The Unexpected Pantry Spice That Changed My French Toast Game Forever

It's sweet, spicy, and cozy all at once.

May 18, 2019

We're partnering with Hilton Garden Inn™ to help you bring hotel hospitality into your home with recipes that are perfect for sharing. Here, we're highlighting a tasty new riff on French toast that's ready for breakfast in bed, brunch, and beyond.

I'm a sucker for a classic French toast recipe. Think: thick slices of fluffy challah bread dredged in an exceptionally simple mixture of eggs and heavy cream (maybe a splash of vanilla extract) and fried 'til golden brown in a well-buttered pan. Oh, and you can't forget a generous drizzle of warmed maple syrup and a cup of hot coffee (or iced cold brew, depending on the weather) to wash everything down.

Now that is breakfast heaven.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Seeing that French toast is already pretty perfect on its own, I've never really thought to deviate from the original. Sure, maybe I'll slice up the bread to make bite-size French toast sticks or switch up the syrup, but the base has always stayed the same. That is, until our test kitchen director, Josh Cohen, introduced me to his new go-to method for making this breakfast favorite.

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Top Comment:
“Have also served my French Toast with crushed pineapple and coconut instead of syrup. Walden Farms makes a great zero calorie WalnutMaple syrup. Pecans & walnuts work very well also.”
— Chaplainjerry

Luckily, Josh's recipe for French toast isn't all that different from the standard one. But it does have a one-ingredient trick up its sleeve that completely transforms the flavor profile. Even better, there's a good chance that one ingredient is already hiding in your pantry: five spice.

Popular in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking, five spice is a bit of a misnomer—it can include five spices (typically, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel seeds, and peppercorns), but it doesn't necessarily have to; you'll also find variations that include ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom. But no matter what is exactly in your five spice powder (you can buy it at the store, or make a homemade version), it's undoubtedly cozy, fragrant, punchy (thanks, peppercorns), and sweet all at once.

This versatility makes it great not only for meat stews and marinades, but also for baked goods and sweets, like this orange bundt cake or this gooey caramel sauce. So it should come as no surprise that it works perfectly in this French toast.

When griddled on a hot pan, the warm notes of the cinnamon and clove, and piquant spice of the peppercorns, come alive and infuse the challah bread with their flavor; under a few glugs of maple syrup, the sweetness of the fennel seed and star anise are pulled even further to the forefront. Just two teaspoons of the stuff, and an average stack of French toast becomes something that's earthy and complex and altogether addictive—even more so when you top it with Josh's favorite garnish: candied bacon.

There are a few ways you can go about making candied bacon, but brushing it with a bit of maple syrup and baking it in a 400°F oven (about 20 minutes should do the trick) is by far the easiest; if you'd like, you can add extra flavorings like Sriracha or even beer to liven things up even more.

Candied bacon or not (but really, why not?), try a few sprinkles of five spice in your next batch of French toast and I promise you'll never look back.

What's your favorite item on the breakfast menu? Tell us in the comments below!

Take your next Sunday brunch with family (or breakfast in bed!) up a few notches with this five-spice twist on French toast. With help from the hospitality pros at Hilton Garden Inn™, we're sharing our favorite recipes and tips for entertaining, whether you're hosting a big crowd or a few of your closest friends.

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    Erin Alexander
Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Chaplainjerry May 24, 2019
Aldi Foods has the very beast cinnamon raisin bread at a very reasonable price. Lots and lots of raisins. During November, December and January - I make it using egg nog. I also find myself spreading Neufchâtel cheese on the slices after I turn them over, and then a bit of my favorite jelly or jam on top. Nothing compares to fresh scraped vanilla bean and fresh ground nutmeg. Using coconut milk or water tased very good. Have also served my French Toast with crushed pineapple and coconut instead of syrup. Walden Farms makes a great zero calorie WalnutMaple syrup. Pecans & walnuts work very well also.
BarbaraJean May 18, 2019
We love a good French toast. Never used 5 spice, so after a trip to the store, it will be a taste adventure!
Erin A. May 20, 2019
I can't wait to hear how it turns out!
Bayushi May 18, 2019
This is how my beloved grandmother made French Toast. Except that she used Hawaiian Sweet Egg Bread (usually from Kings Hawaiian). It was exceptionally good during the holiday season when she used egg nog instead of milk.