I love taking simple dishes and bringing them to another level, maintaining that fantastic simplicity but heightening the taste. French toast has always been one of my favorite breakfast foods–the crisp, buttery flavor of bread dipped in a sweet cinnamon custard and griddled just right so it has those crispy swirls and designs. As you bite into it, the thickness of the bread has soaked up the eggy mixture, giving it that moist, fluff-like texture. Pour hot maple syrup over the top, add fresh berries, Nutella, bananas, whatever you like, and it’s hard to imagine any other meal quite so perfect.
Brioche, a buttery, eggy French bread, is one of the best breads to use for french toast, as it’s thick, dense texture and slightly sweet flavor holds its own really well when dipped in the milk-egg custard mixture used to make this popular breakfast dish. So, I decided rather than going out and trying to find brioche at a bakery or grocery store, what better alternative than making my own bread?
With that, I set out to make my own brioche from scratch, then used that bread to make the best french toast ever.
I definitely encourage you to make this bread yourself. Although it takes all day and you will have to wait until the next day to have that glorious breakfast, it’s worth the time and effort (not to mention you’ll have a ton of fun doing it). I had a blast making this bread, and it was such a relaxing, peaceful way to spend my day off. If you don’t want to worry about making the bread or just don’t have the time, simply scroll to the bottom for the french toast mixture! Buy a loaf of thick sliced french bread, brioche, Texas toast or any other bread you like.
*Be forewarned: this entire dish calls for a lot of eggs, so make sure you have plenty on hand!
Let’s get started! I used Julia Child’s brioche recipe from Baking with Julia, and the french toast mixture is my own.
1/3 cup whole milk, warm (about 100-110º F)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
Put the milk, yeast, egg and 1 cup of the flour in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer. (If you don’t have a large mixer, you can still do it with your hands. It’s tough, though!) Mix the ingredients together with a rubber spatula, just until everything is combined. Sprinkle the rest of the flour over the sponge and set it aside for about 30 minutes.
You should notice that the flour sprinkled over the top will start to crack.
Add the sugar, salt, eggs and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge. Set the bowl into the mixer attaching the dough hook, and mix on low speed for a minute, until the ingredients start to come together. Continuing mixing, add a 1/2 cup more flour. Once the flour is incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 15 minutes. Scrape the bowl and dough hook as needed. If you are kneading with your hands, be sure to douse your hands in flour, as this dough is super sticky.
As the dough is mixing during that 15 minute period, the dough should start to come together and slap against the sides of the bowl.
Now it’s time to add the butter. Rather than microwave the butter to soften it into submission, take a rolling pin and pound it down until it’s flattened and soft, but not melty or warm. Put the mixer on low-medium speed and add a little bit of butter at a time.
After all of the butter has been added, increase the mixer speed to medium-high for a minute or so, then reduce the speed to medium and knead the dough for 5 minutes. If after a few minutes, the dough is still not coming together and is still quite sticky, add a tablespoon or two of extra flour. When you’re finished, the dough may still be slightly sticky and soft. This is perfectly fine.
First Rise: Move the dough to a large, buttered bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about 2-2 1/2 hours.
Second Rise and Chill: Deflate the risen dough by placing your hands gently underneath and working around the perimeter so that it sinks back down. Again, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place the dough in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, during which the dough should almost double in size for a second time.
Once the dough has finished rising in the fridge, there are a number of ways you can go about preparing the bread for baking. I divided the dough into balls that fit snuggly in a buttered 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, placing eight balls into a pan (2 by 2 by 2 by 2). You should be able to get at least two loaves of bread in total.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly brush each loaf with egg wash (1 egg and 1 1/2 tbs of water), making sure not to let the glaze drizzle into the pan, as this will inhibit the dough’s rising ability while baking. The egg wash gives the bread that shiny look. With a knife or scissors, make a cross in each ball of dough. Bake the loaves for about 28 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 200°F. Cool to room temperature on a rack.
French Toast Mixture
3/4 cup milk
1 tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon (+ more as needed)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Dip each slice of brioche (or any thickly sliced bread) in the mixture and hold for at least ten seconds on each side. The brioche is very dense and will need a while to soak up all of the custard. Then, fry them up on a large frying pan or griddle at medium heat with a generous amount of butter.
I love adding a bit of hot maple syrup and berries to my french toast. Enjoy enjoy enjoy!