Hi there. With it being the weekend and all, I won’t keep you. I just thought, in case you hadn’t decided on breakfast yet, that you might be interested in this baked French toast, a dish I find nearly impossible not to make at least once a weekend. The recipe comes from Tartine Bread, the book that introduced me to eggplant involtini and kale caesar salad, and like those two, this one’s a good one.
While I love this French toast above all for its texture — caramelized on the outside, not soggy on the inside — what distinguishes it from any other French toast I’ve had, baked or otherwise, is the presence of lemon zest, a most-unexpected and delicious flavor in a traditionally cinnamon-spiked dish.
There are a few keys to finding success with this French toast: 1. Cut the bread into thick slices — way thicker than what will likely feel appropriate. Use a ruler (I did) if you have any question about what an inch-and-a-half looks like. 2. Do not place the skillet in the oven until the bottoms of the bread slices are caramelized — if they’re not caramelized before you place the pan in the oven, they won’t be caramelized when you take them out of the oven. 3. Be sure to bake the slices for a sufficient amount of time. I find 20 to 25 minutes of baking ensures a non-soggy center.
I hope you all have a nice weekend. If you find time to work some baked French toast into one of your mornings — perhaps with a side of bacon — nice, I hope, will be an understatement.
This is what the French toast looks like when it emerges from the oven. The caramelization happens on only one side — the skillet side — and the only flipping involved happens when you’re ready to serve.
Baked French Toast
Source: Tartine Bread
Serves 2 (or 4 more appropriately)
Note: The book suggests serving the French toast with maple-glazed bacon and a very ripe Hachiya persimmon. Yum.
2 tablespoons sugar
zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
2 slices day-old country bread*, cut into 1 1/2-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons butter
*Any bakery-style loaf will do.
1. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, salt and milk. Place the bread slices in the custard base and let stand until the bread is saturated, about 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place rack in middle of oven.
3. Heat an oven-proof skillet (cast-iron skillet works great) over medium-low heat. (Note: really be patient here and keep the heat at medium-low.) Melt the butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Lift each bread slice from the custard base and place in the pan. Cook the slices for about 3 minutes, occasionally pressing them against the bottom of the pan with a spatula so the bottoms cook evenly. This step seals the bottoms of the slices by cooking the outer layer of custard base. It also prepares the bread for receiving more custard base.
3. Spoon or ladle more custard base into the center of each bread slice. (Note: I did not do this. The slices seemed saturated enough with custard that adding more seemed unnecessary, but by all means give this a go.) If the liquid leaks out of the bread and onto the skillet, the bread slices are not quite sealed. Continue cooking for 1 minute, pressing the slices slightly to seal. Transfer the skillet to the oven’s middle rack — do not flip over the slices.
4. Bake the slices for 12 to 15 minutes. (Note: I find 15 to 20 minutes or even a few minutes more than 20 to be a better length of time — at 12 to 15 minutes, my slices are still soggy in the center. Definitely check the slices at 15 minutes, however. The book notes that it may take up to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the bread for the slices to cook all the way through.) The French toast is done when the custard seems solid and each slice appears inflated, as the custard souflées when fully cooked.
5. Using a spatula, remove the French toast from the skillet and place them, caramelized-side up onto plates. The skillet side should be caramelized and crisp.