What could be simpler? A few eggs, some old bread, and maple syrup – voila! Yes, French toast. This morning stalwart most likely got its name from the French dish pain perdu – “lost bread” – a poetic way to say “stale bread.” And slightly stale bread is one of the keys to good French toast: a crunchy exterior, with light and airy insides. Essentially, it’s bread soaked in custard and pan-fried – perhaps it was the precursor to bread pudding.
We experimented with loads of different breads and soaking times and found that the following recipe makes exquisite French toast that won’t chain you to the stove. Country-style sandwich bread works well (we used Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse “Country White”) – but brioche or challah bread (sliced ¾-inch thick) put us over the moon. Lay fresh slices on the racks of your unheated oven overnight, and by morning they’ll be ready and waiting for their big dip.
Heat oven to 350°. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Pour into a shallow pan (a pie pan works well). Dip bread into mixture and let soak about 30 seconds on each side. Remove to a cooling rack sitting in a sheet pan. Let sit at least 2 minutes, but not more than 3.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt approximately 2 tablespoons butter (you want a thin layer coating the pan). Lay two or three bread slices into the pan and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan, lay on a baking sheet, and place in oven about 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining bread. Serve immediately with maple syrup.