Is there any breakfast more perfect than French toast? This sweet, eggy dish is morning comfort food at its finest, especially when served homemade and fresh off the griddle.
Like French fries and French dip, the invention of French toast didn’t take place in France—though it does have a long and storied history outside of the United States. As far back as the Roman Empire, people were soaking bread in eggs and milk and then frying it to make a dish known at the time as pan dulcis. Thousands of years later, Europeans were enjoying their own version, a similar dish made with stale bread that earned the moniker pain perdu, or “lost bread.”
As for how it made its way from the Romans to the English to your local town diner, it’s said that we have Joseph French to thank for that, an Albany, New York innkeeper who started making the dish in the 1720s and named it after himself. (Legend has it he really intended for it to be called French’s toast, but didn’t know to include an apostrophe.)
Like with many foods, the history itself could be debatable. What isn’t debatable, however, is that French toast continues to be a highly lauded breakfast staple. Today, we’re whipping up versions of this classic recipe that French toast aficionados of the past could have only dreamed of. And if you want to mix it up, we’ve got some tasty ideas for you.
Here are 17 other ways that you can make and enjoy French toast that are equally worthy of centuries of culinary devotion.
How Do I Make French Toast?
There are tons of interesting ways you can gussy up some standard French toast for your breakfast or brunch table. But it does help to have an understanding of the basic recipe, especially if you want to experiment and come up with additional flavors on your own.
A basic French toast recipe will have you soak slices of bread (fresh is good, stale is better) in an egg and milk custard mixture made up of 1/3 cup milk per two eggs (2/3 cup milk plus four large eggs should be sufficient for eight slices of bread). Once the bread is thoroughly saturated in the mixture, you pan-fry it in a buttered skillet or griddle over medium-high heat until both sides are golden brown.
Many people add subtle flavors to their French toast by sprinkling cinnamon or nutmeg into the egg and milk mixture, or by adding a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract—though sticking with just the essentials will still produce delicious results.
Why Do You Put Milk in French Toast?
When a recipe only has three ingredients, it’s safe to assume that each of them serves a very distinct purpose. Milk adds moisture, fat, and a hint of natural sweetness to the dish, and it’s the difference between making French toast and making bread covered in scrambled eggs.
Fortunately, any kind of milk will do, including plant-based milks. The richer the milk, the richer the end product, though, so if you’re fine with dairy, consider using whole milk, half and half, or even heavy cream in your recipe.
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17 Creative French Toast Recipes
There are so many different ways to elevate basic French toast and turn it into something special. If you’re in the mood to serve something impressive for breakfast—or if you’re just intrigued by all of the possibilities—try out one or more of the recipes below, all of which feature all of the best parts of the classic variety with a little something extra to take it to the next level.
The humble breakfast casserole, and French toast casserole in particular, is a mainstay of the at-home brunch menu, since it’s a great make-ahead meal that you let sit overnight before popping it in the oven just prior to serving.
To make it, place a small saucepan over medium-low heat and melt a ½ cup of butter. Once melted, add a cup of brown sugar and stir together until the mixture is smooth, then remove from heat and pour into a greased 9×12 inch baking dish.
Cube 8 oz of thick, stale bread and add the cubes to the dish on top of the butter and brown sugar mixture. Whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla extract, and cinnamon and pour it on top, thoroughly saturating every cube. Sprinkle on more cinnamon, then cover the dish and place in the fridge overnight.
The next day, preheat your oven to 450℉ and bring the casserole to room temperature. When ready, sprinkle it with a tablespoon of brown sugar and bake until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Short on time? Let the uncooked casserole sit in the fridge for just an hour or two, or bake it right away after mixing. Your bread won’t absorb as much custard, but it should still taste delish.
Challah is a slightly sweet yeasted and braided bread that makes a fantastic base. You can make challah French toast using any basic recipe, but we like Ina Garten’s addition of orange zest to the dish since it pairs wonderfully with the natural sweetness of the bread.
Add the zest of one orange into your egg-milk custard along with vanilla and cinnamon, and pan fry the challah in butter over medium heat until golden. We recommend cutting your challah thick, so aim for 10 to 12 slices out of a loaf.
If decadence is the goal, then stuffed French toast is where it’s at. This indulgent version is made by creating a sandwich with a sweet filling in the middle and then dipping the entire thing in egg-milk custard and pan frying in butter.
A mixture of cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla is a foolproof choice for your filling, but you can also try peanut butter and banana slices, berry jam, or cookie butter.
If fall leaves are on the ground, then pumpkin French toast should be on the stove. Make it by adding ½ cup of canned pumpkin puree to your eggs and milk along with cinnamon, vanilla, and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. To really embrace the season, swap out the cinnamon for pumpkin pie spice and make pumpkin spice French toast.
Really put the French in French toast by using croissants as your bread base. Day-old croissants are ideal and will provide plenty of body for your custard mixture. You can cook them using the basic recipe, or you can use them to make a croissant French toast casserole—whichever sounds better to you.
Sourdough is hearty and just a touch tangy, two features that make it a good choice for French toast. It holds up extra well to fat, so definitely use a richer milk in your custard. Most sourdough French toast recipes will also have you use regular granulated sugar instead of brown sugar if you’re adding more sweetness, though you can’t go wrong with either choice.
7. Crème Brulee
There are your everyday “dessert for breakfast” foods, and then there is crème brulee French toast. This is a casserole variety where a teaspoon or two of orange liqueur, Grand Marnier, or orange juice is added to your custard before soaking the bread. Use brioche if you’ve got it, and let the oven do all the work of crystallizing the brown sugar on top to lend both crispness and an immaculate depth of flavor to your dish.
8. Banana Bread
Love banana bread? Love French toast? Then we’ve got the pairing for you. Banana bread French toast uses thick slices of banana bread in place of regular bread in your French toast recipe. And if you really want to kick it up a notch, bring ¾ cup light corn syrup, ½ cup maple syrup, ¼ cup brown sugar, and ¼ cup water to a boil on the stove, then stir in a cup of chopped walnuts and let simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat, drizzle over your banana bread French toast, and dig in.
Holiday cooking calls for eggnog French toast. All you need to do to make it is use eggnog in place of milk in your custard, with some cinnamon and vanilla in there for good measure. If you like your French toast like you like your eggnog (that is, boozy), add a couple teaspoons of rum or brandy in there, too.
Boil fresh or frozen blueberries on the stove with 1/3 cup of water and a teaspoon of vanilla to make a fruity compote that you can then stir into your egg and milk mixture before dipping your bread. Blueberry French toast is quite sweet on its own thanks to the natural sugars in the berries, so skip out on any additional sugar in your custard for a more balanced bite.
If you prefer strawberries to blueberries, then you can follow the exact same steps above with fresh or frozen strawberries to make a strawberry French toast. Alternately, you could do half blueberries and half strawberries for a French toast riff that tastes oddly similar to your best summer berry pie.
Let’s circle back to stuffed French toast for a second—and more specifically, French toast stuffed with Nutella. Yes, Nutella French toast is absolutely a thing, and all it takes to make is using this ubiquitous chocolate hazelnut spread in your French toast “sandwich.” Add some sliced strawberries, too, for a nice textural component.
Most French toast recipes have a splash or two of vanilla extract in there. However, there are a few different ways to amp up the vanilla flavor in the dish. For even more vanilla-y vanilla, use a full tablespoon of vanilla extract in your custard, scrape in a whole vanilla bean, or make a vanilla crème anglaise to drizzle on top.
14. Peanut Butter
There are two ways to make peanut butter French toast. One, whisk in ¼ cup of creamy peanut butter into your custard before dipping your bread, or two, go the stuffed route with a thick layer of creamy or crunchy peanut butter in between your slices. Either way, stir a pinch or two of cinnamon into the peanut butter for a nice balance of flavor.
Add 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar to your custard to make luxurious chocolate French toast. (Dark chocolate powder would work as well.) This rendition is a stunner all on its own, but made even more impressive when topped with macerated berries and/or a hefty dollop of homemade whipped cream.
Babka is another Jewish braided bread, this time layered with fudgy chocolate or cinnamon stripes. And are you surprised to learn that it makes a standout French toast? Follow the original recipe with babka instead of bread, and make sure the star ingredient—the babka itself—is day old and sliced thick.
Last but certainly not least is s’mores, which makes for a satisfying breakfast but can also serve as a killer dessert. You’ll dip your bread into egg-milk custard per usual and then coat it in a thin layer of graham cracker crumbs before adding it to your pan. Once golden, stack your slices with a layer of marshmallow fluff and chocolate spread in between each piece. Then dust with powdered sugar, because why not?
What to Top French Toast With
Whether you go bold or simple, there’s always room for toppings. Popular choices include:
- Maple syrup
- Fruit compote, macerated berries, or fresh berries
- Whipped cream
- Powdered sugar
- Cinnamon sugar
- Butter (regular or nut butter)
- Candied nuts
- Crème anglaise
Hosting a brunch? Make a French toast casserole (or two), then put out a variety of toppings for a DIY toast bar that your guests are guaranteed to adore.
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