How to Make French Toast with a Healthy Twist
Featured Recipe: Banana Bread French Toast
Nothing says cozy Sunday morning quite like a stack of crisp-tender French toast. Arguably the ultimate brunch food, French toast feels sophisticated but is one of the easiest breakfast dishes to make.
Regrettably, French toast often comes swimming in butter, syrup and whipped cream, making it resemble dessert a bit more than breakfast. We've figured out how to make a tastier and lighter version of French toast at home. Here are EatingWell's secrets to perfect, healthier French toast.
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How to Make French Toast
Baked French Toast
Featured Recipe: Blueberry-Almond Overnight French Toast
Baked French toast is a bit more hands-off than pan-fried French toast. Combine bread slices and egg mixture and leave the bread to soak for several hours or overnight. All you're left to do is bake before serving. Baked French toast casseroles are a great way to feed a crowd or lighten your breakfast load when you have a busy day ahead of you.
- Beat the egg whites (and yolks if you're using them) with the milk and flavorings (vanilla, cinnamon, etc; exact quantities depend on the recipe) in a large bowl.
- Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place about one pound of sliced bread into the pan.
- Whisk the egg-milk mixture one more time, then pour evenly over the bread pieces. Press the bread down with the back of a wooden spoon, making sure it's evenly moist. Cover with parchment paper, then foil, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake the casserole, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until puffed, set and lightly browned, about 20 minutes more. Let stand for 10 minutes, then serve.
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Pan-Fried French Toast
Featured Recipe: French Toast with Pear-Cranberry Compote
The ideal piece of pan-fried French toast is crispy and browned on the outside and tender-creamy on the inside. That just-right texture combo requires quality ingredients and a little practice.
Start with good bread—generic white bread is a no-go; it will disintegrate in the egg mixture. Hearty whole-wheat bread is a good option. It's OK if the bread is stale, too. The egg mixture will tenderize it as it cooks.
- Whisk wet ingredients (typically milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon; exact quantities depend on the recipe) in a medium, shallow bowl.
- Dip the bread in the mixture, coat both sides, then let the bread soak until fully saturated with milk mixture. (For thinner bread, 1-2 minutes is plenty. For thicker and heartier bread, soak at least 5 minutes.)
- Heat a small pat of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until melted and hot.
- Add 2 slices bread to the pan. Cook until golden, 2-3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining bread slices. (Tip: To keep French toast warm, preheat oven to 200°F, and transfer finished toasts to the oven while the remaining pieces cook.)
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Tips for Healthy French Toast
Pick the Right Bread
Featured Recipe: Apple-Cranberry Overnight French Toast
For quality French toast, you want bread that is not too chewy or tough, and you want to avoid bread that has a thick crust or too many holes. This means you should steer clear of your beloved French baguette and many artisan breads. Bread made from white all-purpose flour may taste good on a sandwich, but it won't do much for you nutritionally in this dish.
To make a tasty whole-grain French toast, we like to use a medium-density, semi-soft bread like thick-sliced whole-wheat, multi-grain or oatmeal sandwich bread. These breads are soft without being too delicate or crumbly.
Use a Sturdy Pan
Pictured Recipe: Maple-Apple Drenched French Toast
A cast-iron pan is perfect for cooking French toast, as it gets nice and hot and maintains its heat evenly. Heat the pan slowly over medium-high heat and use just enough melted butter to barely coat the inside. This gives the toast a delicate, crispy exterior without drying out the interior. Think crème brulee-crackly, sugary shell on top of silky pudding.
Use Low-Fat Dairy
Pictured recipe: Overnight Lemon-Cream French Toast Cups
Traditional French toast recipes call for heavy cream, eggs and vanilla extract to make the custard. For a healthier version with less fat and fewer calories, use reduced-fat or non-fat milk in place of the cream and a combination of whole eggs and egg whites. Vanilla or almond extract and a sprinkle of cinnamon will add flavor without any added fat or calories. You can skip added sugar entirely; toppings provide plenty of sweetness.
Be Creative with Toppings
Pictured recipe: Mango-Coconut Overnight French Toast
If you're eating French toast pretty frequently or just looking for a healthier way to splurge, we prefer lighter toppings for French Toast. Whip up a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream and fold that into nonfat Greek yogurt. You save saturated fat and calories by cutting some of the whipped cream with thick and tangy yogurt.
Other easy, healthy toppings include fresh fruit, a spoonful of jam or even a smear of peanut or almond butter. Finally, a French toast breakfast wouldn't be complete without a splash of real Vermont maple syrup. A little goes a long way thanks to the rich, custardy texture of great French toast.