Pain perdu is a great dish to make on a lazy weekend morning when you have a loaf of slightly stale, rustic bread leftover from the night before. Pain perdu is another way of saying French toast, but I tend to associate it with French toast made with a more rustic, French-style bread than French toast made from ordinary sandwich bread. The bread is soaked in a mixture of eggs and milk before being cooked until golden brown in a skillet, and it is one of the very best ways that you can use leftover bread.
I often use challah or soft sandwich bread to make french toast. More rustic loaves make french toast – or pain perdu – with a heartier overall texture, although they still have a soft and tender center. You’ll have to soak the slices of bread in the egg mixture quite a bit longer than you would with a more delicate bread, partly to ensure that the thick slices get soaked all the way through and partly to ensure that the dense crust on rustic loaves softens enough. If you’re working with a particularly dense bread, use a fork to poke small holes in it as it soaks to ensure that the custard really gets into the bread.
Country-style loaves and even sourdough breads can make fantastic pain perdu and you’ll get great flavor in the finished dish. My basic batter is flavored with vanilla and a little cinnamon, but you can incorporate all kinds of spices to give your breakfast an even more complex (and tasty) flavor.
1/2 loaf rustic bread (8 slices)
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Cut bread into 8 thick slices.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon until well combined, then pour mixture in to a shallow dish or pie pan.
Preheat a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Grease with butter or cooking spray.
Place slices of bread in the egg mixture and soak until saturated, approx. 1-2 minute on each side (thicker bread will need more soaking time).
Transfer bread to skillet and cook until golden, 2-3 minutes, then flip over and cook until golden on the other side. The center of the bread should spring back when lightly pressed when the pain perdu is finished cooking.
Transfer to serving plates and serve immediately.