French toast with cinnamon butter and candied almonds
Bread is one of those things we never throw away in the restaurant. There is always an opportunity to repurpose it, to use it up. In fact, it’s almost shameful to throw it out. There are always breadcrumbs to make. Or ribollita waiting for chunks of stale bread – the soup’s name literally translates as “reboil”. You can make a quick one with cheap vegetables – cabbage or kale, potatoes and carrot – and a tin of cannellini beans. Some pork scraps round it out, with chunks of bread thrown in towards the end of the cooking process to thicken the soup. I like to roast the bread first to add a bit of texture.
Another great way to finish off bread is by making French toast. What I like about it is that if there’s nothing in the cupboard at home, you can always find a bit of milk and an egg and some stale bread. There’s also a version served in restaurants, often in winter, on dessert menus. That’s called pain perdu, which translates as lost bread – the bread that’s been forgotten, that has passed its use-by date. Basically it’s French toast that’s been reimagined by pastry chefs, often with the addition of vanilla, rum or orange zest to the base custard. More often than not the bread would be a brioche style. It’s quite nice served warm with a compote of seasonal fruit or even pot-roasted pear.
I peel, core and quarter four pears – ideally firm beurre bosc, pakenham or williams – and fit them tightly in a casserole dish along with four tablespoons of sugar and two tablespoons of butter. Cover this and bake for half an hour at 180 degrees. Remove the lid, add a dash of brandy, a splash of sweet wine and a few drops of vanilla extract. Return to the oven and cook uncovered for another half an hour, turning the pears from time to time. Serve with the French toast, with some whipped cream as a dessert or some yoghurt for breakfast.
There are only a few ways for French toast to go wrong. The principal one is that it may become gluggy from the uncooked egg. I drain the toast on a cake rack for five minutes before cooking, to get rid of any excess custard. This also allows the bread to caramelise nicely in the pan.
At risk of being controversial, I think I prefer French toast to pancakes. In a nod to travels in America, it is also the only time when I can accept something as sweet and salty as bacon and maple syrup on the same plate. I’ve been served some savoury attempts at French toast – sometimes with cheese, and once topped with a salad and salmon – and my advice on this front would be to go and make an omelet.
French toast with whipped cinnamon butter and candied almonds
This will make more almonds than you need, but they’re a great sweet staple to have in the larder.
– 300g whole almonds, skin on
– 3 tbsp glucose
– 3 tbsp sugar
– sprinkle salt
Preheat your oven to 170ºC, no fan.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and set aside.
In a small saucepan melt together the glucose and sugar. Add the nuts and stir them through the glucose mixture. It can get pretty sticky at this point – keep stirring over a low heat until the nuts are pretty much all covered with some of the melted sugar.
Tip the nuts onto the lined baking tray and spread them into a single layer.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring every five minutes until the nuts are toasted.
Slide the nuts, and the baking paper they’re sitting on, onto a cake rack to cool. Sprinkle the nuts with a pinch of salt. Store in an airtight container.
Whipped cinnamon butter
– 3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
– 3 tbsp cream
– 1½ tbsp castor sugar
– pinch of cinnamon powder
Beat all the ingredients together until light and fluffy. If you make the butter ahead of time it can be stored in the fridge, but bring it to room temperature before use.
– ½ cup cream
– ½ cup milk
– 1 egg
– 3 egg yolks
– 2 tbsp sugar
– pinch cinnamon
– ½ tsp vanilla extract or seeds from half a vanilla bean
– 6 x 1cm slices of brioche
– butter, for frying
– 6 tsp castor sugar
In a large bowl, whisk together the first seven ingredients to make a custard batter.
Just before you are ready to cook your toast, dip the slices of bread, one by one, into the egg mixture and let them sit in the custard for 30 seconds. Remove the sodden bread and rest your slices on a cake rack so any excess egg mixture can drip off.
Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan and fry the toast over a medium heat (you’ll probably have to do this in batches). As the first side is cooking, sprinkle one teaspoon of sugar over each slice of bread. When the first side is golden brown, flip the bread over and cook the other side – the sugar will caramelise and create a crisp crust. Add more butter to the pan as necessary; you don’t want dry French toast.
Serve each slice with a small scoop of cinnamon butter and a sprinkling of chopped, candied almonds.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 30, 2015 as "Freedom toast". Subscribe here.