Why Jacques Pépin Uses Ice Cream To Make French Toast

As a busy breakfast chef during the 1950s at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, Jacques Pépin developed a shortcut for preparing the restaurant's popular French toast for guests. Instead of making a traditional custard to soak the bread in — which requires measuring milk, sugar, vanilla, and cracking eggs — Pépin borrowed a single ingredient from the pastry kitchen: melted French-style vanilla ice cream. Using this swap, Pépin reduced the recipe to just three ingredients, streamlined the assembly and cleanup process, and gave us all the justification to enjoy a scoop (or two) of the frozen treat in the morning.

Pépin soaks each thick slice of firm white bread in roughly one cup of melted vanilla ice cream on a rimmed dinner plate. The soggy bread is then pan-fried in unsalted butter until golden brown. Pépin serves the French toast on the aforementioned plate, atop the leftover melted ice cream, almost like a crème anglaise. He finishes the dish with sliced bananas and maple syrup, but there are many recipe variations you can explore.

Selecting the perfect ice cream for French toast

Although you'll encounter several types of vanilla ice cream at the supermarket — old-fashioned vanilla, vanilla bean, and French vanilla — they're not all made with the same ingredients. Jacques Pépin's French toast uses French-style vanilla ice cream, traditionally made with egg yolks, which is perfect for this recipe. The yolks create a golden-hued custard that's richer than other varieties. When shopping for your ice cream, read the ingredient list to ensure egg yolks are included.

While vanilla is a natural choice, other ice cream flavors can also be used to make this dish. You could substitute melted chocolate ice cream and top the finished dish with sliced strawberries, or try salted caramel or dulce de leche ice cream and drizzle the French toast with warm caramel sauce instead of maple syrup. The possibilities are endless.

When selecting bread, a dense, thickly sliced variety like challah, brioche, or white sandwich is preferred. Stale bread absorbs the custard best, but if you didn't plan ahead, this oven-roasted bread hack creates delicious French toast. Cook the soaked bread on low heat, allowing the center to set, or use an air fryer to make fluffy, hassle-free French toast with crispy edges.

Additional recipes using melted ice cream

Since Jacques Pépin created this dish decades ago, other cooks have incorporated melted ice cream into their recipes. Ina Garten, who famously endorses using store-bought ingredients when entertaining, shared how she uses this ingredient to create a decadent dessert sauce, sort of like a crème anglaise, in her cookbook, "Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks."

Garten's preferred ice cream brand is Häagen-Dazs — which includes egg yolks — to make her sauce, thereby bypassing the need to temper eggs and wait for the custard to cool. She serves the rich sauce with warm brioche bread pudding, but it would be equally delicious on a molten chocolate soufflé at your next dinner party. Even if you're not entertaining soon, melted vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment for dressing up a slice of store-bought pound cake, garnished with fresh berries.

Although the original recipe dates back to the 1970s, the internet went wild for TikTok's ice cream bread a few years ago. This recipe combines vanilla ice cream, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and rainbow sprinkles for a fun baking project. The colorful bread takes almost an hour to prepare, but millions didn't seem to mind the wait after tasting the tender, sweet bread.