Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sundays with Sparky - French Toast

Few foods are as simple as French toast.  It's just custard-soaked bread, seared in a skillet.  However, custard is one of those magical, transformative techniques that opens a world of possibilities to you: for instance, if you layer French toast in a baking dish and bake it - voilà! Bread pudding!  Omit the sugar and add savory ingredients - voilà!  Strata!  Omit the bread, bake in a bain-marie, top with sugar and broil - voilàCrème brûlée!  The best hands-on understanding of this delicate web of proteins and liquid comes from making French toast - so Sparky and I set to work.

So, first, we make the custard - and I taught Sparky my cooking-by-the-seat-of-my-pants method: we cracked three eggs into a deep, wide dish, sloshed in some cream, whisked in some milk, and a quick glug of vanilla extract (sometimes I add a bit of sugar, this time we didn't. I would guess we used about 1/3 cup of cream and 1/2 cup of milk, and maybe a teaspoon of vanilla)

Then we layered some bread into the dish: some ordinary whole wheat sandwich bread, and for contrast some lovely, hearty, Italian-style country bread.  Then we put another slice of bread on top of each slice and pushed down until the bottom piece was soaked with custard.  We then flipped both pieces over, so the bottom slice drained into the top slice.  We topped with a third slice and repeated the entire process until all the custard had been soaked into our bread.

Then our bread was ready for our preheated, extremely well-greased cast-iron griddle (you can cook yours on a nonstick skillet, it works just fine.)  Each piece was plopped onto the griddle and left for about two minutes, then checked to make sure the bottom was golden brown before flipping to cook the other side.

We dusted our treasure carefully with some confectioner's sugar and served it with syrup.  Sparky preferred the texture of the whole-wheat sandwich bread: the custard crisped up the outside, but left the middle of the bread gooey and squishy.  I like the Italian bread: the custard soaked into all the little nooks and crannies, but the chewy texture of the bread remained.

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