The French toast connection

Ever have one of those conversations when someone absolutely puts their finger on the pulse of a universal experience? Phil Jones did that for me in his email last week: “When using cinnamon, e.g., for French Toast, how do you get it to blend in nicely, instead of floating on top of the mixture, and/or making an unmixed coating on the bowl at the edge of the liquid?”

My reaction was visceral: “He is SO right!” Is there anything more annoying?

This is what I wrote back to Phil:
“Cinnamon may behave a little better for distribution if you mix it with a bit of sugar and even a tablespoon or two of flour. If you combined the egg mixture with those, you’d have something like a very thin crepe batter. I think the flour may help to suspend the cinnamon in the liquid. I haven’t tried this yet, but I will, because you’ve put your finger on one of those universal peeves in the food world.”

Into the kitchen I went. This is the scenario we all know: egg, milk, a little vanilla, and some whisking action.

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Into the batter went a half-teaspoon of cinnamon. More whisking ensued.
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There it is, the glumpy, freckled concoction we all know. Sue Gray, our test kitchen genius, put her finger on the “why”. Cinnamon has a lot of oil in it, and therefore resists blending evenly with anything wet.

I proceeded to dip and cook three slices of bread; as you can see, it’s easy to tell which slice went through the batter first, and which one was last. The cinnamon freckles decreased with each subsequent slice.

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Time to put my money where my mouth was, and try the technique I described to Phil.
Here’s all the mise en place: eggs with milk and vanilla (I also put in three drops of my absolute favorite ingredient for French Toast: our Vanilla-Butternut flavoring); two tablespoons of flour, and a mixture of 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

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I whisked together a teaspoon of the cinnamon mixture with the flour; then I beat up the eggs and poured a bit of the liquid into the flour to make a slurry.

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The result was a much more uniform batter, with no freckles. The flour absorbs enough of the cinnamon’s oil to provide enough traction for more even distribution of cinnamon in the liquid.

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Time to cook. As you can see, each slice had a uniform appearance, and an equal amount of cinnamon flavor, as it cooked. I put a slice from the first round of cooking next to these for comparison.

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In case you’re wondering, the amount of flour in the batter (roughly 1 tablespoon per egg) wasn’t enough to alter the ability of the bread to soak up the batter.
Now, the whole texture issue is still out there. Monte’s husband is a crispy outsides/creamy insides kind of guy, and dips his battered bread in crunched up cornflakes before cooking to achieve the contrast he’s looking for. That’s a subject for another day; in the meantime, we’ve solved the cinnamon conundrum. Thanks, Phil!!

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...