How to Turn Basic Challah French Toast Into a Fancy Middle-Eastern Inspired Pastry: A Recipe

Simple French toast is delicious, but almonds and a secret spice can improve on a classic.

Crunchy almond French toast with raw honey sauce.
Vered Guttman

As delicious as simple French toast may be, there’s nothing wrong with striving to make it better. So I dipped the soaked challah slices into a mixture of almond meal and sugar, fried in butter, and the modest toast turned into a fancier, not too sweet, pastry that still takes only minutes to prepare.

A few rules: 

* The day-old challah should really be at least two days old, if not three. It will hold the soaking liquid better.

* The amount of butter in this recipe may seem extravagant, and it is, but that’s the best way to fry the almond meal without burning it. And it’s not like you’re eating this way every day, right?

Worried about the calories? The French toast we know today is very similar to a Sephardi Medieval fried bread, called rebanadas de parida or revanadas de parida. A recipe in Matilda Sarano’s excellent book “Cooking Ladino Flavor” (in Hebrew and Ladino) gives a recipe originally from Tangier, Morocco, that calls for white bread, egg, milk and cinnamon. The bread is dipped in milk, then in egg, fried in oil and then drizzled with a simple sugar syrup (other recipes call for honey) and sprinkled with cinnamon. It was believed to help new mothers to produce more milk and give them strength, and so it was considered a health food of sorts. How things have changed (unfortunately).

Crunchy Almond French Toast

The French toast in this recipe is coated in almond meal and served with a delicious sauce of raw honey, butter and mahlab.

Mahlab is a spice made of ground sour cherry seeds and is used in Middle Eastern cuisines to spice baked goods. It lends an earthy aroma to the sauce here and is a good spice to experiment with if you’re into baking. It is available online and in many Middle Eastern stores.

Serves 4
INGREDIENTS
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
4 slices of two-day-old challah each an inch thick
1 cup almond meal
6 tablespoons butter

For the honey sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon raw honey (or any type of honey)
1/4 teaspoon mahlab (optional; see note above)

DIRECTIONS
1.    In a rectangular cake pan large enough to fit the challah slices in one layer, mix eggs the, milk, 2 tablespoons sugar and almond extract. Arrange challah in pan, and let both sides of the bread soak up the egg mixture. Soak about 2 minutes per side. 

2.    In the meantime, in a medium bowl mix the almond meal and 2 tablespoons sugar. Dip each slice of challah into almond mixture. Dip several times on both sides until the bread is well-coated. Arrange on a clean plate.

3.    Put 2 tablespoons butter into a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot and butter has melted, put 2 challah slices in and gently fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. If the challah becomes brown too quickly, reduce the heat to medium. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan, flip challah slices, and fry the second side for 2-3 minutes. Transfer fried challah into a serving plate. 

4.    Remove pan from heat and carefully wipe with a paper towel, removing all crumbs. Put pan back on heat and repeat with the rest of the challah. Transfer to a serving plate.

5.    While French toast is frying, quickly make the sauce. In a small pan over medium-low heat, put butter, raw honey and mahlab (if using). Cook until butter has melted and mix well. Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl.

6.    Serve French toast right away with sauce on the side.