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Step up French toast with these easy steps

It’s hard to beat the perfection of maple syrup on French toast. Kristopher Skinner / McClatchy Tribune

I’ll skip the pancakes and waffles every time — it’s French toast that I want, whether it’s for a weekend breakfast or a quick dinner after work.

My attempts at homemade pancakes turned into nothing more but laughable, tasteless circles of batter, and waffles are great until I have to clean up the mess these breakfast staples make no matter how careful I am.

But French toast was one of the first foods I mastered on my own, and I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that can spruce up the simplest of recipes to create a decadent delicacy sure to impress anyone at the table.

Follow these five tips to take your French toast to a higher level, or start experimenting with ingredients around the house to find combinations that work for you — it’s almost impossible to screw up this favorite food.

1. Spice it up

The first time I made French toast on my own, I was surprised at just how easy it was to follow the standard recipes. Milk or cream, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla will result in a great combination of flavors that will work in a pinch.

But don’t be afraid to spice it up for a new twist. I always add nutmeg to my mix — however much cinnamon I sprinkle in, I add that much nutmeg for a great taste that works well together. Ginger and ground cloves are good additions, too.

2. Skip Texas toast

No matter how much you doctor up the mix, your French toast won’t reach its full potential if you soak it up with bland bread. Texas toast is a perfectly acceptable choice, though it won’t add any additional flavors, so try other breads for better results.

Brioche is a great alternative, and challah’s sweeter flavor only improves the finished product. My new favorite is baking a loaf of banana bread and letting it dry out on the counter overnight so it’s ready to soak up that egg mix the next morning for a tasty treat that’s hard to beat. Or, add some good nutrition to the meal by using whole grain bread.

Just skip the plain white bread, and everyone will be happier.

3. Don’t skimp on the syrup

The biggest mistake we make in our breakfasts at home is using top-quality ingredients, but then topping the finished meal with the cheapest imitation flavors we can find. It’ll cost more, but go for real maple syrup, not the inexpensive and artificial alternatives you can buy for a few dollars.

When you use the good stuff, a little goes a long way, and the difference in flavor is well worth the extra cost.

4. Pass on syrup entirely

It’s hard to beat the perfection of maple syrup on warm slices of French toast, but a change of pace is always nice, and there are plenty of ways to top this breakfast delight without loading up on syrup.

Sliced fruit is a no-brainer — bananas are a perfect match for banana bread French toast, for example, though berries are just as great. Add whipped cream or some powdered sugar to make it even better, and no one will miss the syrup.

5. Save time with a griddle

There’s a small kitchen appliance for everything these days, and if you’re not careful, you’ll have to devote an entire wall of cabinets to storing those panini presses and rice cookers that will realistically only get used once or twice a year.

But the large electric griddle I bought a few years ago gets used more than the slow cookers in my house, and there’s no faster or more convenient way of perfectly browning eight slices of French toast at once than this contraption.

Most griddles are rather bulky and large, unfortunately, so it can be hard to find a cupboard big enough to hide it out of sight. If you’ll be making French toast often enough, though, it’s completely worth the hassle, and cleanup is a breeze.