French toast is one of those things that everybody kind of knows how to make, but few people know how to do really well. And while the dish originally does hail from France (its original name, pain perdu, means lost or wasted bread), it has become a beloved American breakfast dish.
Here’s how to make sure that your French toast comes out with a crispy, crunchy exterior, a rich, creamy interior, and the right balance of custardy sweetness every single time.
Use High-Quality Bread with a Dense Crumb
Sure, just about any bread that’s dipped in an egg-based custard (aka soaking liquid) and fried in butter is going to taste good, but if you want your French toast to taste great, you want really, really good bread.
Challah, brioche, a loaf of traditional country white bread: something with a dense, almost cakey crumb is going to really soak up the custard so you can get the aforementioned creamy interior and crunchy exterior. Slice it thickly—about an inch wide works.
Making French toast with fresh, soft bread usually means you end up with soggy slices. That bread needs to have some moisture removed to really cook up well. You can wait until the bread is stale, but if you’re trying to really impress folks, Cook’s Illustrated recommends cut your loaf into slices and drying it out. Why? Because stale bread is usually flavorless bread. If you buy a fresh loaf and dry it out yourself, you’ll still have that freshly made flavor.
It also means that you can really soak your bread in the egg mixture for that perfect custardy interior without having to worry that the bread will fall apart during the process.