The maple syrup is key—seriously
Let me be perfectly clear, by "pizza French toast" I do not, as one might assume, refer to French toast made with pizza flavorings. While I’m sure it would be a lovely morning project to soak a piece of slightly stale, hearty Italian bread in a custard enriched with garlic and oregano and fry it up in olive oil, then top with your favorite pie toppings, and hit it under a broiler, this is not what we are discussing.
“It began with a series of bad decisions.” Said my friend John, explaining to me how his breakfast came to be.
The text message, “I just made French toast with leftover pizza.” was more than enough to pique my culinary curiosity, but the part I didn’t expect was the follow up. “I ate it with maple syrup. It was delicious.”
The series of bad decisions are not mine to share, but needless to say, the end result, the only result you need to know about is that John found himself alone in the morning, hungry for a hot breakfast, facing down the sad remains of a frozen DiGiorno Rising Crust pizza from the night before. An egg, some milk, a pan—the rest is breakfast history. Or legend.
Now, I’m a huge fan of cold pizza for breakfast. I will almost always upsize my order so that cold pizza for breakfast is guaranteed. Good pizza is as scrumptious straight from the fridge as it is hot. But I live in Chicago, where really good pizza is the standard, and readily available. And here is where this recipe goes weird; you absolutely CANNOT make it with good pizza. You have to make it with crappy pizza. Either frozen, as John did when he invented it, or a chain-delivered pie, as I did. Good pizza will not hold up to the French toast treatment. Crappy pizza, on the other hand, is ideal for this morning adventure. John made this clear, and his reasoning is very sound.
The crust, which last night was somewhat wan and bereft of flavor or decent chew, will have transformed overnight in the fridge to the perfect sponge for a basic custard, and will soak up all the eggy goodness without falling apart. The indifferently-seasoned Italian sausage or rubbery pepperoni will suddenly become the breakfast meat you never knew you needed. The cheese, that thin plastic gilding that held your pie together last night, simply melds with the egg and gives a bit of structure. Which is more, and this is key, maple syrup brings the whole party together in a way that you will never expect. Something about the mix is so very right in all of its wrongness.
I believed John when he said that as unsatisfying and sad as the frozen pizza had been for dinner, the French toast he made with it in the morning redeemed it in ways he never imagined. I had to try it. Not being in possession of a frozen pizza, because, Chicago, I did something I had not done since 1992. I ordered Domino’s. From what I remembered from my college years in the suburbs of Boston, read: not Chicago, Domino’s seemed like the right kind of crust for French toasting. And as expected, the pizza experience was not exactly fantastic. It filled a need, dinner was covered, but mostly it just kind of made me want good pizza.
In the morning, still a little skeptical, I whisked a couple of eggs with a few tablespoons of half and half. You can use whatever milk you have around. I eschewed salt or pepper, figuring the pizza is seasoned enough, lay a couple slices in the custard, and let it soak for 20 minutes, flipping a couple of times. And then, as you do for French toast of any kind, I melted some butter in my nonstick and fried them up.
The bite I took of the pizza French toast just plain was better than I had expected, but not really that brilliant. Better than it had been as just pizza the night before, but not exactly craveworthy. So I took a flier and doused the whole plate in a glossy sheen of maple syrup. I took another bite, and nearly fell out of my chair. The maple syrup had transformed the stuff from just okay to seriously delicious. I mean, finish the plate, lick your fingers, wish that maybe you had ordered a larger pie delicious. I thought of a local excellent pizza joint who has a pie that they drizzle with spicy honey and it all began to make sense. Salty, sweet, eggy, cheesy, meaty, umami, chewy, and crispy. The fact that it might be the perfect hangover breakfast was not lost on me either, since drinking and making bad pizza decisions tend to go hand in hand.
It is possible, nay, likely, that at some point life will hand you crappy pizza, whether due to your own series of bad decisions, or because it is simply the only thing available to you. But if you have eggs and some dairy, never fear. The morning will redeem the night before in a very satisfying way.
Leftover Pizza French Toast
For every slice of pizza, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of milk or half and half or cream
Mix the egg and dairy and soak your pizza slices for 20 minutes.
Melt some butter in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat and fry the slices for about 2-3 minutes per side until cooked through and lightly browned. Serve with maple syrup.