July 24, 2012

buttermilk french toast

More than lingering over dinner, I love lingering over breakfast. Reading material is welcome at the table, the music is mellow but upbeat, the house smells like bacon soaked in sugar, there's no pressure to be witty, sharp, or stylish; at breakfast you can be your slipper-loving, Richard-Buckner-on-repeat listening, cooking-book-reading self. (My breakfast self might just be my best self). These long affairs are, of course, the breakfasts of weekends and vacations, and even such I love them more if it's raining. I think it's because the rain means I can linger longer. 

In my mind the verb to eat doesn't accurately capture the crunch of crispy bacon, the puddle of syrup caught inside a raspberry, or the ease at which we sit at the table for hours. It should really be to breakfast. And in German it is - frühstücken. It literally translates to to eat/have breakfast, but I like to think of it simply as to breakfast. 

I breakfast
you breakfast
Shall we breakfast?

It even sounds like breakfast - frühstücken - like a bacon pancake with blueberry flavored umlauts on top. I could linger over a pile of those all day, any day. Although that's not really true. I could linger over them on Saturday and Sunday, but on Monday through Friday I've got a date with a humble bowl of almond milk oatmeal and fruit. We've been dating for a while, maybe even a year. Before oatmeal I had a long relationship with greek yogurt. Considering how hard I've fallen for both yogurt and oatmeal it surprises me still that there was a long stretch, like college and grad school long, where I didn't eat breakfast. What was I thinking? Older and wiser now and in love with oatmeal, I am happy. It might not be as exciting as pancakes or French toast, but to me it still deserves to breakfast; to eat is too simplistic to account for all the staring into space that I do between bites. Sometimes it's day dreaming, sometimes it's just staring, but either way I like to think of it as the weekday version of the linger. 
Let's get back to breakfasts we can linger over. Last weekend Zach and I lingered over a pile of buttermilk French toast. It was damn good. I had just gotten back from a quick, two day, trip to Paris where the sole mission besides visiting with my dear friend Tala and picking up more vanilla extract at G.Detou, was to eat good bread. I ate a lot of good bread. I think it's all I ate. Nervous that I'd get back to Zürich and find nothing to eat I brought some financiers and brioche home with me. We ate the financiers right away, but the brioche lingered for a couple days on the counter (practicing for it's lingering on the breakfast table I think), turning from brioche to stale brioche. I thought about bread pudding for about half a second before settling on French toast. It seemed like a fitting end for bread schlepped back from France - French toast - voila!

I love French toast, maybe even more than I love waffles and pancakes. But unlike with waffles and pancakes, which are more forgiving, I have a list of French toast requirements....

I like thick slices
Not too soggy
Crisp around the edges
A good ratio of berries - I like some bites with and some bites without
Brioche is good
Challah is good
French bread cut on a diagonal is good
Pre-sliced packaged bread is bad
Pure maple syrup is a must
Extra cinnamon is always nice

Judging from my criteria, this recipe makes the perfect French toast. It's a layering system really: the outer edges are crispy, then there is layer heavy with egg, cinnamon and syrup, and then stuck in the middle is a layer that is just barely holding on to it's bread-like stiffness. All the layers sandwiched together make for the perfect bite. And then there is the buttermilk, a common ingredient for pancakes and biscuits, but a wonderful addition to French toast. The buttermilk adds a little tang, barely noticeable against the sweetness of the brioche and the cinnamon flecked egg coating. This French toast is good. It's linger worthy, It's to breakfast worthy. 
// Buttermilk French Toast //
adapted from Gourmet 
4 servings


1 1/2 cups well shaken buttermilk
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
12 slices of brioche or challah 3/4" thick 
4 1/2 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 200ºF/95ºC (to keep the french toast slices warm while you continue to make the rest)

Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Pour the liquid into one large rimmed baking sheet or two small ones. Add the bread in one layer to soak. Turn it occasionally until the bread has absorbed all or most of the liquid, but is not falling apart, about 15-20 minutes. 

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet set over medium-heat until the foam subsides. Place as many pieces of bread as will fit comfortably into the pan and cook, turning once, until slightly puffed and golden brown, about 3 minutes total. (In the beginning the slices might take longer and towards the end you might need to turn down the heat so the edges don't cook too quickly leaving the inside soggy). Place the done pieces on a large baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you continue with the other batches. Add butter before each new batch. Eat with berries and pure maple syrup. 
Oh and have you read Alice Let's Eat by Calvin Trillin? It's a must. Zach and I both read it and absolutely loved it. It is laugh-out-loud funny the entire way through. I highly recommend it. We're now on to his other two books in the 'Tummy Trilogy' - American Fried and Third Helpings.


  1. Talley, I need to make this. Like right now. I can't believe I have never thought to try buttermilk with French toast when, as you mentioned, it is the secret to the best pancakes and waffles. Genius. I might have to make some brioche today so I can enjoy this French toast tomorrow. And I couldn't agree with you more about soggy French toast...no bueno. I have the same trouble with French toast that I have with pancakes, however — I suck at the griddle. I'm going to do some mental preparations tonight so that I can nail this tomorrow. It looks just about perfect!

  2. Ali - the queen of buttermilk - you definitely need to make this French toast. I think you'd LOVE it. Okay, I suck at the griddle too. I especially suck when it comes to pancakes. I think the trick is getting it hot enough before you put the first piece in? Really I just kinda wing it and pray and add more butter. I did find that the pan got to hot towards the end so I had to lower the heat. Good luck and happy eating :)

  3. French toast is my favourite sort of lazy Sunday breakfast. I can't believe I've never made it with buttermilk! I'm not sure that Octavian and I can squeeze in a French toast breakfast anytime soon, but when we do, it'll be with buttermilk. Yours looks so perfect.

    P.S. That is some seriously gorgeous-looking bread! I wish I could pop over to Paris for the weekend on a bread-eating mission like yours.

  4. My mouth is watering. Extra cinnamon and berries = very good. Just had my date with a smoothie and after this entry, I'm reconsidering my marriage to it. Sitting at my breakfast table now too with music and lingering...wish we could linger together!

  5. I loved reading your thoughts about breakfast! You've been very spot on with language talks lately. ;) But it's so true, "to eat" is fit for a bowl of oatmeal maybe (it's that or greek yogurt for my usual breakfast too haha), but definitely not for a lingering over the course of the morning with french toast, syrup, and bacon. Your french toast looks fantastic. I've always liked it, but when once I used leftover challah bread, I swore to myself I'd only use some sort of buttery eggy bread. Haha, and I agree with that nice list--with real maple syrup, cinnamon, thick slices. Beautiful post!

  6. Breakfast is absolutely my favorite meal of the day! It's been too long since we've had French toast, must get on that this weekend.

  7. As always, such lovely photos, and this french toast looks so fluffy and delicious! Brioche is my biggest weakness, especially smeared with Nutella, but that's a whole 'nother story. Love your thoughts on breakfast - regardless of how busy or tired I am, I always wake up earlier than I have to so I can enjoy a leisurely breakfast in peace :)

  8. This is very Good recipe. Keep going on with your effort to write more posts.
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  9. I don't usually like breakfast, but I think I'd like it a whole lot more if I had this to look forward to!