-by Nina Plasencia, Zingeman's Bakehouse baker
It’s said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. French toast is a commonly enjoyed choice, maybe seen as a reward on the weekend. Since French toast is more or less all about the bread itself, bread is the one ingredient that can really make or break that meal. Here at the Bakehouse, we offer a daily selection of bread that is over 25 varieties. That doesn’t includ versions of breads that share a common base with tasty add-ins like chocolate, nuts or seeds or any of our “Special Bake” breads that only show up on occasion. With all of these choices, how does one select just the right loaf with French toast in mind?
At Zingerman’s Bakehouse, we are very serious about our bread. We take special care in the selection of ingredients, the way we mix our dough, and the processes we use in handling, proofing and baking our bread. We are especially particular about the way we eat our bread. With that in mind, I consulted the experts as to which Bakehouse bread is their favorite when making French toast. Clearly by experts I mean the staff of the Bakehouse, who make, bake, sell and basically live this bread everyday.
After polling the Bakehouse staff, there were some clear winners in terms of favorite breads to make this classic American breakfast item. With 66% of staff selecting a variety of this bread as their favorite French toast loaf, Challah comes out on top. Our plain version of Challah was the top pick, with our special bake variety called Kálac (cinnamon swirl egg bread) coming in a close second. Although now on vacation, Chocolate Challah rounds out the top three. (“on vacation” means we're not making it right now). Next on the list of top picks is our Rustic Italian bread. Breads with even more flavor that made the list included Cinnamon Raisin, Pecan Raisin, Cranberry Pecan, Farm, Country Wheat and Challah Turbans with rum raisins.
Challah is a bread of Jewish decent. All of our challah loaves are chock full of fresh eggs, local honey and corn oil; not your typical bread ingredients. Extra egg brushed on the outside of the bread helps deliver that crisp, mahogany crust. Staff sited the soft texture, the egg base of the bread itself and Challah’s absorbent nature as their top reasons for making it the perfect choice for French toast. Sales Specialist at the Bakehouse, Ally, recommends slicing your Challah thick, stuffing it with a bit of your favorite jam, and coating it in both a custard batter as well as a dry mix of almond meal and flour before frying.
Somodi Kálac is a lesser know gem in the Bakehouse’s bread line up. Had any other sample in Ann Arbor been polled, it’s doubtful this bread would have made an appearance; however, 25% of Bakehouse staff rallied behind this bread for their go to choice for French toast. Somodi Kálac is a Hungarian bread traditionally enjoyed at Easter. The Bakehouse added it to our menu after learning to make it in a remote village in Transylvania in 2012. It takes our Challah dough and swirls cinnamon and sugar throughout it. Bread baker, Damon, says “Somodi Kolac already tastes like French toast so when you make it into French toast, it’s just that much better.” “It should be illegal. It’s THAT good!” adds Mandie, pastry baker at the Bakehouse. Luckily, with Easter right around the corner, Somodi Kálac will be offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for the entire month of March 2016.
Fiona, longtime Bakehouse accountant, loves using Challah Turbans when making French toast. Like the previous favorites, Turbans start with a base of Challah bread. This time add rum soaked raisins to the mix for your French toast eating pleasure. You can find Turbans at the Bakehouse each September. Fiona recommends buying a few loaves to freeze and use throughout the year.
Rustic Italian was sited as a favorite due to the contrast in texture that it provides. If more of a crisp crust is the goal while keeping that super soft interior, Rustic Italian is perfect. Add a touch of sour flavor to that texture and you have French toast made with our Farm bread, which is the top pick of Bakehouse founder, Frank. The culmination of texture and flavor makes this loaf impeccable, Frank thinks.
Other top soft breads at the Bakehouse that the staff uses include Brioche, Country Wheat and Bakehouse White. Patrick, Service Specialist, prefers cutting his bread into a French toast stick shape to the more common slice. For added stability, he recommends the Brioche pullman loaf.
For those of us that are a little more adventurous and less traditional with our French toast, try one of these Bakehouse specialty breads. Cinnamon Raisin, Pecan Raisin and Cranberry Pecan are much more dense breads than those typically used. French toast made with these will be full of flavor and more on the chewier side. Paul, Bakehouse veteran of 9 years, lets his Pecan Raisin slice soak in the custard batter for 5 minutes on each side before frying. It takes patience, but Paul ensures it’s worth it.
When it comes down to it, there are many great choices of Zingerman’s Bakehouse breads when planning your French toast creation. It just depends on your taste, and we also say the only one that counts is yours. Try a few out and let us know what you think. Or share your favorite French toast recipe with us. We always love discovering new ways to enjoy Bakehouse bread.
-by Nina Plasencia, Zingeman's Bakehouse baker