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French Toast Without the Fuss

By Lan Lam Published

Forget drippy soaking methods and tedious batch cooking. Your oven is the most efficient tool for producing golden, custardy slices.

I thought my days as a short-order cook were long behind me, but in recent months I’ve been logging a lot of hours on the test kitchen’s breakfast line. It all started with my recipe for Easy Pancakes, in which I prioritized pantry-friendly ingredients and minimal effort so that the flapjacks could be thrown together anytime—not just on leisurely weekend mornings. That got me thinking about an equally simple formula for that other breakfast mainstay, French toast. Soaking bread in an eggy custard and browning the slices in a pan until they’re golden on the outside and custardy within doesn’t take long, but all that dipping, flipping, and batch cooking is fussy business, especially if you’re trying to serve a crowd. And the custard-to-bread ratio rarely works out just right: Either you’re short on custard and the last slices are dry—all toast, no French—or you’re left with an excess of custard that gets poured down the drain.

So back to the breakfast station I went with my sights set on a recipe for French toast that could transform ordinary sandwich bread into a creamy, crisp-crusted treat. No fuss. No mess. No waste.

I mixed up a basic custard—just eggs, milk, and sugar flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and salt—but quickly realized that simply dumping all the ingredients into a bowl and whisking wasn’t the best approach if I wanted the custard to be homogeneous. To break up the eggs, I had to whisk vigorously, which caused milk to slosh out of the bowl while stubborn clumps of yolk slid past the tines of the whisk. Going forward, I held back the milk, adding it once I had beaten the eggs with the vanilla, sugar, salt, and cinnamon until they were completely smooth. At that point, the milk could simply be stirred in.

A Better Way to Whisk Custard

Mixing up custard the usual way—by whisking all the ingredients together at once—tends to slosh liquid out of the bowl and yields a broken custard that cooks up streaky on French toast. We found that whisking the ingredients into the eggs in stages blends the mixture more thoroughly and without making a mess. First we beat the sugar, cinnamon, and salt into the eggs and vanilla; the gritty particles of the dry ingredients help break up the egg yolks. At that point, it’s easy to thoroughly incorporate the melted butter and milk.

 

Staggering Makes It Smooth: For a homogeneous custard, first whisk the dry ingredients into the eggs to break up the yolks, and then stir in the liquids.

I proceeded with the conventional dip-and-fry approach, dunking each slice into the custard and browning a few slices at a time in a hot skillet. The custard’s flavor needed tweaking—it lacked richness and depth. Whisking a couple of tablespoons of melted butter into the custard made it more luxurious, and I found that adding the butter to the egg mixture before the milk prevented the butter from clumping. Meanwhile, switching from granulated to brown sugar and adding more vanilla (a full tablespoon) boosted the custard’s flavor.

Letting It Soak In

Calibrating exactly how long the bread should soak was trickier. A quick dip yielded toast that was dry in patches, while fully saturating the slices left them downright soggy. With some trial and error, I figured out the ideal scenario: The custard needed to penetrate ¼ inch into each slice, leaving a slim “backbone” of dry bread in the center that supported the weight of the custard to ensure that each piece cooked up creamy, not soggy.

I know what you’re thinking: No one would go to the trouble of measuring the soaking depth of the custard for French toast. But I did. And happily, those tests helped me figure out a really simple way to get each slice perfectly saturated.  

I poured the custard into a rimmed baking sheet, which caused it to spread into an even layer. Then I laid out the bread slices like tiles on the custard-covered surface. By the time the last slice was in place, the first side of the first slice had soaked up just the right amount of custard. I flipped each slice, and in barely a minute I was rewarded with eight perfectly soaked slices of bread and no excess custard in the sheet.

The only problem was that the custard‑laden slices were too delicate to transfer to the skillet. But maybe I didn’t need a skillet at all. Why not bake the slices instead?

We soaked eight different types of bread—from conventional American sandwich bread to an ultraplush Japanese loaf—in a blue-dyed custard to see how far the custard penetrated and which slice was strong enough to resist tearing once saturated.

Out of the Frying Pan

There were two potential advantages to baking: The saturated slices would stay intact, and they could be cooked in a single batch (no need to worry about keeping the first batch warm while the remaining slices cooked). For the next batch, I coated the baking sheet generously with vegetable oil spray to prevent the bread from sticking during baking, poured in the custard, added the bread, flipped it, and popped the sheet onto the lowest rack of a 425-degree oven. The bottoms of the slices browned in about 10 minutes.

I was about to flip each slice to brown the second side when I had a better idea: Instead of painstakingly flipping each slice (and potentially burning my fingers), I could broil the toast. All I had to do was move the baking sheet to a rack set about 5 inches below the broiler and switch the oven from bake to broil. Three minutes later, the custardy toast was browned on both sides. The crisp broiled surface contrasted beautifully with the toast’s creamy center—even after I'd doused it with maple syrup.

This French toast is so quick and easy, you can make it in your sleep—or at least while the coffee is brewing.

Easy-Bake (and Broil) Oven French Toast

There’s no need to batch-cook your French toast in a skillet, which risks tearing the delicate slices and splattering custard on the stovetop. Our two-step oven approach avoids the fuss and mess: We first bake the custard-saturated slices on the lowest rack of a hot oven until their bottoms are deeply golden and then slide the baking sheet under the broiler to briefly brown and crisp their tops.  

Recipe Everyday French Toast

Forget drippy soaking methods and tedious batch cooking. Your oven is the most efficient tool for producing golden, custardy slices.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.