The Sweet Ingredient Alton Brown Uses In His French Toast (No, It's Not Sugar)

Longtime Food Network personality Alton Brown has been dubbed "the Bill Nye of food" by media outlets and fans alike, for his humorous, scientific approach to everything from creamy scrambled eggs to sangria. It's this same skillful, meticulous technique he brings to this favorite brunch dish as well: French toast.

When crafting the pan-fried treat, Brown uses one simple substitution that turns it into a must-try recipe — he subs in honey instead of sugar. In theory, French toast isn't a complicated dish to create, with just a few ingredients needed, such as bread, eggs, butter, and milk or cream (though Brown's recipe includes half-and-half). Sometimes vanilla extract and cinnamon or other spices are also included for flavor; yet, to add some sweetness, the famous cook eschews the usual refined white sugar as well as the powdered sugar often used atop the bread and goes straight to honey.

Why honey works great in French toast

On TikTok, Alton Brown claims that using honey instead of sugar keeps the French toast custard (formed by the dairy and egg ingredients) "very clean and very straightforward." This natural sweetener also gives the dish a deeper, more complex flavor. However, because the processing of honey gives it around 18% moisture content, it will likely thin out the custard, so it will be more liquidy. But, because honey is sweeter than sugar, you can use less — many classic French toast recipes use 1/4 cup of sugar, while Brown uses half that amount of honey. 

Even better, honey can be less refined than sugar and has some nutrients in it, and may even offer a few additional health benefits. According to the Cleveland Clinic, researchers believe honey offers antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties; studies like one from the National Institutes of Health indicate that honey, especially if raw and unfiltered, may also help combat cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal diseases. Another study in the journal Nutrients concluded in part that, while more research is needed, honey can be more beneficial than harmful when used in place of other sweeteners. 

While the 2 tablespoons of honey in Brown's French toast recipe probably isn't enough to offer ample nutrition, you may still prefer the purer nature of raw honey and the idea of using less sugar content.

Making French toast the Alton Brown way

Alton Brown's recipe for French toast benefits from a few tried-and-true techniques that he uses to create the perfect texture. To start, the food scientist leaves dry bread out overnight so it's ready for the next morning. Brown considers this to be possibly the most important step in the process, since fresh bread will fall apart when introduced to the custard, while stale bread will soak it up and become infused with the flavors while staying sturdy.

When it's time to add honey to the mix, Brown also microwaves the honey container first, noting that this step makes it easier to pour and allows it to integrate more easily into the custard. The chef admits he's not necessarily precise with his measurement, but rather simply eyeballs the amount he needs. After whisking the honey in, it's best to strain the custard mixture to make it smooth without any lumps, which makes the French toast look especially impressive for guests.

One final method Brown uses to upgrade his version of French toast is to double cook the bread for the perfect creamy inside yet crispy outside flavor. He pan-fries the French toast first in butter, then puts slices in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit to firm it all up.