"Once the cinnamon started smoking, that's when we knew to flip it!" Morgan Bordenave, the pastry chef at Jon & Vinny's in Los Angeles, says. "We would cut them into half and eat them as fast as we could, almost always burning our mouths."
Aside from the obvious winning combination of squishy white bread, too much butter and an overzealous pour of cinnamon-spiced sugar, that love for the nostalgic carb is because it's one of the first things chefs learned how to make. And it shows on restaurant menus.
Huff crumbles cinnamon toast bits onto apple pecan cake at FT33, while James Beard Award-winning chef John Sundstrom whips lardo into cinnamon toast at Bitter/Raw in Seattle. At Andrew Carmellini's veg-focused Little Park in New York City, pastry chef Jennifer Luk crisps soppy brioche with cinnamon sugar and crumbles it over her brioche-infused ice cream to mimic the warming flavors.
"I remember eating it when I was around three or four years old," Justin Warner, the chef behind now-closed Do or Dine in New York City and author of recently released The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them, says. "The fact that it is one of my earliest taste memories is indicative of its magical powers."
And that is why Raquel Pelzel, former America's Test Kitchen editor and TT food editor, had to include cinnamon toast in her beautiful new cookbook, Toast: The Cookbook ($25).
"To have a book called Toast and not have a cinnamon toast seemed like such an omission. It's like having a Sunday supper book and not having a roast chicken," Pelzel says.
"Cinnamon toast is one of the first things you cook," she continues. "Put it in the toaster and you feel independent. You're making something for yourself, and you feel big and grown up and, in the meantime, you're eating lots of sugar for breakfast."
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However, Pelzel's toast isn't the dusty, slightly blackened cinnamon toast of our youth. Rather, she puts her vast baking knowledge and rigorous recipe tasting expertise to work to make the best cinnamon toast. Her genius trick? Treating it as if it's French.
"I started thinking about double-baked croissants, and you use a simple syrup to saturate the bread to make it extra creamy and sweeten it down to the core," Pelzel explains. "I've also made French toast and taken the soaked toast and dipped it in the sugar, which caramelizes so it gets this shellacked surface."
She adds, "I took these techniques and threw them in the pan and was like, 'Let's see how it goes.'"
Pelzel's recipe calls for two doses of cinnamon sugar, one in an expected final sprinkle and the other in syrup form. She quickly fries the bread twice, first in butter, and then brushed with the syrup and finished with the cinnamon sugar blend.
The result is the best cinnamon toast we've had: delicately crispy on the outside and wonderfully creamy and custardy on the inside. It's a little bit French and a whole lot delicious.