Sunday, 19 August 2012

French Toasts

On a nice sunny Sunday morning, is there anything more awesome than a pile of French toasts? Having them served to you in bed, maybe, but since the cat really can't hold a spatula properly, I have resigned myself to making them and eating them somewhat vertically.

People have been making French toast, or pain perdu, for a long time. The oldest recipes for it date back to the 4th century, and it was already the yummiest way to use up bread gone a bit stale (it soaks up more egg mixture without falling apart than fresh bread will, so feel free to leave a few slices on the counter overnight if you plan on making French toast the next morning). It was eaten by peasants all over Europe, but I am not sure when it became nominally French. Today, it is a lovely brunch dish that you can make with any kind of bread that's sliced thick enough.

Some people top it with all kind of extravagant stuff, but I like to keep it simple (mostly because I am generally per-caffeinated when I make them): fresh berries and maple syrup. Feel free to use any other fresh fruit you like (peaches and bananas are especially awesome), toasted walnuts or pecan, and top your creation with whipped cream, creme anglaise or honey (sprinkle powdered sugar on top if you want; it's naughty, but I have to admit it IS pretty). I used rather conventional bread in the pictures, but a nice baker's bread stuffed with nuts and fruits makes French toast extra-special!

Nadia G.'s "Bitchin' Kitchen" recipe is virtually identical to the one my grandmother taught me, with the slight difference that my nonna spiked her French toast with nutmeg, making us all a bunch of raving addicts who only swore by her recipe. Here's how to do it:

4 eggs
1 vanilla bean (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Brown sugar
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup milk
Sea salt
4 to 8 thick slices of bread
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup fresh berries
Maple syrup

In a bowl, beat together the eggs, the seed of 1/2 vanilla bean (or the vanilla extract), a big pinch of brown sugar, a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg, a splash of milk and a small pinch of salt.

Slice 4 pieces of bread 1-inch thick. Drown in the egg mixture. Melt the butter in a large frying pan on medium heat. Fry bread until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side (fry in batches of 2 slices, if needed).

Pile the toasts on a serving plate, sprinkle with fresh berries and serve with maple syrup.

This makes a lovely breakfast for 2, but the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd (the mixture with 4 eggs can soak up to 8 slices of bread, so only double that if you plan of frying an entire loaf). Serve it with some OJ and coffee, unless it's a special occasion, in which case, mimosas and a side of bacon are mandatory.

If eggs are not your thing, here is a vegan version from my dear "Vegan with a Vengeance". Mixing flour with a non-dairy milk makes an interesting substitute for the eggs, and chickpea flour is as close to the real thing as you can get. Simply use this little mix instead of the traditional egg mixture:

1/2 cup soy creamer
1/2 cup rice milk or plain soy milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup chickpea flour

Pour the soy cream and rice milk in a wide, shallow bowl. Mix in the cornstarch, and stir until dissolved. Add the chickpea flour and mix until it is mostly absorbed. Add vanilla extract if you want to sweetened it up a bit, use canola oil instead of butter to keep your bread from sticking to the frying pan and voila! Vegan French toasts!

With a little imagination, French toast can be quite versatile. Omit the vanilla, sugar and nutmeg, and you can make savory French toast served with breakfast proteins like sausages or ham, some roasted breakfast potatoes, a few asparagus and a drizzle of Hollandaise sauce...

Enjoy the beautiful Sunday!

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