Pain Perdu – The Perfection of French Toast
I love dessert for breakfast! Exactly a year ago during our brunch at Craftbar in Manhattan, we encountered the epitome of perfection that will benchmark all the future french toasts to come. Determined to recreate this recipe at home, I took on the challenge. Bring it on, Tom Colicchio…
One of the many reasons why we love Craftbar is because they list french toast as “pain perdu”, giving it a nod to its origins. Translated literally to mean “lost bread”, the ingenuity transpired from an effort to salvage stale bread by soaking it in an eggy mixture. Nowadays, we set out to buy bread for the sole purpose of making it stale which is definitely one of the key components to this recipe.
It was a long year of pain perdu experiments in our test kitchen. We’ve tried a recipe handed down to us from his mom which incorporated a little bit of dry alcohol but the consistency of the bread was sub par. We knew that Craftbar uses a brioche but this seemed to be a diamond in the rough. We ducked inside every bakery we passed in search of this brioche. Even our trusted boulangerie in Brooklyn, Almondine, failed to showcase this buttery, spongy bread. We settled for an egg challah in the meantime.
One day, as I was strolling through SoHo, I passed by Balthazar Bakery. Mais bien sûr – but of course! How did we manage to overlook such a high profile boulangerie?! At long last, we had our beloved brioche loaf! But sadly, the recipe was still not quite right. At Craftbar, the pain perdu was perfectly crispy on the outside while the inside was light and fluffy with a hint of sweet custard. And that’s when it finally struck me like a bolt of lightning. Custard! The mixture needed to be thick like custard to prevent the bread from getting too soggy. Most recipes require regular milk which bread absorbs far too quickly. And I also decided to omit the egg whites for a truly rich, custard mixture.
|6||1-inch thick slices of stale brioche|
|2||cups heavy whipping cream|
|1/2||tsp vanilla extract|
|2||Tbsp butter, melted|
|1||Tbsp vegetable oil|
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat heavy whipping cream with vanilla. Bring to a slow simmer. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar until it turns a pale, yellow color. Gradually whisk the hot cream mixture into the eggs. Transfer to a shallow dish.
- Take one slice of bread and dip it into the mixture, about 7 seconds on each side. Transfer to a cookie sheet and repeat the process until you have no remaining slices. TIP: This works best if your bread is really hard and stale. If your bread is fresh, you can recreate the same texture by placing your brioche slices in the oven for 5-7 minutes at 350 degrees.
- Place skillet over medium heat. In a small bowl, mix the melted butter and oil together. Dip a ball of paper towel into the oil mixture and coat the skillet. One by one, grill each soaked slice of brioche until it is slightly brown (approximately 1-2 minutes per side). Transfer back to cookie sheet. Bake the french toast in the oven for 10 minutes. TIP: Between grilling each slice, use the paper towel to swipe the skillet clean and reapply another thin layer of oil mixture each time.