Sunday breakfast is a bit of a special occasion. After all, who wouldn’t want a delicious treat that can be made with the extra time you have on hand?
Today we have two classics to compare: French toast vs. pancakes. We’ll judge them based on several criteria, including prep time, cook time, skill level, varieties, and the required clean-up after you’re done.
If you have a favorite that you’re rooting for, we’re all for it! We all grew up with a Sunday special breakfast and would like to see it win.
Just keep an open mind, and maybe you’ll leave with a new appreciation for the dish you’re less familiar with.
This is a sweet breakfast treat derived from the French dish pain perdu, which roughly translates to “forgotten bread.” It was originally made to save bread that has gone stale and give it a new lease in life.
This might seem like less of a problem now. However, back in the day, before dough conditioners and food science gave us ultra soft white loaves, bread was baked from whole wheat flour, which went stale pretty fast.
That’s when French excellence kicks in; why not cover it in an egg and milk mixture and then fry it in butter? Nothing can taste bad dipped in custard and fried in butter!
So, let’s break down French toast and see what it has going on for it.
French toast is the perfect last-minute brunch choice if you already have stale bread on hand. The idea here is to have the bread dried out so it can soak up as much of the egg custard as possible.
If that’s the case, your prep time is going to be less than five minutes; the amount of time needed to grab eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and maybe a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg—or both!
Then, it’s all a matter of whisking everything together to get the lumps out of the egg whites and then dipping the bread inside. It’s that simple!
If your bread is fresh, don’t worry! Just put it in a low oven (125 degrees F) for about 30–40 minutes till it’s dried but not rock hard. Then, it’s business as usual.
French toast favors medium-low heat and a good amount of butter (or better yet, clarified butter) to cook. Just get a large non-stick or cast iron pan or griddle, add the butter, wait for it to foam slightly, and then put your toast in.
You can form a station next to the frying pan where you have your stale bread, then the custard in a shallow bowl. Give the bread a quick dip on both sides, and then go for it.
It’s crucial not to soak the bread for too long, or else it will collapse when you’re trying to put it in the pan or flip it. Over-soaking the bread in the egg custard can also cause the middle of the French toast to remain raw if the outside browns too fast.
It will usually take about 3 minutes per side. So, depending on how many you’re cooking and how big your pan is, a small batch can be done pretty fast!
French toast doesn’t require a lot of precision, which is good for beginners who don’t have a lot of experience or confidence in the kitchen.
All you need is just the right ratio of ingredients, and it doesn’t even have to be exact to turn out good. You’re not baking here; just making a delicious treat by whisking a bunch of stuff together.
French toast has been having a bit of a moment lately, with such wide varieties popping up that elevate the simple bread-and-custard combo to culinary excellence.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the simple stuff dressed with copious amounts of maple syrup. But if you tried crispy French toast covered in cereal, graham cracker crumbs, or Panko breadcrumbs, you’d understand.
That’s not to mention the insane stuffed varieties with anything from peanut butter & jelly to Nutella & hazelnuts. Those are just criminally good.
And do I need to remind you that French toast can be made savory, as well? Think of a Croque Monsieur-adjacent sandwich, with ham and cheese oozing out of the custardy, savory bread. You don’t have to skip the syrup here, either!
French toast only requires a bowl and a whisk for the custard ingredients, a shallow dish to dip the bread, and maybe a sheet tray to keep the done toast warm until the batch is finished.
That’s not a lot of dishes. Just try to avoid making a mess while dipping the bread in the custard and transferring it to the pan.
Every dad ever has probably tried their hand at pancakes at least once. There’s something about standing in the kitchen at 8 am on a Sunday morning, griddling pancakes, that screams, “I care about you.”
Well, pancakes are a wonderful way to say that to someone you love. Making pancakes can be labor-intensive and requires a bit of skill to make, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a breeze.
So, let’s see if pancakes are the winner here!
Pancake batter recipes vary greatly depending on several factors. If you’re cooking them from a pancake mix (no shade, but why?), they probably take less than three minutes to mix all the lumps out.
If you’re making a traditional buttermilk pancake from scratch, the batter will need a little bit of time, like 10 minutes, to rest after you mix it all together. This will give the flour time to hydrate and for the consistency of the pancake to improve.
Leavening agents also play a role here. Baking powder is traditional, but some recipes ask for baking soda as well, while others, like French crepes, forgo leavening altogether, so they need more time for the batter to rest and hydrate.
Pancakes have the amazing advantage of a built-in timer. When you see tiny bubbles forming along the outside ring of the pancake, it’s time to flip!
However, they do take some time to cook, especially if you’re making a large batch for the whole family. Just be prepared to stand in the kitchen for no less than one hour.
There’s not a whole lot of skill needed to mix up a pancake batter from a pre-made mix to get delicious, fluffy pancakes in minutes. But if you want to make them from scratch, get ready for some trial and error!
Pancake batters can be too thick, and in this case, they’ll turn out dense and stodgy or too thin, where they’re spread out like crepes. Getting the correct consistency will require playing around with wet-to-dry ratios, especially since these things get affected by humidity.
After some time, though, you’ll get the hang of it. Then, it’ll become clearer whether you need to adjust with a little more milk or a little more flour.
Another aspect is the amount of mixing required. Of course, you don’t want to have flour clumps in your batter, but overmixing can result in chewy, rubbery pancakes.
That’s all thanks to gluten, which is the protein found in wheat flour that develops the more you mix the batter. It forms networks of elastic threads throughout the batter, causing a chewy texture.
So, it’s all a matter of mixing just enough till the flour disappears, which you’ll get the hang of when you practice. Still, pancakes need some skills to master.
Pancakes can have a million different mix-ins, from chocolate chips to blueberries to even bacon strips! (remember that food trend?)
But it doesn’t stop there. The pancake batter itself is the subject of much experimentation nowadays.
You might have heard of the Japanese fluffy, or so-called souffle, pancakes that jiggle when you poke them. These are made by incorporating a ton of egg whites beaten to stiff peaks and then folding them gently into the batter.
The result is custardy and fluffy, but some people don’t even agree that these are considered pancakes. They don’t have the same flavor profile as traditional pancakes, and some people find them too eggy for their liking.
On the flip side, you have French crepes that have no leavening at all and are usually eaten stuffed or garnished with various toppings. They can be made savory or sweet and are garnering a bit of a cult following around the world.
Pancakes only require a bowl and a whisk if you’re making the traditional kind. However, if you want to experiment with the souffle variety, make sure to whip out a hand or stand mixer!
The cooking surface of choice is a griddle, but a large non-stick pan will work. Use a quarter or half cup measuring cup to get them all the same size.
Just be careful when you’re pouring the batter not to drip it everywhere; you wouldn’t want to clean that!
French toast vs. pancakes can be a heated debate. However, based on our brief comparison above, they both have their pros and cons, so it all depends on what you’d like to make and eat.
French toast is more suitable for beginners in the kitchen, while pancakes have a lot more variety and require the skill set to match. Whatever you end up making, though, we hope you enjoy it!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.