In the world of breakfast, a great trench of injustice divides French toast and pancakes. Just look at the average brunch menu. While pancakes are treated to a wealth of variety (chocolate chip, silver dollar, blueberry, banana, and even some with pop culture references), French toast is often regarded with a one-size-fits-all attitude.
While this may be the status quo of the average restaurant, it doesn't have to be that way in your kitchen. Indulge French toast in its full range of expression! Try flavoring the dip with sweeteners and flavored extracts, experimenting with the type of bread, and mixing up the toppings.
When preparing the dip for your French toast, adding a little extract might just be that ticket to the extra flavor you need. Vanilla extract is a standard upgrade, but a few others that I recommend for French toast are almond, hazelnut, and coconut.
If you want to add a kick to it, try a sweet, full-body liqueur like Grand Marnier, or a spiced rum. A good fortified wine like sherry or port will also give it a kick while adding sweetness. Note that the Bourbon vanilla extract shown above does not have bourbon alcohol in it, but you could add some bourbon whiskey to the mix if you want for New Orleans-style French toast.
For an even sweeter French toast, you can add powdered sugar to make more of a custard dip. Don't use granulated, though, as it won't dissolve well and will require more work before dipping the toast in. Other sweeteners like agave or honey work well, too. It all depends on your tastes.
Just because it's French toast doesn't mean you have to use French bread. There are so many possibilities that await you at the bakery! A few worth highlighting are pretzel bread, sweet bread, English muffin, and the bagel.
Breads with a dense, caky crumb, like challah, brioche, and country white bread, will soak up the dip nicely while maintaining a crunchy exterior. But whatever bread you choose, make sure it's dry—and fresh. More on that here.
For more intense flavor, try using cinnamon roll bread, just make sure it doesn't clash with some of your dip ingredients, and I'd omit any cinnamon from the dip itself.
When it comes to French toast, the right toppings are important—visually and for taste purposes. Depending on the type of bread that you have chosen, and any flavor that you have used in the dip, certain toppings will go better than others. In general, fresh fruit, crushed nuts, jam, and decadent syrups will enhance the appeal that French toast has to your eyes as well your taste buds. Some experimenting may be needed here.
Below are some flavor combinations that I am particularly fond of.
Sweet bread (like King's Hawaiian or even angel food cake) naturally lends itself to a dish like French toast. The airiness of sweet bread makes it an excellent partner to the delicate flavor of coconut. Try adding banana, shredded coconut, and your favorite syrup flavor for extra kick.
The density of the pretzel bread makes it well equipped for holding up to the candied walnuts, while the saltiness of the bread harmonizes perfectly with the sweetness of the caramel. The hazelnut flavor synchronizes well with its nutty brethren, and goes beautifully with the caramel. (Try adding sea salt to enhance the flavor even more.)
The slightly sour notes of the English muffin balance out the sweetness of the figs, which the almond harmonizes with nicely. The notes of vanilla are a pleasing and unifying backdrop. A wonderful treat that might make it hard to have an English muffin again any other way.
Apricot and almond are a fabulous pair, yet quite under the radar. Together, in French toast, they get on famously. The density and neutrality of the bagel sets the stage for your taste buds to embrace the interaction between the almond and apricot. They do in fact, put on a lovely performance. Add a little whipped cream if you so desire.
With this knowledge, go and embark on your next breakfast cooking adventure! Just be sure that you are well versed in the basics of how to make a good French toast. If you're not, make sure to check out our post on making French toast perfect every time.