- Enriched breads like milk bread, brioche, and challah make tender, flavorful French toast.
- Stale bread works best since it readily soaks up the batter.
- Adjust the soak time for your bread based on its texture and how thickly it is sliced.
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French toast is a staple on diner menus and a popular dish to make at home thanks to its ease and short ingredient list.
“French toast is a comforting slice of nostalgia and the perfect upcycled breakfast,” says Emily Elyse Miller, author of “Breakfast: The Cookbook.” “The best part about French toast is the opportunity to give stale bread a new identity in the form of a delicious, syrup-soaked meal.”
Bread is undoubtedly the star ingredient of French toast. This makes your choice of bread extra important — some breads soak up the batter better than others, while some have a better crust and others have a tender interior. “I like a pillowy center and soft crust for French toast-making,” says Miller. These are her picks for the best breads for making French toast.
Stale vs. fresh bread
Stale bread works best for French toast. “Any bread just past freshness has depleted moisture levels allowing for prime saturation in the cinnamon-y egg batter,” says Miller. The more batter the bread soaks up, the more custardy the interior will be.
Keep in mind that the more stale your bread is, the longer you’ll need to soak it. Delicate breads like sliced white bread don’t hold their shape well with extended soaking no matter how stale they are. To avoid French toast that falls apart in the pan, use bread that is just slightly stale.
Sturdier breads like slices of baguette tend to hold their shape well, so you can use very stale pieces and soak them for several minutes before cooking, or until well-saturated and tenderized.
If you only have fresh bread on hand and would like to start with stale bread, let the bread sit out overnight or, for a quick fix, dry slices out in a low temperature oven to remove moisture. Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and bake in a 250-degree-Fahrenheit oven for around 30 minutes, or just until it feels dry to the touch but not hard like a crouton.
1. Milk bread
Often called Japanese or Hokkaido milk bread, milk bread is made using a milk and flour roux called tangzhong, giving it a feather-light but sturdy texture. You’ll find it in perfectly rectangular wrapped loaves or with a shiny domed top, and the slices tend to be thick with a tender crust and airy interior. “This makes it perfect for soaking up the egg mixture,” says Miller.
While the bread is soft, the thick slices help it hold up in the pan. For an extra custardy texture, use stale bread and soak for several seconds on each side. If you like your French toast to have a bit more bite, use fresh bread and simply dip in the egg mixture. Regardless, soak just long enough to saturate each side — over-soaking may cause the bread to fall apart in the pan.
Brioche is an enriched bread with a shiny crust that’s popular in French baking. It has a rich and velvety crumb thanks to the inclusion of butter, eggs, and sugar. It’s a natural pairing for an egg and dairy batter with its soft interior, buttery crust, and lightly sweet flavor. It will soak up plenty of mixture like milk toast but “is slightly denser and will hold up in the pan,” says Miller.Brioche is sold in various shaped loaves as well as buns. Fresh, slightly stale slices, or split buns will all work for French toast. Soak just long enough to saturate both sides so it doesn’t break apart during cooking — a quick dip for fresh bread, or about 30 seconds per side for stale pieces.
Challah is a Jewish bread that is traditionally served at Shabbat and many holidays. It’s an enriched bread that is made with eggs and oil, lightly sweetened, and braided into a loaf or circular shape. The texture and flavor is similar to brioche, but “[it] has a braided form leaving lots of room for soaking up the egg mixture and crisping up in the pan,” says Miller.
Use it in the same way you would brioche — fresh or barely stale, soaked just long enough to saturate.
4. White bread
Many people are more likely to have sandwich bread on hand with extra slices that need using up. White bread makes especially good French toast since it’s soft, neutral in flavor, and good at soaking up liquid.
Miller says you can use sliced sandwich bread at any stage of freshness, just adjust your soak time accordingly so that it doesn’t get too soggy. Fresh slices should simply be dipped in one fluid motion and they’re ready to cook. Let stale pieces soak for a few seconds on each side.
If you prefer your French toast to be chewy on the inside with a crisp exterior, try making it with slices of baguette. Since baguettes have a short lifespan, it’s a great way to use up half of a day-old loaf. The denser crust stays crisp after cooking.
For the best results, use extra-stale slices of baguette to make French toast. Let them soak in the batter for a minute or more per side, until they are well-saturated before pan-frying.
For a classic restaurant-style French toast, use a pillowy bakery-style bread like milk bread, brioche, or challah. Sliced white bread is a convenient and tasty option, and slices of baguette work well if they are stale and soaked for several minutes in batter. Stale bread soaks up more of the custard, but don’t over-soak, since soft breads will fall apart in the pan.