Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Challah If You Like French Toast

I'll admit I wasn't always a fan of french toast. Good beefy bread was hard to come by in the rural area that I grew up, on a back road in "east" Virginia, as my husband mockingly refers to it. I don't think we ever had anything other than crappy white bread the local grocery, Winn-Dixie (yes, that's really the name. I know because it was my first official employer) tried to pass off as Italian bread, or maybe they labelled it French bread but it doesn't really matter because the only thing it was fit for was the birds. This is a long-winded and roundabout way of saying the french toast I grew up with was something you suffered through, taking long draughts of milk to help the pieces go down.

So bad was that first impression, french toast was not in our family's food vernacular until I came across a recipe in the Barefoot Contessa's Family Style cookbook that recommended the use of Challah bread as the perfect loaf for the job, one that could hold up to a 5 minute soak in a lovely custard of egg and cream without falling apart. I found Challah at Whole Foods, either with raisins or without, but at $4.99/loaf it's kind of an investment. However, unlike your stocks and your 401k, which can be kind of iffy these days, this is an investment that is guaranteed to pay off in the currency known as happy family.
Let your loaf stale in the bag a day or two, or if you are impatient, leave it out overnight. Use a sharp bread knife to serrate it into 3/4" slices. If properly stale, each slice acts as a sponge that soaks up the custard, which when cooked over medium-low heat, yields a perfectly firm yet moist piece of the most irresistible french toast ever. Sometimes we make a homemade syrup of honey, butter and cinnamon but when we have it, our favorite topper is good ol' Wisconsin maple syrup. When we're out of both, we've topped with a light dusting of confectioner's sugar that makes it look quite festive. However you chose to top it, this is a breakfast (or dinner) that never fails to please.

Challah French Toast adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

1 loaf challah bread, stale
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-n-half or milk
1 tblsp. honey
grated zest of an orange
1/2 tsp. coarse salt

I put all the ingredients, except the bread, into my blender to get it properly aerated but you can just whisk them all together as well. Cut bread into 3/4" slices and place face down in 13x9 pan. Pour custard over slices and let soak for 5 minutes, turning once.

Heat a tablespoon of butter and tablespoon of oil on a griddle over medium-low heat. Add the soaked bread and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. I prefer this longer cooking over lower heat because I like the custard to be more firm and less, well, custardy. But if you prefer, you can cook it 2-3 minutes per side on medium heat.


  1. I have a challenge for you: when I was little, my dad and I used to eat quite frequently at a restaurant that served stuffed French toast that was to die for. It was cut into beefy triangles, stuffed with cream cheese (a thick amount), and then fried (I think). There was a thick crust, as if the French toast was breaded. Stephanie, can you make this for me or is this lost to the dustbins of my memory?

  2. I'm sure she can make it Cydney...
    and by the way hello, I'm summer, Ryan's's nice to meet you in these comments. I have the feeling we'd get along...eating this elusive stuffed toast and watching Twin Peaks.

    Also, Steph: I really think you should just start submitting articles to magazines. You write better than most of the ones I read in the grocery line.
    love you and your Challa....mmmm I can almost taste it now.

  3. Hi Summer! I hope you travel this way soon so that I can meet you in person (I hear about you every time Steph and I convene).

    In fact, you just missed round one of my Twin Peaks-A-Thon (although due to technical difficulties, we only got through the pilot and four episodes). We did, however, have donuts, coffee, and a mess of other stuff. In May is part II, on which day we are also having a pie-off!

  4. oh man how I miss Twin Peaks...It has been 10 years since we did a full on marathon...I'm thinking it is long over due and maybe we'll have to have a west coast sister Twin Peak-A-Thon in May!
    I hope to meet you in person one day soon too...I'm scheming a trip...though it seems I'm always scheming a trip! hopefully all my scheming will pay off soon.

  5. By "May," I actually meant "March." And by "March," I meant next weekend. This is my third time the whole way through . . . and it doesn't cease to be completely entertaining. I've been checking out a Shot in the Dark. Love it! I'm about to purchase a DSLR, and I'm thinking of adding a daily-ish photo to my blog in order to learn (how to shoot objects).

  6. Ladies! This is MY blog. Your comments need to be ABOUT ME!
    (totally kidding, of course. can't wait for you two to meet in person. then you can stop chattering on my blog.)

  7. Oh, this is your blog? I forgot! Here's a comment for you: you are awesome, and so are your children. Jasper gave me like 50 smiles last night when I tossed him up in the air (And Oliver warned me that he might puke all over my new coat that I need your opinion on. Northface.)

  8. Well, now that my ego has been properly stroked, you can go back to chatting up my SNL. On facebook.

  9. your boys make my heart swell and burst inside me.

  10. I'm kinda slow on the uptake with comment chatter I'm afraid.
    and, I second what Blythe said.

  11. I third it. Those four boys and their beautiful mama made my day yesterday!

  12. I am an acquaintance of Summer's and found your blog from hers. I am also a french toast addict. I made your version tonight and it was a huge hit. The Challah bread was perfect. Thanks for sharing. =)