If you've got stale bread lying around, don't be too eager to throw it away — it's the perfect vehicle for French toast. One of the greatest things about French toast is its simplicity. It's just bread dunked in eggs, milk, and sugar, then cooked until golden brown. There are ways to make French toast even more fabulous, like adding booze or savory ingredients, but a simple French toast is really something special.
When the time comes to enjoy some French toast, aside from the flavor, the texture is everything. Since the bread is essentially soaked in a custard prior to heating, improper cooking can result in a soggy French toast that's less than desirable. There are two primary methods for making the dish: pan-frying and baking. There are some key distinctions between these methods, like cook time and the bread's final texture. If you like a crispier French toast, opt for pan-frying; if you like a custard French toast, baking is the way to go.
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Pan-Fried French Toast
When you envision cooking up a quick weekend breakfast, you probably imagine pan-frying some French toast. This method only requires that you quickly soak the bread before cooking it in a non-stick pan. The benefit of pan-fried French toast is that the oil or butter from the shallow fry helps make the bread crispy. Ideally, your pan-fried dish will have a nice golden-brown crust around the bread's edges but remain custard-like and pillowy toward the center. If you're looking for an even crispier iteration, try frying the bread in butter, as this helps it brown evenly.
If you like the crispiness of pan-fried French toast but don't want to use too much butter or oil, the air fryer can be your best friend. French toast made in an air fryer yields a crunchy exterior while retaining a creamy middle. The prep for air fryer French toast is the same as pan-fried, but the cooking method is simplified — just cook your coated bread directly in the air fryer basket without any oil or butter. While the pan and the air fryer will yield a similar texture, the pan-fried method is more traditional, though it does involve more cleanup.
Baked French Toast
Baked French toast is also known as French toast casserole or breakfast casserole. In this version, the bread, eggs, milk, and sugar are layered in a baking dish and left to soak, preferably overnight, before they're popped in the oven. Since baked French toast doesn't have the benefit of being fried in a pan, its texture won't be as crispy. If you want to obtain a crunchier exterior, try adding a streusel or sugar coating on top. The cinnamon and sugar will caramelize in the oven, yielding a delicate crust.
Unlike pan-fried French toast, the baked version resembles bread pudding. The bread is commonly torn into pieces before being covered in a layer of custard and any additional toppings. Instead of being served with a sweet sauce, baked French toast is typically served with maple syrup. Since the casserole is layered with smaller bread pieces, it will have a different texture than one pan-fried slice. This is because the additional layers allow for more custard (and more crunchy toppings) to get into the cracks and crevices. Both baked and fried French toast are best eaten the day they're made, but they can be saved and reheated the next day.
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