One of the very first recipes I learned to make is French Toast. It was one of the recipes we learned to cook during a high school classs, before that I might have cooked buy not really following recipes. After learning how to make this cinnamon french toast (in Dutch we call them wentelteefjes [when-tul-tave-yes] I made them a lot of time during the weekend.
Since I had made pancakes quite a lot in the past few weeks: American pancakes, French pancakes, or ‘regular’ Dutch pancakes, it was time for something else. When making the cinnamon french toast I realized it was time for a post discussing the science of French toast!
Making French toast is not highly complicated. Of course, making a perfect French Toast might require some practice, but in general everyone can do it. Here’s a basic recipe:
- 1 egg
- 200 ml milk (if you like it eggier, leave out some of the milk and keep back a slice of bread)
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp sugar
- 6 slices of bread (approx. 0,5cm thick)
- Mix the eggs and the milk in a bowl until the eggs have been mixed through well.
- Add the cinnamon and sugar and whisk quickly .
- Take the slices of bread and soak them in the mixture one by one, this should only take a few seconds with these thinner slices of bread. Stack the slices on top of one another.
- Heat a little butter in a frying pan.
- Once the pan is hot, add the soaked slices bread. If the lowest slice becomes too soaked, turn around the stack to assure the not all liquid seeps to the bottom.
- Turn the slice once the bottom has browned slightly and comes of easily. Fry both sides until thy are brown. Keep the pan at a low to medium heat, avoid the high heat, this can cause the outside to brown whereas the inside stays soggy and undercooked.
The Bread – using left overs
Just about any bread that keeps together easily can be used for making french toast. However, the best bread for French Toast in my opinion is bread that has gone stale and old. Main reason for using it is simply to prevent having to throw it out. However, stalbe bread also has some other advantages. Stale bread absorbs moisture easily and holds on to it well.
Personally, I prefer to use plain, cheap bread for making French Toast. A rich bread with a lot of butter and eggs or a bread with a lot of grains tastes better by itself. However, I found that Brioche or Challah bread (both less plain and richer in flavour) are used very often as well. Trick is: use one you have in your home regularly.
This cinnamon french toast only contains four ingredients: egg, milk, cinnamon, sugar. The last two are not important for the final structure of the french toast. Cinnamon adds flavour, as does sugar, but this also helps in browning of the toast through caramelization and the Maillard reaction. These are two browning reactions that can occur when sugar and proteins (from the milk) are present.
The milk and the eggs determine the final structure of french toast, whether it will be soggy, firm, crispy or dry.
Let us start by having a look at the eggs. The eggs are what keeps everything together. When eggs are cooked the proteins will denature and form a strong network. You can see this when boiling or frying an egg. In french toast enough eggs have to be present to set the milk that is added. You do not want all the milk seeping out of the toast.
Theoretically you could make french toast without any milk. You would make an omelette in bread. Milk is what makes the french toast softer. The bread will soak up the milk and become nice and soft. The milk proteins react with sugar in the browning reactions and milk fat gives the french toast a slightly richer structure.
Tweaking the recipe
The recipe for french toast can be varied such that it fits your taste best. The recipe above gives a soft, not very crispy french toast. Read below wht you have to do to tweak it to your wishes:
- Firmer texture: add more egg or less milk, the more egg you add the more the structure will be like that of an omelet
- Soggier/softer texture: add less eggs or more milk, the less egg you add the more liquid the french toast becomes; another option is to use bread that is sliced thicker, the inside will be harder to cook completely staying softer
- Browner colour: add more sugar to get more browning reactions going on
- More crispy outside: adding more sugar can help here by forming a caramel like crust, less milk can help as well; take thinner sliced bread, it is easier to fully cook this slice, bread cannot get crispy if there still is a lot of moisture
Once this cinnamon french toast is ready, it’s time to eat in. Personally, I eat my french toast with icing sugar, sugar syrup or some sort of chocolate topping (sprinkels or spread). Also, I like combining it with fresh fruits to make it a more complete breakfast.
However, opinions matter, I noticed for instance that some people like theirs with tomato ketchup… Tastes differ, so do whatever you like!