“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘Breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.” ~ Steven Wright
French toast is a weekend tradition in our family that began when I first learned how to bake our Shabbat challah. I’ll admit it– I’m a perfectionist. When I tackled the art of making a beautifully braided challah, it took me countless tries before I was happy with my technique. Those first few weeks of challah making resulted in copious amounts of challah piling up in our kitchen. I gave most of the bread away to friends and family, but we were left with plenty to use up ourselves.
Luckily, my husband makes a mean French toast… and no bread is better suited to French toast than eggy, soft, fluffy challah bread. Challah (especially day old or or slightly stale challah) acts like a sponge, soaking up the egg and milk mixture and saturating itself with goodness. My stepdaughter loves her Abba’s French toast, and she loved it even more when we started using challah. What a treat!
The most basic form of French toast is bread soaked in milk and/or eggs, then fried. This simple cooking concept has been around since antiquity. There is a loosely similar recipe to French toast in the oldest known cookbook, Apicius, an Ancient Roman collection of recipes written in the early 5th century CE. Here is a translation of that recipe:
Another sweet: break grated Sigilines (wheat bread) and make larger bites. Soak in milk, fry in oil, douse in honey and serve.
~Apicius Book VII, XI-3
As you can see, the basic method for cooking French toast hasn’t changed much throughout the centuries. Eggs didn’t appear in a printed recipe until 1870. The practice of soaking bread and then frying it most likely came about as a way to use up bread that had gone stale to make it more palatable. Where the “French” name came from is not exactly clear– there are many theories, but the actual source of the name is a culinary mystery.
My own version of Challah French Toast is very similar to my husband’s. I make it with homemade challah when we have it. On those weeks when I’m running short on time, we pick up a challah from our local Jewish bakery. We tend to use lowfat milk in our home, which isn’t as rich as whole milk (or the cream that some recipes call for!). To make the milk mixture for the French toast thicker and richer, I like to add a banana, then blend it together with a little flour for fluffiness. A touch of rum or Grand Marnier is optional, but tasty. The resulting French toast is seriously amazing– fluffy, airy, and not at all soggy. It is somewhat lighter than other recipes I’ve seen that drench the bread in cream, sugar, and butter. I much prefer to give the bread a rich flavor without a ton of sweetness and excess fat– this way, people can add as much syrup or butter as they want and adjust the sweetness to taste. It might not be “health food,” exactly, but it makes your soul happy… and we all deserve a little treat once in a while.
Speaking of treats, I think I might make tonight a “brinner” night. Nothing brings a bigger smile to my family’s faces than serving breakfast for dinner, especially when the entree is an aromatic batch of Challah French Toast. Om nom nom…
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- 12 slices challah, sliced 1 inch thick (cut larger slices in half)
- 1 cup lowfat milk
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 ripe banana
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1-2 tbsp rum, Kahlua, or Grand Marnier (optional)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
You will also need
- large skillet (nonstick is best), blender, baking sheet (optional)
- This recipe works best with day-old or slightly stale challah bread. If your bread is fresh, you can take some of the moisture out by placing the slices on a baking sheet and putting them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, flipping the slices once halfway through cooking. This will dry the bread out a bit, which will help it soak up the moisture from the milk and egg mixture. If you don't have time for this step, no worries-- fresh bread will work too, it just won't soak up as much of the egg mixture.
- In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, flour, banana, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and rum or liqueur (optional). Blend for a few seconds till well mixed.
- Pour the liquid mixture into a shallow baking dish or pie plate.
- Soak your slices of challah in the liquid for about 60 seconds, turning once, till the bread is nicely saturated on both sides. This should be done in batches.
- Heat your skillet over medium and grease it with 2 tbsp butter.
- Fry the toast in two batches of 6 slices each.
- Let the slices brown nicely on each side for 3-5 minutes. Keep the heat on medium (or a little lower) to make sure the toast cooks through but doesn't burn.
- When the first batch of toast is cooked, regrease the pan with remaining 2 tbsp of butter and fry the second batch.
- Plate the French toast and garnish with powdered sugar, using a mesh strainer to lightly and evenly powder the toast with sugar.
- Serve Challah French Toast hot with your favorite toppings. Some of our favorites include butter, maple syrup, berries, caramelized bananas or fresh whipped cream.