In our current economic environment, nearly everyone is looking for ways to save money. You've got to pay the rent or mortgage, of course, but "kitchen table" issues present opportunities to rein in expenses.
Like what we eat. When we're feeling the pinch, we eat differently.
There's nothing new here. Throughout history, when facing similar situations, thrifty cooks have created dishes that make the most of their family's resources. These foods often turn out to be enduring favorites, perhaps because they offer nourishment when everything else seems unsure. Among the best of these is French toast.
French toast, a lovely name for fried, egg-soaked bread, is an old recipe. No one can say for sure when or where it first appeared, but we do know that as long ago as medieval times home cooks prepared versions of this dish.
In France they called it pain perdu - "lost bread" - and still do. The dish has been known as Poor Knights of Windsor in England and armer ritter (poor knight) in Germany, all giving credence to the dish's humble roots.
How ironic that this so-called food of the poor is so fabulously rich!
French Toast begins with good bread. Any kind will do, although most people prefer challah or brioche, both of which are dense, but soft, and richly egg-y. Other options are white bread and multigrain, and when made with Italian bread or French bread the texture is pleasantly chewy with a crunchy outer crust.
Whichever kind you use, French Toast is best when the bread is slightly stale and about ¾" to 1" thick. Older, thicker bread will absorb the beaten eggs and milk better than standard ½" slices. (If your bread is very fresh, toast it slightly to crisp, but not color, the surface.)The first step is to mix the dipping liquid by beating eggs and milk together.
For a basic version no other ingredient is needed, but to boost flavor there are plenty of options: a few drops of vanilla extract, for example, or other essences such as almond extract or orange blossom water.
To make a more sophisticated style of French Toast, spike the soaking liquid with rum, brandy or orange-flavored liqueur (such as Grand Marnier).
Those who love chocolate can think about adding a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder to the mix; spices add a warm quality that makes French Toast a comforting treat when the weather is chilly, and grated citrus peels seem to provide a burst of energy that might be helpful in the morning.
Our Maple Spice French Toast with Broiled Oranges includes cinnamon, nutmeg and grated orange peel.
Beat the ingredients well, and then immerse the bread.
Here's where home cooks have profound disagreements about what's best: People are either "dippers" or "soakers." They either like French toast that's fairly dry inside with just a lightly crispy surface, or they like bread that fries up brown on the outside, but stays moist and custardy within.
That's your call. Our recipes suggest soaking the bread until all the egg liquid has been absorbed, but you can remove the bread sooner for drier versions (use extra bread for the remaining soaking liquid).
French Toast is usually cooked by sautéing the slices in a small amount of butter in a frying pan (there are also deep-fried versions, but these take longer, are messier and also more caloric). Sautéing takes about two minutes per side.
Once cooked, French Toast is fine plain, but most people like it with maple syrup, sugar or jam. But try it with sautéed apples, grilled pineapple or oranges, as in our recipe for Maple Spice French Toast with Broiled Oranges, or even leftover cranberry sauce.
French Toast is a simple dish but can be embellished easily. For example, there's Stuffed French Toast, a filling dish suitable for a holiday company brunch.
To make this, sauté the bread as suggested in our master recipe; on half the cooked slices, smear ingredients such as melted chocolate, sweetened cream cheese, fruit sauce or sautéed fruit and cover with the remaining slices, then bake the ingredients for about eight minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Stuffed French Toast can take a savory turn, too. Place a slice of ham and/or cheese between the bread slices.
Crusted French Toast is another worthy brunch dish. After you soak the bread, dip the slices in finely chopped nuts to coat the surface completely before cooking them, as in our recipe for Almond Crusted French Toast.