Pain perdu

French toast, French style

French toast is served in France not just as a breakfast or brunch dish, but also as an afternoon snack or a dessert. It can be made with any kind of bread. In Paris, the long white loaf known as baguette is traditional, although lately the bread of choice has become pain brioché, which is similar to egg bread or challah.

French-style French toast differs from the standard American variety in a couple of ways. First, the bread is dipped into a egg-milk mixture that is sweetened and also flavored, most often with vanilla — although cinnamon may included as well. Second, the dish is served sprinkled with powdered sugar rather than topped with butter and maple syrup.

For best results, buy a whole loaf and slice the bread yourself. The slices should be fairly thick — about 3/4 inch (2 cm) — to ensure that they don’t fall apart when dipped. If using fresh bread, set the slices out to dry for several hours or overnight before you make the dish, for example by placing them on a cake rack.

The quantities below will serve 3 as a brunch dish, and up to 6 as a snack or dessert.

2 medium eggs
3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla sugar, or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract plus 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt (optional, see below)
2 tbsp. butter
6 slices dry bread

1 tbsp. powdered sugar (icing sugar / sucre glace)

Preheat the oven to 250 F (120 C, gas mark 4).

Crack the eggs into a bowl. Whisk with a wire whip until thoroughly blended and frothy.

Whisk in the milk and the seasonings — include the salt only if you will be frying the toasts in unsalted butter. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish.

Heat 1 tbsp. butter to sizzling in a skillet. Turn down the heat to medium high.

Dip a bread slice into the egg-milk mixture, turn over to dip the other side and lift to allow any extra to drip off. Transfer to the skillet. Repeat with more slices until the skillet is full.

Fry the slices until they are a deep golden brown, flipping from time to time to check. Transfer the first batch to a pie tin and place in the warm oven. Add the second tablespoon of butter to the skillet and cook the rest of the slices. Transfer to the oven.

When ready to serve, set the slices on a cake rack. Sprinkle with the powdered sugar — I find the best way to achieve an evenly speckled effect is to press the sugar through a sieve over the slices, using the back of a spoon.

Serve whole or sliced in half, with fruit or bacon (or both) alongside. Serves 3 as a brunch dish, 6 as a snack or dessert.

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