It's rare that any significant chunk of challah makes it to Sunday at our house, but when it does, there is only thing to be done: make challah bread French toast for brunch. The kids think French toast can't be made any other way, and in this case, they're absolutely right.
I'll put it out there: I am not a big fan of American breakfast (because: Israeli breakfast). However, everyone else in the family has great enthusiasm for pretty much anything on the pancake/waffle/French toast continuum. As a result, I am on a perpetual mission to make American breakfast favorites more enjoyable (for me). Enter orange blossom French toast.
The idea comes from what I call the Big Orange Book, Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (which she recently updated, so it's no longer got an orange spine, as far as I can tell). It's one of the books I learned to cook from, recommended to me by a dear friend, and I get nostalgic for my newly married, Upper West Side days whenever I pull it off the shelf. I'm pretty sure the first time I tracked down orange blossom water, it was to make this French toast, and it was sufficiently mind-blowing that I've never been without it.
Orange blossom water
Okay, so orange blossom water. It's the quieter fraternal twin of rose water, more subtle and sophisticated, if you ask me, still assertive but less demanding of attention, and so sometimes unfairly overlooked. As the name implies, it's distilled from the flowers of an orange tree.
You'll find orange blossom water in every Middle Eastern grocery, some kosher markets, and some supermarkets. At the regular supermarket, you're most likely to find it with the rest of the extracts in the baking aisle, or near the (irritatingly reductive) kosher/Asian/Latino sections. At my local kosher market, it's with the condiments and sauces. Look for a bottle with only orange blossom and distilled water listed in the ingredients. I spotted a Nielsen-Massey version and decided to give it a try on a whim. Well, it's made with orange oil, not orange blossoms. The brand of orange blossom water I use is Sadaf, though I think that only some of their runs have kosher certification. (My bottle has an RCC on the front.)
Though orange blossom water has a distinct flavor, it's more versatile (and interesting) than rose water, and I'll often use it in place of rose water in recipes—it pairs especially well with walnut. A bottle will last an eternity, because a few drops go a long way. I'm sure there's fussy advice cautioning you to replace it every six months or what have you, but my unspeakably old bottle is still flavorful.
That being said, if you don't have any orange blossom water on hand, or you just need a classic slice of New York Jewish deli-style challah bread French toast, leave out the orange blossom and you've got the quintessential recipe right there.
French toast fundamentals
Though conventional wisdom has it that the bread used for French toast has to be a bit stale and dry (or left out overnight), I generally use soft, springy challah, albeit one that has been kicking around since Friday. You can also use a partial loaf; this recipe halves well.
After slicing up the bread, you start by scrambled the eggs and sugar together in the large dish or baking pan. A Scandi-style whisk is the perfect makhootel—that's my grandma's Yiddish for "gadget thingy"—here, if you've got one, and if you don't, do your future self a favor and 1-click it. It's one of my kitchen tool stealth favorites.
Add the rest of the ingredients, other than the bread, into the pan, milk last, and whisk. Then you dredge both sides of the bread in the egg-milk mix and, in turn, put each slice on a hot griddle that you've just sizzled some butter on. The only tricky bit is giving your bread enough, but not too much, time in the egg-milk coating. You want it to soak in, but not so much that the bread is falling apart. If the slice starts to fall apart on you as you're lifting it to the griddle, use a large, flat spatula to pick it up and then squish it together once it's transferred to the hot griddle. Usually it'll comply and stick back together for you.
We have our French toast with maple syrup, sometimes an extra dash of cinnamon-sugar on top, and scrambled eggs on the side. And espresso, of course. Okay, that's just me, but I have enough for all of us.
Orange Blossom Challah Bread French Toast (dairy)
- Griddle — you can also use a large skillet, but it'll take more time
- 1 loaf leftover challah - sliced
- 4 eggs
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar - 25g
- 1 Tbsp vanilla - 15ml
- 1 tsp orange blossom water - 5ml
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 ½ cups milk or half & half - 360ml
- 2-3 Tbsp butter, for the skillet - 30-45g
- Begin by slicing your challah into thick slices.
- In a large baking dish, scramble the eggs with a whisk. Add in the sugar and whisk again, then the vanilla, cinnamon, and orange blossom water. When combined, add the milk to the dish.
- Place as many slices of challah as you can fit into the dish and leave to soak for a just a minute or two. Then, gently turn over the slices of challah to soak on the other side. They should be saturated but not quite falling apart when you transfer them to the skillet.
- Meanwhile, heat up your griddle or skillet over a medium flame. Just before adding the first slices, melt a tablespoon or so of butter on the griddle. Transfer the first batch of slices to the hot skillet. Toast on each side under golden-brown. Repeat with the remaining slices of bread, adding more butter to grease the griddle as needed.