Not everything has to be complicated. I want to find the first guy who “stuffed” French toast or used Challah bread and smack them on the head. French toast should be simple and it should be easy and it should be basic. It should also make you swoon a little. That’s not to say that you won’t get extra points with me for using up left over fancy bread to make French toast. But anyone who suggests that I should go searching for fancy bread or ingredients to make French toast loses sight, I think, of the genesis of such soaked bread treats in many of our worlds. That is, it was and is a way that a person could take stale bread and basic staples and create a dreamy, steamy, sweet, filling breakfast that could make the child of the most frugal mom on the block feel like a king. This goes for bread puddings, milk toast, potato pancakes and all the kitchen miracles that our moms and dads and grandparents dreamed up to make a dish stretch for another day, to let nothing go to waste, and to weave nothing into something divine.
Unfortunately, done optimally it requires one person to eat standing at the stove. I don’t buy the notion that one can keep pancakes or French toast warm in the oven and still have them be truly great. I cook this short order style. I serve it with an inappropriate pile of confectioners’ sugar on top. Until recently, I was opposed, personally, to syrup on this, though I eat gallons of it with pancakes. But I whipped up a little something that changed my mind. I’ll get to that in a bit. OK, I’ll tell you. I boiled a small container of fresh blackberries in a cup of amazing syrup and it created a hot maple-ey berry treat reminiscent of hot pie filling.
If your grocery store doesn’t carry Texas Toast, which is inch thick sandwich bread, you should consider changing grocery stores. This works best with bread that is a few days old. The freshest bread will fall apart in the milk. If your bread is new, lay it out on the counter for a few hours to dry out a little.
8 to 12 slices of Texas Toast
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
Confectioners sugar, for dusting (or inundating)
The Blackberry Syrup:
1 cup real maple syrup
1 cup (approximately) fresh blackberries, or any other berry if you feel adventurous
1 teaspoon clear-jel (cornstarch would probably suffice, or omit it you don’t have either)
To make the syrup, you simply take a cup of real maple syrup and the berries and a teaspoon of clear jel (which is a thickener that adds a pie filling feel to the syrup), and heat them in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to bubble around the edges. Break up the berries with a wooden spoon or a potato masher as it cooks. Allow it to cook for two or three additional minutes and then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool a bit before serving.
For the toast, in a shallow baking dish mix together the eggs, half and half, milk, vanilla and sugar. If it is not coming together nicely, consider a blender or immersion blender, but a good whisking usually does the job.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. One by one, or two by two, whichever will fit in your milk pan, gently lay in the bread. After a moment flip the pieces over so they are soaked uniformly. You want them to be wet all the way through but not falling apart. Transfer the soaked pieces of bread to the hot skillet which has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Then, stand there and tend to them, lifting up a corner of bread now and again to check its progress until it is beautifully golden brown. Gently flip the toast with a spatula and do the same for the other side. Remove the finished toast to a plate and dress it either with a blizzard of confectioners sugar or blackberry maple syrup, or both.
There are foods worth spending a few extra dollars. Real maple syrup is one of them. I recently splurged and ordered two jugs from Hamilton’s Maple Products, a syrup producer in Pennsylvania. I use this fantastic website called Local Harvest to source all manner of small batch artisanal foods and products. It makes for fun shopping if you are looking for a special item that isn’t produced locally.
I just love this dish. We ate it this time with Ruffled Egg Cups on the side. I remember when I was a kid that this French Toast is what we would beg for on the weekends. The toast ends up soufflé like in the middle, and hot and almost crisp on the outside. Eat two pieces. Put the skillet in the sink and go lie on the couch and nap while coma inducing golf commentary plays in the background. That is optimal. Don’t do this on a morning that you plan on accomplishing much.
Also, you can use all half and half if you are in an especially decadent mood.