, tender crumb with a relatively soft crust. The advantage of brioche is entirely in the shape. Brioche in loaf form will have that classic bread-shaped, crowned cross section and will give you more usable, uniform slices out of a loaf. However, challah will work great if that is all you can find.

For the most part, I use the recipe from the CIA textbook scaled for about two servings. You might want to double this so you have more leeway for experiments/mistakes.

2-4 slices brioche or challah 1/2 to 3/4 in. thick
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch salt
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Beat the egg into a half cup of milk. Add a teaspoon and a half of sugar, a pinch of salt, and cinnamon and nutmeg as desired. Making the custard base the night before will allow the cinnamon and nutmeg to infuse throughout the mixture. Pour the base into a plate and quickly dunk each side of the bread. I use fresh bread with a short dunk. If the bread is stale or has been dried in the oven, it will need to absorb a little more custard. If the bread soaks up too much liquid, the inside will not cook or set up and the final product will be heavy, soggy and too rich. The "right" amount will just hydrate the soft bread inside and leave enough custard on the surface to brown and give that cooked egg texture. Fry in butter on medium heat. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with a mimosa, warm maple syrup and slices of the best seasonal fruit available at your market. The fruit and the mimosa may seem superfluous, but french toast is so rich and sweet that it can be cloying without something tart and cool to refresh your palate.

This should be pretty close to what you are going to find at a lot of restaurants, but deviates from the dish's origin as simple peasant food. If you want to resuscitate crusty old sourdough, pain au levain, pugliese, etc., I would use thinner slices and a much longer soak (you need to fully soften the hard crust). You might need to use the oven to ensure that the inside is fully cooked. French toast is an easy dish but getting it perfect will probably require a few tries. Good luck!
posted by iloveit at 7:45 PM on July 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

posted by kaseijin at 8:31 PM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to obtainable in the mid-west, but my order of preference is as follows.

Cinnamon swirl bread from a Portugese bakery,
Challah or other egg bread,
Italian or French batard (can be sourdough),
Texas Toast,
pre-sliced Cinnamon bread.

I don't think you have to let the bread go stale, so much as dry it out. Put it in the oven on warm for a while if you can't leave it out overnight. The creamier the better, and if you aren't using freshly grated nutmeg, why bother.

BTW, the hands down best French toast I ever had in my life was at the Tower Cafe in Sacramento, CA, and is more like bread pudding than French toast.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:52 PM on July 13, 2007

I don't think I saw this idea: croissants.

Croissant French Toast is one of the only reasons that I ever go to the once uber-trendy, now just overcrowded with crap service Cafeteria. If I had the least bit of cooking ambition, I would try this at home. It's good because the bread is so much lighter than others, so it doesn't turn into a dense gut bomb once you add some syrup and/or butter.
posted by kimdog at 8:55 PM on July 13, 2007

You need to shop for challah on Friday, in Jewish areas. You may find it by looking for places that advertise kosher offerings.

For the batter, I like a touch of vanilla and cinnamon :-)

For weirdness (if you like some weird now and then, as I do), put the battered bread in a waffle iron! This works especially well if you try it using ordinary whole wheat sandwich bread.
posted by Goofyy at 2:59 AM on July 14, 2007

Croissants and brioches make amazingly decadent French toast. My usual first choice is challah. Otherwise I'll use Italian bread or sometimes even a nutty multigrain (call me crunchy).

For texture that's almost like bread pudding, soak the stale bread in the milk/vanilla mixture first, and then dip it in the egg. It means an extra dish to wash, but the contrast between the delectably soft center and the buttery golden brown outside is worth it. This only works with thick-cut bread.
posted by bassjump at 8:35 AM on July 14, 2007

Challah, definitely, but originally it was made with stale bread. The French even call it "pain perdu" - lost bread - and it was invented, as so many French delicacies were, as a thrifty way to use up leftovers.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2007

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