If you love brioche French toast - especially slices loaded with cinnamon - you're not alone. And while thousands of recipes exist for what the French call pain perdu, you actually don't need a recipe at all. Even for a perfectly sweet, cinnamon-spiked stack of YUM with any kind of bread!
The story of pain perdu or lost bread
The direct translation of pain perdu is "lost bread." Pain is French for bread and perdu means lost, or waste. For as long as bakeries or boulangeries have existed in France, so has pain perdu. Or bread that was too old to sell.
This doesn't mean the bakers of France tossed their old bread in la poubelle, (the trash bin). The French waste nothing, above all, bread. So given the French's aptitude for custard (crème brûlée, anyone?), the practice of reviving stale bread with an egg-cream mixture is par for the course.
Bread revival, New Orleans-style
This now mainly American tradition runs strongest in the city of New Orleans, one with a rich, delicious French heritage. And a city with a unique culture that needs no introduction.
The Crescent City's hippest and oldest restaurants serve indulgent plates of two-inch thick brioche slices, topped with fanciful garnishes like bourbon-soaked plums and bruléed pineapple. But that's not how the home cooks of New Orleans do it.
Pain Perdu, in authentic New Orleans fashion
I myself hail from New Orleans and come from a long line of avid creole home cooks. While I didn't come of age parading around the French Quarter, my mother grew up in Metairie. Her French toast is as traditional, and down-right delicious as it gets. And she will take no offense in me writing this next bit: Cooking is NOT her thing.
I call her out on this lack of cooking enthusiasm to demonstrate how simple and quick French toast can be. Even one bursting with sweet, earthy, mouth-watering cinnamon. Because if my lovely mother is anything in the kitchen, it's low-maintenance.
New Orlean's-style Cinnamon French toast, no recipe needed
So tuck those teaspoons away friends, cinnamon-coated New Orlean's-style French toast can be a reality in your kitchen in a few quick minutes. As long as you are armed with proper technique, and a few key ingredients.
Mom's Simple French Toast
- Sliced bread, any kind
- Basic custard batter (2 eggs + 1 cup milk/cream/half & half)
- Jars full of ground cinnamon (only half kidding)
- Few sprinkles or drizzles of any sweetener: sugar, coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup
- Pinch of salt
- About a tablespoon of vanilla extract, optional
- lemon or orange zest, optional
Go nuts with the cinnamon. Growing up I vividly remember my mom mixing shake after shake of ground cinnamon into the custard batter. Until it turned nearly the color of chocolate. To this day, her no-fuss-just-eyeballing-it method is how I whip up a breakfast treat for my boys. And it's downright divine.
How to make superb brioche French toast
For brioche French toast New Orleans-style - or any style - two elements are the ticket to scrumptious success:
- stale or dried out slices of bread
- a nice long dip in the custard
Step 1. Find your lost bread. Or lose some.
In the absence of true stale bread, slice up thick pieces the night before, and leave them uncovered to dry out overnight. For impromptu French toast, dry out the slices in a toaster or low-heat oven, taking care not to let them brown.
Step 2. Prepare the custard batter.
Custard Batter = 2 eggs + 1 cup milk/cream/half & half
Whisk a basic custard batter in a medium bowl seasoned and spiced any way you like. For every 2 inch-thick slices of bread, you need roughly one cup of milk and two eggs.
Step 3. Soak the slices in the batter.
Stovetop or Griddle French Toast. Dip well, but don't soak, your slices of bread in the custard batter. Since the bread will absorb less liquid, cooking can be done solely on the stove in a sauté or frying pan or on an electric griddle.
Baked French Toast. The ultimate way to enjoy this brunch-so-hard favorite! Soak slices of toast in the batter in a shallow dish for five to ten minutes, flipping once (above).
Be sure not to fully submerge the bread, but have the batter come about halfway up the slice when in the dish. This version works best with enriched or loaf bread like brioche or challah, since you can slice it nice and thick yourself.
Step 4. Brown and/or bake the custard-soaked slices.
Stovetop or Griddle French Toast. Fry and bake the soaked slices. For easy French toast, simply brown both sides over medium heat. Non-stick pans, cast iron skillets or a griddle work best. If using a stainless steel pan, fry with a small amount of oil or butter to prevent sticking. Cook each side to a deep golden color, and try to flip only once.
Baked Brioche French Toast. In an oven-proof skillet, fry long-soaked slices of brioche until a deep-brown color on the first side. Flip, and transfer the pan to a 350° F oven, baking until puffed and golden. Depending on the thickness of your slices, baking times will be anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes.
What if I don't have an oven-proof skillet?
Without a heat-proof pan, begin by preheating the oven with a sheet pan or baking dish in it. Next, brown soaked slices on both sides in a skillet or on a griddle. Then transfer the toast to the pan in the oven. Bake the French toast until it is puffed and richly golden.
How to make easy French toast casserole
Cube brioche, challah or any bread into one-inch pieces. Baked French toast works best when you begin with an unsliced loaf.
Stuff a baking dish, cast-iron skillet or cake pan end-to-end with bread cubes. You want to pack the bread as tight as possible. Pour enough batter in the dish to come to the top of the bread, and bake at 350° F until puffed and golden, about 30 minutes.
How much batter do I need for a French toast casserole?
Here's a simple trick that will allow you to make French toast casserole, in any size baking dish.
Step 1. Fill the baking dish you want to use about two-thirds full with water.
Step 2. Pour the water into a measuring cup, keeping track of how much was in the dish. With a smaller measuring glass, this make take a few rounds. The final amount is about how much milk or cream you will want to start with, adding the corresponding number of eggs.
How to enjoy French toast on any diet
Cleaning up your diet and achieving optimum health doesn't mean giving up delicious dishes like French toast! Here's a quick cheat sheet for how to adapt French toast for any diet. Yes, even keto.
Gluten free. Easiest of them all! Just replace wheat bread with your favorite gluten free bread. I like choosing brands with the most seeds and whole grain flours, like quinoa and millet.
Paleo + GAPS. If you follow a paleo-style diet, the days of having to bake your own grain-free bread at home are over. Soak up a grain-free bread in a custard batter of eggs, nut milk and honey. I love Joi nut milk bases, as there are no added sugars, gums or emulsifiers.
Keto. WHAT?! French toast on a keto diet? Yes, it's possible. While still not everywhere in every store, grain-free bread brands like Base Culture are growing in popularity (not affiliate link). Leave sugar out of the batter, and garnish with plenty of pastured butter and a bit of fruit, or even avocado.
French toast: saving the planet one slice at a time
Statistics show that each year affluent societies waste 1.3 billion tons of food. Let's take a moment to absorb that.
And while we're here with our eyes wide open, we can factor in the fossil fuels required to produce said wasted food. And then to burn it as trash. Now you've really got yourself one scary statistic, when we finally consider all this waste could feed the hungry.
I know, I know, way too much. I'm part French, I can't help it. Please forgive me, and let's move on.
If you do find yourself with stale bread, or plan ahead with a loaf of brioche you accidentally forget about, we've arrived at my point. You can waste not, want not and enter into the delightful world of pain perdu.
So go ahead, lose yourself in a sweet, spiced moment with your old, but new again bread. It will be anything but a waste of time.
Yours in finding breakfast,
This cinnamon brioche French toast is loaded with flavor and smothered in a fresh fruit compote. Incredibly simple to whip up, this method calls for ample spoonfuls of cinnamon as is traditional in New Orleans. And it's a real crowd-pleaser. If you're in the mood to share, that is.
For French Toast
- 4, 1-inch thick slices of brioche, dried out overnight (or challah, gluten-free or grain-free bread)
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups of milk, half and half, heavy cream (or a combination), or your favorite plant-based milk
- 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
- butter or oil, for the pan
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean*
- 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, brown sugar, or coconut sugar, optional
- lemon or orange zest, optional
- fresh mint leaves, optional
For Fruit Compote
- 2 cups of seasonal fruit, peeled, and sliced if necessary
- 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup or raw honey
- 4 tablespoons of butter, pastured or organic recommended (salted or unsalted, either is fine)
- 1 lemon, juiced and peel zested with a microplane or the small holes of a box grater
If you plan ahead, leave slices of bread out uncovered overnight to dry them out. Otherwise, you can lightly toast the slices or place them in a 200° F oven until they feel dry to the touch. Take great care not to let the slices brown.
Then before you begin, wash your hands, gather and measure out all your ingredients, and collect your equipment and tools.
- Melt the butter over medium heat in a small pan or pot.
- Add the fruit, lemon zest, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, and bring it to a gentle simmer.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit begins to soften slightly. Berries and stone fruit like peaches and plums will cook quickly in less than five minutes. Firmer fruit like apples and underripe pears will take a bit longer to soften.
- Add the maple syrup and bring the compote back to a gentle simmer.
- Keep the compote warm on very low heat until ready to serve. Or you can turn the heat off and warm it back up when you are done cooking the French toast.
- If it dries out, simply add a little water and heat it back up.
- Leftover compote can be refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for several months, along with extra bread.
- In a medium bowl or a shallow prep tray with sides, combine the milk, eggs, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, sugar (or alternative sweetener), and any other flavorings. Whisk the ingredients until the mixture is well combined.
- Soak the slices in the batter for five to ten minutes. Remove the soaked slices gently to prevent tearing. You can place soak slices on a plate if you need to cook in batches.
- Heat a large skillet, pan, non-stick pan, or griddle over medium heat. If you like, set your oven to its lowest temperature to use as a warmer for finished slices.
- Melt about a tablespoon of butter and a splash of oil in the pan or on the griddle. This will keep the toast from sticking and make flipping easier if you aren't using a non-stick surface. The oil keeps the milk solids in the butter from burning.
- Cook the slices on the first side without touching them until they are deeply browned, between four and five minutes. Then flip them with a large spatula and cook until the second side is browned. Place cooked slices in your oven or a warmer while you cook the rest. The outside of the toast should be slightly crispy and deeply browned, the inside will remain soft and moist.
- Serve the slices with the fruit compote, or a combination of garnishes like fresh fruit, whipped cream, maple syrup, or simply melted, pastured butter if enjoying grain-free French toast while on a ketogenic, paleo-style, or the GAPS diet protocol. A few sprigs of fresh mint make for a lovely, herbal finish.
While this recipe focuses on rich, buttery brioche, it works with any bread in your kitchen. Aim to buy or cut slices that are at least one-inch thick. In the absence of brioche, Challah bread also makes for wonderful French toast. Worst-case scenario, use your sandwich bread (I do this often for my boys and hear no complaints).
On Extracting Vanilla Bean Seeds
To remove the vanilla bean seeds from a pod, you need to slice it open. The easiest way to do this is with a paring knife and a good bit of pressure with the tip. Make a lengthwise incision that runs down the center of the pod, then use the tip of the knife to pry it open. Once you can push the cut edges open, I like to run the back of a knife down the length of the pod to push the seeds out.
It can be fun to experiment with different spices and seasonings in the batter depending on the season. Blood orange zest and cardamom make for a lovely winter brunch dish. Lemon zest and a bit of nutmeg serve up a bright, zingy breakfast for summer. Pumpkin or apple pie spice will give you French toast that screams fall, changing colors, and cozy sweaters.
On the Nutrition Information
The Nutrition Information below is based on the recipe as written with granulated sugar and a fruit compote of mixed berries simmered with maple syrup. But take it with a grain of salt. The nutrient calculator assumes every last drop of the custard mixture is absorbed equally by each slice of bread. For less of a sugar load, you can eliminate some or all of the sugar and maple syrup. And replace the brioche with whole-grain or grain-free bread.
Keywords: brioche french toast recipe, cinnamon french toast, New Orleans French toast