Fans of sweet breakfasts will love this pain perdu—the French version of, well, French toast—with a crisp, buttery outside and rich, custardy interior.
Pain perdu roughly translates to “lost bread” (lost meaning day-old or stale bread that may have been thrown away). Because it’s a bit drier than its fresh counterpart, slightly stale bread is the perfect vehicle to absorb the creamy and sweet egg custard that’s a signature component of this dish. Make sure to soak the toast until all the custard is absorbed, and definitely use butter (not oil) when you’re cooking; the butter browns up a bit in the pan with the pain perdu, emphasizing the rich, nutty, caramel notes of this dish.
Although it was originally enjoyed more as a dessert than a breakfast in France, here in America we have adopted this bread-saving technique as a way to start the day. But we encourage you to try pain perdu as it was meant to be—after a meal with a nice dusting of powdered sugar and fresh berries.
Choosing the Best Bread
The best bread for pain perdu is day-old or slightly stale bread that will soak up the custard, but not get too soggy. This recipe uses brioche, but others have called for challah or French bread.
How Long to Soak?
Soaking the bread in custard and crisping it in a skillet helps turn old bread into a delicious meal, but you don’t want to do it for too long. The bread should be placed in the custard for about 4 or five minutes per side, then you’re ready to go.
Serves 2 to 4
- 3/4 cup whole milk or half-and-half
- 3 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch kosher salt
- 4 (3/4-inch thick) slices day-old brioche bread
- 2 cups strawberries
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, preferably toasted (optional)
Place the milk or half-and-half, eggs, 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and a pinch of kosher salt in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or other shallow baking dish large enough to hold the brioche in a single layer. Whisk until smooth and combined.
Add the brioche slices in a single layer and turn to coat. Let soak 5 minutes. Flip the brioche and let soak until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes more.
Meanwhile, trim and thinly slice the strawberries. Place in a medium bowl, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and toss to combine.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 brioche slices and cook until the bottoms are golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until second side is golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to plates. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and brioche slices.
Spoon the strawberries over the pain perdu and sprinkle with sliced almonds if desired. Dust with powdered sugar.
Swap vanilla extract with Grand Marnier or Cointreau or just add a teaspoon of either into the recipe for a touch of orange.
You can also use blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries in addition to, or in place of, strawberries.
Pain perdu is best right away, but leftovers can be refrigerated up to 4 days or frozen up to 2 months. Reheat in a regular or toaster oven.
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