Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Sublime Comfort Food

For me, French Toast American-style is a sublime comfort food.  In the winter when DH is away and I am dining alone, I turn to this ultimate sinful luxury food for my evening meal.  I revel in its preparation, and await its completion with mouth-watering anticipation.

As a kid, I was na├»ve enough to think that any one who cooked was as great a cook as my mother, and made French Toast just like she did.  Back in the distant past of my childhood we slept over at the homes of our friends, too.  Their parents wanted to serve a special breakfast for their young guests, and, when I was a kid, that usually meant pancakes, waffles, or French Toast.  After I worked my way through one particularly bad French Toast breakfast which was undercooked, and another of the ultimate convenience breakfast food of my childhood, toaster French Toast, I learned how to refuse politely, “Thank you for offering, but I’d prefer cereal.”  To this day, French Toast is not a food I eat if it is prepared by someone else, or order if I am eating out.  I like this food too much to endure it badly prepared.  (DH’s childhood experiences with French Toast were so bad, he’s been scarred for life; this is a dish he still refuses to eat.)

The mistake most cooks make is to think that French Toast is easy.  My experience is that the “easiest” or “simplest” dishes are often the most difficult. French Toast requires a certain level of care to prepare well.  The bread must be of a sturdy/dense texture and have a neutral flavor—white, oatmeal, or a semi-whole wheat bread work very well.  But, raisin bread makes a particularly fine French Toast.  The slices of bread are soaked in an egg and milk mixture, which upon cooking produces a custardy bread pudding texture.  The infused slabs of bread must be cooked slowly in foaming melted butter over medium heat in a cast iron pan which, for me, is the perfect cooking surface for the quality of heat required to produce the brownness and surface texture I prefer.  This process takes time, but every forkful is worth the care and patience it takes to make this sublime comfort food.

Notes for this recipe:  If making for two people select a large low-sided pan for the soaking (double eggs and milk for each soaking cycle.), infuse two slices at a time, and use two frying pans for the cooking.  Be careful not to over soak the bread or it will become a sodden mess.  Preheat the oven to 170 (warming temperature) and put a heat-proof plate or platter inside on which to place the cooked French Toast.

 French Toast (American-style) For One 

2 One half inch thick slabs of Raisin Bread or neutrally flavored, densely textured bread, preferably homemade, such as, White Bread, Oatmeal Bread or a mild Whole Wheat Bread.
2 large eggs
6 Tbps. Milk, divided
Cinnamon & nutmeg (optional)
Maple Syrup

Turn the oven to 170 (warming temperature) and set a heat-proof dinner plate inside. 

Select a 10” low-sided pie plate.  Crack one of the eggs into the selected pan, and add three tablespoons of the milk.  Mix with a fork to combine.  If using. add a pinch of cinnamon and a little scrape of nutmeg.  Mix with a fork to combine.  Place one slice of bread in the egg mixture and soak until half the liquid is absorbed.  Using the mixing fork, carefully turn the slice of bread over. 

While the bread is soaking, set a 10-inch skillet or a griddle on the stove over medium heat.  When the skillet is hot to the touch, add about ½ tablespoon of butter.  When the butter is foaming (be careful it does not brown), swirl to coat the skillet.  With the fork carefully transfer the infused slice of bread from the soaking dish to the frying pan.  If there is any liquid left in the pie plate, scrape it onto the surface of the bread.   

Watch carefully while preparing the soaking mixture for the second slice of bread.  When the slice is slightly crispy and lightly browned, turn over and brown the other side.  When the second side is cooked, remove the slice to the plate in the warmed oven and top with a pat of butter.

While the first piece of bread is cooking, crack the second egg into the soaking pan, and add the three remaining tablespoons of milk.  Mix with a fork to combine.  If using. add a pinch of cinnamon and a little scrape of nutmeg.  Mix with a fork to combine.  Place the remaining slice of bread in the egg mixture and soak until half the liquid is absorbed.  Using the fork, carefully turn the slice of bread over.  When the first slice has been removed from the skillet, add another ½ tablespoon of butter and repeat cooking process.   

When the second slice of bread is cooked, place on top of the first slice and top with another pat of butter.  Add maple syrup to taste, grab a knife and fork, and savor every mouthful.