This is it. You've found it: the only thing you'll want to eat for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dessert for now on. I mean, who doesn't like French toast? Now add on the textural component of a crunchy caramelized crust and this dish is irresistible.
I made this crème brûlée French toast (aka The Best French Toast Ever) for the first time when I had some girlfriends coming over for brunch. I've never actually hosted a brunch before, so I wanted something that was easy, but also really delicious. Step in New York Times. A few months ago when I was browsing their food section, I stumbled across this recipe, which I immediately printed out.
The New York Times recipe was for oven baked French toast with a brown sugar caramelized crust. I typically make my French toast in a skillet (as I assume most people do) and it ends up being very annoying because you can't make French toast and eat it at the same time. This obviously makes serving breakfast or brunch to other people somewhat difficult if you're trying to do a big batch. The idea of baking French toast is not unheard of, but it was the caramel that really sold me.
Now, of course, if you know me, you know that I never follow any recipes, so I had to make some edits.
First of all, the original recipe calls for challah bread. I don't know about you, but I never have challah bread just sitting around at home. I also don't know if my regular grocery store sells it all the time. But I do know that they sell croissants. In fact, in the "clearance" section of the bakery, where they place items that are close to expiration, there is almost always a container of croissants, which are perfect for making French toast (especially since French toast is best made with bread that is slightly stale). I also find that croissants make much more attractive French toast and their texture is perfect for absorbing the "custard mixture" while still retaining some wonderful pastry flakiness.
Secondly, I didn't soak my French toast overnight. To me, this is overkill since I prefer my French toast "crunchier" or "flakier." Feel free to soak yours though, if you're partial to the bread pudding texture. I only did a quick dip into the egg mixture and that was enough.
Third, the original recipe had a ridiculous amount of liquid: 6 eggs and 3 cups of liquid. Too much milk, too much cream, and way too many eggs. What for? You just end up throwing away most of it! It's wasteful! So I seriously cut back on the liquids. I wanted to use every single drop. I also didn't use cream, since this is already a pretty indulgent dish; we don't really need that extra fat content.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wanted the sugar to truly become caramel; I didn't just want wet sugar. So I actually place the baking sheet with the brown sugar in the oven first, so that the sugar starts to melt and caramelize, and then I put the French toast slices on top to bake.
The result was stupendous. The croissants were flaky on top, crunchy with on the bottom from the caramelized sugar, and luxuriously decadent in the middle. Served with some bacon (which can be baked in the oven at the same time!) and some berries, this is a great way to entertain any breakfast guests... or, just you and your partner!
Crème Brûlée French Toast aka
The Best French Toast Ever
3/4 cup pack dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces
4 croissants (alternatively, use 8 one-inch thick slices of challah bread)
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (I use non-fat)
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional, if you're serving this to children)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
generous dash of kosher salt
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1. Cut the croissants in half like you're about to make a sandwich.
2. Spread the brown sugar evenly over a 9x13 baking pan and add the piece of salted butter on top.
*The whole process of making the "custard" and dipping the slices should take you less than 5 minutes. If it takes you longer than that, don't put your tray into the oven until later; you don't want the sugar to burn.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, rum, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
5. Dip each slice of croissant / bread into the custard mix, making sure to coat both sides evenly. Make a pile of dipped slices on a plate.
6. Once all of the slices have been dipped, take the baking pan out of the oven. The brown sugar and butter should be melted and bubbling hot.
7. Arrange the croissant / bread slices onto the baking tray, on top of the caramelized sugar. I placed the cut-sides of my croissants face-down (in the picture above, the slices were flipped, after they finished baking).
8. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
9. Serve while hot, with the caramelized brown sugar side up. Goes well with berries, sliced peaches, and bacon.
10. Bask in the glory of crème brûlée French toast.