Bread has been around for about 30,000 years give or take a few. Thus, Pain Perdu-French toast-is the answer to a truly ancient culinary question, “What the heck can I do with leftover bread to make it taste better?”
I could kiss whoever came up with the answer. At it’s best, French toast is like an instant, pan-fried bread pudding-warm and toasty on the outside, soft and custardy on the inside. I used to think I made pretty decent French toast, until I followed the instructions in The Best Recipe by Cook’s Illustrated. I now make what has been called, “the best French toast ever.” I wouldn’t make this claim on my own of course. (Although, when I make it with my homemade Challah, I am tempted to write poetry.)
French toast is also an answer to a question as old as humanity itself, “What the heck should one make for dinner when there’s next to nothing in the fridge, you’re hungry, broke, or just don’t feel like going shopping.” Even Sheryl Crow knows the answer to that, “Scrape the mold off the bread, and serve you French toast again.”
As part of our must-be-homemade-and-on-the-table-in-less-than-30-minutes-meal planning, breakfast is on the dinner menu quite often. There are many variations-pancakes and eggs, breakfast burritos, waffles, polenta and eggs, etc. French toast, however, is always met with excitement. (Shh, don’t tell anyone, but it’s like having dessert for dinner.)
This last week, I tried a twist on two family favorites-French toast, and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I’m not really sure what to call it, but it was a cross between a Monte Cristo and an Elvis sandwich. All I can say is, it turned out pretty dang awesome.
Peanut Butter Banana Monte Cristo, A Frenched Elvis Sandwich, or Something Like That
Your favorite French toast batter (I don’t measure, but 3/4 milk to one egg is an excellent ratio. Add a little flour, little sugar, pinch of salt, vanilla, and cinnamon and it’ll be golden)
Sliced bread – sandwich bread or Challah is best, not too thick
1) Get your pan preheated to medium. Cast iron is best, but non-stick is ok too.
2) Put peanut butter on both pieces of bread. Top one side with sliced banana and press it together lightly.
3) Put a small pat of butter in your hot pan and spread it around as it melts.
4) Dip each side of the sandwich in the batter for a few seconds till it feels a little heavy. Let any residual batter drip run off before putting it in the pan.
5) Cook for a few minutes till brown, then flip and cook a few more minutes.
6) As each sandwich is finished, put it on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven (or toaster oven) for another 5-10 minutes till you’re finished cooking.
7) Serve with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar.
I only followed the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for French toast once or twice. Now I measure by color, add lots of cinnamon, and it still turns out beautifully. Since it’s all improv, I thought this would be the perfect recipe to experiment with the concept of a recipe poem. I stumbled on this idea in Alimentum-a wonderful literary journal that focuses on food.
Cooking is an art just as much as a science. The problem is, the standard recipe format minimizes, or skips the sensory experience all together. If you want exact measurements for the best French toast ever, I highly recommend you check out The Best Recipe, or the Cook’s Illustrated website. If you are feeling a little roguish and ready to attempt a culinary road less traveled, maybe this can be your guide:
Manhandle your heaviest pan over a flame half turned
Break an egg per person (from a carton that creaks like the floor)
Pinch the salt, more milk than egg, then loop it up
till yellow soft as an Easter dress
Snow in sugar and flour, no drifts
Muddy with cinnamon & vanilla, two caps
Mix in the flurries, and don’t worry
little lumps won’t hurt
Send a bit of butter round the hotpan bubbling
Dunk a good yeasty bread in the custard and count
(one-two-three) under your breath, then flip
Count three again, now heavy
Let the runoff slow
Flop it in the pan (soft hiss)
Flip and done when freckled brown
Watch them eat
p.s. America’s Test Kitchen posted my link on their Facebook page, calling it an “intensely delicious sandwich!”