French toast isn’t French in origin — it’s a simple dish with much older origins than that, possibly dating all the way back to Roman times. In essence, it consists of stale bread moistened with a sweetened egg-and-milk mixture, then cooked. Traditionally a breakfast or brunch dish, serve it as a breakfast-for-dinner option once in a while; it’s quick enough to put together for a workday supper.

The Bread

French toast can be made with just about any type of bread that’s sturdy enough to withstand soaking without falling apart. For this reason, many recipes suggest using stale bread, and indeed French toast is an ideal vehicle for utilizing leftover bread that has gotten too hard to eat. Experiment with slices of French or Italian bread, brioche, cinnamon bread, challah or whole wheat and white sandwich bread.

The Custard

To make French toast, the bread slices must be soaked in a mixture of milk and eggs, which turns custard-like under heat. Use whole milk or cream, or a mixture of the two. The mixture is usually sweetened with sugar or honey; substitute brown sugar for a flavor twist. The proportions vary widely among recipes; Real Simple recommends 1/4 cup milk and 1 egg per two slices of bread.

The Flavorings

Beyond eggs, milk and sugar, French toast takes well to a wide variety of flavorings. Cinnamon is a common addition, as is vanilla. You can also add a small amount of nutmeg. Orange zest, a splash of orange juice or a dash of orange flower water also works nicely. Lemon zest is another alternative. Some recipes add a small amount of sherry, rum or brandy to the mix as well, and you can also experiment with flavored liqueurs. A pinch of salt enhances the flavor, too.

Griddled and Fried

If you’re griddling or pan-frying French toast, use a neutral oil or clarified butter. Regular butter burns quickly and is likely to char the French toast before it’s done. Cook the toast on each side until it browns, about 2 minutes per side.

Baked French Toast

French toast can also be baked, a good choice if you’re preparing a large batch for guests. Place the soaked slices of bread in an oven-safe casserole dish — crowding the pan is fine here. Bake in an oven preheated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 to 25 minutes, until golden.