I have a hard time with sweet flavors at breakfast. Okay, so maybe “hard time” is a slight exaggeration. No one’s ever seen me eat a buttery, flakey, chocolate bar-stuffed pain au chocolat and mistaken it as an act of suffering.
But in general, let’s just say that sweet is not the flavor I first crave in the morning. I blame it on my propensity to sleep in late (thank you, career in restaurants). I wake up and my AM is always just a quick hop, skip, and a jump away from PM, and because of that, I find my initial culinary craving is almost always for the more lunch-appropriate savory.
As such, I tend to try and give traditionally sweet breakfast dishes—muffins, rolls, scones, crepes, any variety of pastry or baked good, really—a new, slightly saltier identity. One of the most receptive of the bunch, I’ve discovered, is French toast. Once you ditch the maple syrup and sweet spices in the egg wash, it’s an easy canvas to do with as your savory-loving heart desires. Add spices, veggies, meats and cheeses, eggs both fried and poached—like the following collection of recipes proves, there are plenty of tools in your palate to draw from.
The easiest, most basic way to go savory with your French toast is to swap out the traditional sweet-favoring spices in the egg batter. Push aside ground cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and the like, and instead reach for ground coriander, dry mustard, salt and pepper (of course), as well as herbs like chives, thyme, and oregano. Get the recipe.
When transitioning French toast from sweet to savory, cheese is often introduced into the egg wash mix. You can opt to go with an easily melting, crunchy crust-forming cheese like shredded cheddar, or keep it simple with salty grated Parmesan. This recipe, however, gets bonus points for figuring out how to solve the problem of saucing sans going sweet with maple syrup. Hollandaise sauce, that familiar brunchtime player, adds a welcome layer of richness and tart, lemony tang to the cheesy toast. Get the recipe.
Everyone knows that the best part of French Onion Soup is the melty, gooey cheese toasts that form a cap over the rich, savory soup. Therefore, everyone should love this creative recipe that reverses the original dish’s equation, stuffing shredded gruyère and caramelized onions into egg batter-soaked brioche bread and frying it up in a pan with butter. Get the recipe.
Gourmet grilled cheese and burgers may be the au courant sandwiches to get the French toast treatment but the humble ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich has been in the game since the 1950s. Dipped in its entirety in egg batter and then pan-fried in butter (or better yet, deep-fried) it’s called a Monte Cristo and it’s fabulous. The ultimate retro-chic savory French toast sandwich. Get our Monte Cristo Sandwich recipe.
French toast and bacon are no strangers on the plate. Most often, the fatty, crunchy strips are presented as the opposites-attract side piece; the salty to French toast’s sweet. Less traditionally, that combination will manifest itself as a bacon-stuffed or a bacon crumble-topped variation. This rendition, however, opts to reassign French toast and bacon from breakfast to lunch duty by using a savory Parmesan-and-chive-flavored toast as the bread base for a classic BLT sandwich. Get the recipe.
The punchy, exotic flavors of coconut and curry are given new life outside the soup bowl in this savory spin on the beloved brunch classic. A touch of cayenne pepper and paprika lends a little kick to the aromatic curried egg wash, the subtle spice a delectable contrast to the richness of the yolk in the gratuitous (but totally necessary) poached egg on top of the stack. Get the recipe.
If you’re looking to introduce veggies as a way to “savorize” your French toast, you might as well just start and stop your search at mushrooms. This recipe calls on umami-rich shiitakes (deglazed in mirin and fish sauce for amplified effect) to create the meaty non-meat stuffing, but really, any combination of wild mushrooms will do the trick. Get the recipe.
This avocado toast-French toast mash-up is the stuff that savory breakfast dreams are made of. Keep the avocado filing simple, minimally seasoned with salt and pepper, or dress it up with your favorite go-to flavorings (I’m partial to garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes). The soft texture of the avocado mash stuffing is dynamite against the crisp exterior of the egg-soaked bread. Get the recipe.
Turns out the everything bagel really can do everything. Here, it proves its versatility by replacing the more traditional brioche or pain perdu as the base for a savory French toast version of the popular egg, sausage, and cheese bagel sandwich. Get the recipe.
If you feel like bucking tradition and giving the old bagel a break, this recipe proves that its faithful partners—smoked salmon and dill crème fraîche—are just as happy schmeared and draped over a crisp, buttery piece of plain French toast. Get the recipe.
Eggs often partner with French toast, served either on the side or right on top of the stack, but sometimes nothing is better than letting the them get directly in on the action, as this toad-in-the-hole take proves. Get the recipe.
— Head photo: Recipe Tin Eats.