If you love French toast 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. Understanding the true origins of pain perdu, and its American roots, is the key to arriving at a French toast recipe worth indulging over.
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
The practice of renewing stale bread with a custard batter is strong in New Orleans, a city with a rich and delicious French heritage. And one 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.
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.
- Basic custard batter (2 eggs + 1 cup milk/cream/half & half)
- Jars full of ground cinnamon (only half kidding)
- Bread, any kind, but preferably inch-thick slices cut from a stale loaf
Growing up I vividly remember my mom mixing heap upon heap of ground cinnamon into the custard batter. Until it turned nearly the color of chocolate. To this day, her no-fuss “eyeballing it” method is how I whip up a plate for my boys. And its downright delicious.
Since the bread is simply soaked in the batter for a handful of minutes, there’s little chance of overdoing the cinnamon flavor. If that’s even possible.
French toast: a public service
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 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 and enter into the delightful world of pain perdu.
My not-so-secret method for the ultimate French toast with any bread
If you are starting with an unsliced loaf, I recommend cutting the bread into thick 1-inch pieces. Otherwise, work with what you’ve got. Then let it sit out overnight. It will absorb the batter even better, and cook up golden brown and delicious on the outside, and moist on the inside.
The only other essential to lost bread (in my book) is ample amounts of cinnamon. As mentioned above, don’t measure, just dump it in. 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,
- My chef’s secret on how to make fluffy scrambled eggs (and no, not adding milk)
- How to make chaffles that actually taste delicious (with three ingredients)
- How to make authentic Southern, buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy
- Smother this easy Irish soda bread loaf in Guinness butter
Brioche French toast loaded with cinnamon! Super easy and incredibly flexible, this method for New Orlean’s-style cinnamon lost bread is a crowd-pleaser. If you’re in the mood to share, that is!
Any fruit elevates your French toast! Keep it in season and try apples in the fall or berries in the spring and summer. The amounts don’t matter as much as the method (as I’m always preaching).
Cinnamon Brioche (or any bread) French Toast
- slices Brioche, Challah, Gluten-free or Grain-free bread, forgotten about or left out on purpose overnight
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup half and half, heavy cream or milk
- ¼ cup granulated or brown or coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- several spoonfuls of cinnamon
Quick + Easy Fruit Compote
- 1–2 cups seasonal fruit, washed, peeled and sliced if necessary
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup or honey
- 3–4 spoonfuls of pastured or organic butter
- one lemon, peel grated and squeezed for juice
- Melt butter over medium heat in a small sauce pot and add fruit, lemon zest and juice.
- Cook until fruit begins to soften slightly.
- Add maple syrup and butter, and heat until bubbly and slightly thickened.
- Keep warm on very low heat until ready to serve. If it dries out, simply add a little water and heat back up.
For French Toast
- Combine milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and whisk until smooth.
- Heat a large non-stick pan or griddle over low to medium heat.
- Dip slices of bread in batter until completely saturated (about 10 seconds), and cook on both sides until well browned, around 5 minutes per side.
- Toast can be held warm in a low heat oven until all are cooked.
- Serve with fruit compote.
- Leftover compote can be refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for several months, along with extra bread.