I love dessert for breakfast! Exactly a year ago during our brunch at Craftbar in Manhattan, we encountered the epitome of perfection that will benchmark all the future french toasts to come. Determined to recreate this recipe at home, I took on the challenge. Bring it on, Tom Colicchio...
One of the many reasons why we love Craftbar is because they list french toast as "pain perdu", giving it a nod to its origins. Translated literally to mean "lost bread", the ingenuity transpired from an effort to salvage stale bread by soaking it in an eggy mixture. Nowadays, we set out to buy bread for the sole purpose of making it stale which is definitely one of the key components to this recipe.
It was a long year of pain perdu experiments in our test kitchen. We've tried a recipe handed down to us from his mom which incorporated a little bit of dry alcohol but the consistency of the bread was sub par. We knew that Craftbar uses a brioche but this seemed to be a diamond in the rough. We ducked inside every bakery we passed in search of this brioche. Even our trusted boulangerie in Brooklyn, Almondine, failed to showcase this buttery, spongy bread. We settled for an egg challah in the meantime.
One day, as I was strolling through SoHo, I passed by Balthazar Bakery. Mais bien sûr - but of course! How did we manage to overlook such a high profile boulangerie?! At long last, we had our beloved brioche loaf! But sadly, the recipe was still not quite right. At Craftbar, the pain perdu was perfectly crispy on the outside while the inside was light and fluffy with a hint of sweet custard. And that's when it finally struck me like a bolt of lightning. Custard! The mixture needed to be thick like custard to prevent the bread from getting too soggy. Most recipes require regular milk which bread absorbs far too quickly. And I also decided to omit the egg whites for a truly rich, custard mixture.
And oh, the sweet taste of victory! I have my genius moments and this is one of them.