There’s nothing wrong with piling tons of sweet toppings like fruit and whipped cream on your French toast, but don’t forget, there is beauty (and speed) in simplicity. Instead of going maximalist on your French toast, get real French with it and reign it in with a quick, yet sophisticated, bruléed sugar topping.
French toast usually involves stale or dried bread taking a dip in a sweetened egg custard before cooking. (Make that custard vanilla-tinged and we’re practically knocking on crème brûlée’s door.) No matter how you like your French toast, baked bread pudding-style, or the classically pan-fried, you can brûlée its surface in two simple steps. Before serving, sprinkle about a tablespoon of granulated white sugar over the entire surface. This will vary depending on the size of your toast and how much sugar you want to use. I used a spoon to distribute the sugar, and then ran my finger across the heavily sugared areas to even it out. Snap on a kitchen torch and, using a small flame, carefully caramelize the sugar until it bubbles and browns.
Once the heat is off, the sugar will quickly cool and set as hard caramel. When your fork breaks ground, the top will crack with a satisfying crunchy sound, revealing soft and tender custard-soaked bread just beneath the surface. Enjoy as-is, or with a few fresh berries. Use maple syrup if you must, but the caramelized sugar is plenty sweet, and the sticky syrup interferes with my enjoyment of the crisp sugar shell.
You may have noticed in the picture I have a few spots of unmelted granulated sugar that fell into the toast’s divots and pockets, and I didn’t care to spend time trying to melt them. I didn’t want to overcook those areas, so I made an executive decision that I don’t regret. Note that if you add more than a tablespoon of sugar, the caramel layer can get quite thick and pool in the centre of the toast when it’s liquified. It will cool and become a serious hunk of candy. You might be into that. I support you.
Although I did try to brûlée French toast in the air fryer and in the conventional oven under the broiler, the kitchen torch is the best tool for the job. The air fryer completely dried out my French toast before it could caramelize the top layer of sugar. If toast jerky is a thing, I made it. The oven barely caramelized the top, but burnt other areas of the toast.
In both of those scenarios, you can’t direct the heat to one part of your French toast, but with a kitchen torch, you can. You can make the flame large or small, move deliberately to areas of sugar that need more love, and torches are pretty affordable. Depending on your needs, you can buy a teeny tiny one with butane included, or buy the trigger mechanism separately, like I did, so that you can twist it onto new butane canisters easily. Take a look at the above torches to see which works best for you, and get your brûlée on.