Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Breakfast and a Loaf of Stale Bread....

As we were enjoying our annual Mother's Day breakfast, my mother said (as she frequently does) "So, tell me about this dish". So I began to tell her how I had come to the unusual choice of French Toast for her annual breakfast (I don't think I have had homemade French Toast since I was in grade school). She then said "You are going to write a blog post about this, aren't you?" I told her that I really hadn't been planning on it. But she insisted that I should.  So, for my mother...for Mother's it is....

Like last year, I was actually planning on cream scones and fruit salad for breakfast. But yesterday while I was thinking that this seemed sort of boring and all too regular for Mother's Day, I remembered that I was in possession of a stale loaf of Ciabatta...and it occurred to me that it would make good French toast.

French toast is of course our American name for what the French call pain perdu, or lost bread. In keeping with most European food cultures, the French have come up with many ways of using stale bread. Bread pudding, stuffings, and bread crumbs—which are used for all kinds of food preparations—immediately come to mind. With pain perdu, the stale bread that might otherwise be "lost" is soaked in custard (stale bread is much better at absorbing liquid than fresh), fried in a little bit of butter and served with ice cream and fruit for dessert. In America it is of course most often served for breakfast. In its simplest form, it is served with just butter and maple syrup...and maybe a dusting of powdered sugar.

I typically don't have stale loaves of bread hanging around. I usually slice and freeze bread that isn't consumed while it is fresh. But I had purchased a loaf of Ciabatta on Friday while teaching a cooking class with my friend Nancy. We needed some cubed bread to teach our class how to tell if deep frying oil was at the proper temperature if you don't happen to have a thermometer. Normally I would have grabbed a roll or something small, but it was later in the day and we were both hungry. Some bread, with a little cheese and some fruit, seemed like a perfect snack. So I grabbed a big loaf, knowing that there would be quite a bit leftover. When I got home, I was too tired to bother with slicing it for the freezer...I figured I would just suffer the loss.

But this loaf of bread turned out to have quite a bit of life left in it. I have been testing an asparagus soup recipe for an upcoming class and while poking around for something for lunch on Saturday found that there was a serving of it left. Remembering my slightly stale bread, I decided to have the last of the soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. The day old bread made a fine grilled cheese....

It also made a very fine plate of French toast. I sliced it about 3/4 of an inch thick and made a simple custard and let it soak overnight (in the fridge). French toast custard is a bit more egg-rich than a typical custard. A custard that I would use for a quiche, for example, would usually have 2 eggs for every cup of cream (or milk). For my French toast, I used 4 eggs per cup of liquid. Some recipes use almost no milk or cream...but I prefer a French toast that is creamy and custardy rather than egg-y.

For each 2 slices of bread, I used 1 egg, 1/4 cup of milk (you could use cream), 1 T. of pure maple syrup, 1/2 T. of sugar, 1/4 t. of vanilla and a pinch of salt. The bread soaked up almost all of the custard. To serve it, simply melt some butter in a non-stick pan (cast iron is best) over moderate heat. Add the soaked slices of bread—as many as your pan will comfortably hold—and cook on each side until golden brown. Transfer each batch to a warm oven until all of the slices have been fried, and continue to hold it there while you make a quick fruit compote.

I served our French toast with a banana and blueberry compote. To make the compote, bring some orange juice—for 2 slices of French toast, maybe the juice of half an orange—some maple syrup (a tablespoon or so), and some butter (2 or 3 teaspoons) to a boil and cook briefly until syrupy. Add some sliced banana and blueberries and warm through. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. Because I didn't plan on blogging about this, I really don't have exact quantities—I have listed my best guess of what I made per person. But really, this is just a quick, to-taste, kind of compote. You might want more sweetness...or a little Grand Marnier...or possibly some cinnamon...maybe some more butter.... Your goal is a warm, flavorful, syrupy liquid to toss the fruit in so that it isn't cold when it is spooned over the hot French toast.

Along with some juice, coffee & tea, and yogurt with strawberries from yesterday's farmers' market, the French toast made a Mother's Day breakfast that was not only tasty, but a nice surprise for Mom (who I think was expecting scones...).

I always like to put a small bouquet of flowers from my garden on the table for Mother's Day. Because we have had a rather cool Spring, many of the late Spring bloomers have been holding off a bit (even though things have been very lush and green). But last night, as I was ending my day with a little much needed yard work, I came upon the patch of Lilies of the Valley—which had been blooming their heads off, unbeknownst to me. I thought they would be just the thing for a little bud vase.

And this morning when I awoke and stepped outside, the beautiful America's Cup Iris had produced three big blooms.  They were too beautiful to cut. But I'm so glad I snapped a picture of one of them—bathed in the morning light—because now I can share its beauty with my a more permanent, on my blog.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

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