I’ve been a latecomer to many things in life—the iPhone, fantasy football, Fleetwood Mac—but most of all morning exercise. The idea of getting in a run before work was not something I even considered until last year, when I returned from a trip to Europe to find that I had the magical ability to wake up naturally well before it was time to get to the office. Having proven I could get out of bed and run, I can still squeeze in morning runs a few times a month, and nothing motivates that run more than the vision of a big breakfast when I get back to my apartment.
I’ve always considered running as license to a highly functional and rewarding relationship with carbs, year-round but even more so as the weather turns cold. Below are some tips to up your game for the breakfast staple French toast or pain perdu (“lost bread”) as my mom would call it when she would dress it up for a weeknight dinner. (Growing up in Indiana, it’s easy to hear this as an ambiguous slight to Purdue University.) French toast is a blank canvas that you can dress up in a lot of different ways, and many of the ideas below go for pancakes and waffles, too!
1. More Breads, More Fun
Have more than one kind of bread on hand? Use more than one to enjoy different textures. Personally, I enjoy more elastic breads like baguettes that maintain their chew even after soaking in the milk and egg mixture. If I have an old baguette that’s dried out, I’ll cut it into chunks and put it in the freezer until I’m ready to use it. When it’s time, let the bread come to room temperature and give it an extra minute or two to soak. Contrast that with a bread that will soften more when soaked like challah, brioche, or regular white sandwich bread. To make a true pain perdu, use bread that’s begun to dry out, so it will soak up more milk and eggs!
2. Fruit Instead of Syrup
A fresh alternative to maple syrup is to toss some cut fruit with sugar and let it macerate in the fridge. The sugar will help draw out juice from the fruit and create a very light syrup. Strawberries are the perfect candidate for this treatment. Toss a cup of sliced strawberries and half a mango cut into chunks with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let that macerate in the fridge for 30 minutes and then spoon it over your toast.
3. Add crunch!
The soft texture of French toast begs for a little crunch. Sprinkle the finished plate with toasted walnuts or pecans, toasted coconut, corn flakes, or demerara sugar.
4. Shape Up
Get some visual interest going by buying a whole loaf of bread and cutting it in different shapes. One big cube is satisfying to take down with a knife and fork, as are large wedges. Take this as an opportunity to explore your favorite style of architecture.
5. Get Cheesy
If you haven’t thought of French toast as a vehicle for cheese, prepare to have your mind blown. You can find plenty of recipes that involve cream cheese, but there’s a whole wide world of possibilities out there. I daresay any soft or semisoft cheese will work. Ricotta? Sure. Chevre? Why not? Brie? Yaaas! If you’ve never tried it, Brillat-Savarin is excellent with French toast—because Brillat-Savarin is excellent with everything.
6. Go Crazy
You want to put some chocolate chips on that French toast? Maybe some hot fudge? Whipped cream? How about just build an ice cream sundae on your breakfast plate—along with some bacon? Nobody’s looking! Fall racing season is upon us! You need the energy! Now enjoy that with a cup of coffee and a nice episode of Law and Order. Make it SVU. You deserve it.
French Toast: Basic Recipe
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-8 slices of white bread/Italian bread/challah/brioche or ½ a baguette—or a mix
¼ cup butter
Confectioner’s sugar, for garnish
Maple syrup/fruit/nuts, etc., to serve
Beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are evenly combined and stir in the milk, salt, and vanilla. Soak the bread in the milk and eggs mixture until it has absorbed enough of the mixture to be spongy but isn’t falling apart. The softer the bread you’re using, like challah and brioche, the less soaking it needs. Sometimes a two-second dunk will do. Harder bread such as a baguette may need a few minutes. Remove the soaked bread to a plate or tray. Heat a sauté pan—preferably nonstick—over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add a tablespoon of butter and swirl it around the pan, so the pan is coated. The butter will bubble up initially, and then the bubbles will subside. Add the bread after the bubbles have subsided, adding as many slices as will fit comfortably. Cook each side until it is lightly brown. Remove to a plate and serve with a sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar and accompaniments. Serves 1-2.
Dan DeBonis is a Senior Acquisitions Editor for Psychology at Worth Publishers, and he will pay top dollar for amazing tomatoes.