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Monday, May 11, 2015

Parlez Vous Francais?

An ordinary weekday morning...a Saturday spent visiting friends...your birthday!  All present fine opportunities for some French toast.



Let's be frank here.  Do you actually need a recipe for something like French toast?
Nope.
But as my mother would say, could you stand to be reminded of a few things?
Of course you could!

So let's get started:

1.  French toast makes people happy.
It just does.  Tell them you're making french toast and watch their smiles light up the room.
Who says 'no' to French toast?
Well, my two-year old niece does.  She says no to everything, but that's a story for another time.

2.  So, about the French toast...let's start with bread.
Just consider this a gentle reminder that your French toast is completely dependent on the kind of bread you decide to use.  So go ahead and use the last two slices of that lame wheat bread you use for sandwiches, but don't expect miracles.  Not in the super-amazing-happiness-bringing category of French toast I'm talking about.  Yours could be good in a pinch, but mine requires a teensy bit of planning:  you've come across a new bakery and they have some beautiful challah!  Go for it.  Or, you're in the bread aisle of your local supermarket* on a Thursday and think:  I could make French toast on Saturday morning...yes, indeed...grab that loaf of brioche and make sure your syrup supply is stocked.
*I'm  not entirely certain about the odds of finding a loaf of brioche in a generic supermarket, but I'm happy to report that finding challah bread in a random Florida grocery store a couple weeks ago on vacation was a snap.

Bottom line:  you want some kind of eggy, rich bread as the foundation for your French toast.

3.  Heavy cream + eggs = French toast perfection
What, you normally use skim milk?  Skim milk is never a part of the makings of first-class anything.  Find for your coffee (I'm rolling my eyes here) but most emphatically not for cooking.  'Nuf said.
For one loaf of challah bread you'll want to whisk 3 eggs with a 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  (Like how I went from zero to a hundred there?)

4.  Additions
There aren't any.  Seriously.
But, oh, okay, I suppose if you really feel you need to add something here you could go with a splash of vanilla to the egg/cream mixture, I guess.  And then there are those of you out there who feel cinnamon should be sprinkled higher and yon.  Don't let me stop you.  But know this...all you really need here is the bread, the cream and the eggs.  And, right...there's also...

5.   Butter
About butter.  I'm not going to make apologies here  for loving butter.  And I'm not going to cheerfully tell you that you can make this why using olive oil instead.  (Please don't.)  Just know that the fabulousness of this French toast directly correlates with frying it in a nice-sized-know of butter.

6.  Process
Once you've got your ingredients set up, we all know hoow this goes down, right?  Slice breadd 1" thick.  Whisk the eggs and cream together.   Get a pan or griddle HOT over some medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of butter.  Dip a slice of bread in the egg mixture, making sure all the sides are well coated and add to the hot pan.  You want to hear sizzle.  Flip when golden.
This all moves fairly quickly...not more than a couple minutes per side.  Once I get started I pile the finished French toast on a platter in a warm oven until ready to serve.

7.  Toppings
Maple syrup is the obvious choice, but a more offbeat idea I loved as a kid was whipped up by a favorite aunt and uncle when we were on vacation together:  top the French toast with a sprinkle of juice from a freshly squeezed orange half followed by a shower of powdered sugar finished with a garnish of orange slices.  It's an unexpected, but lovely combination.

8.  And, finally, a word about bacon.
Yes.



Recipe adapted from Food52.
Serves 4.





Monday, April 27, 2015

Ruined

It's called Wonder Bread
But when you take a look at it, you'll understand that the name is a funny bonus, because though it truly is a wonder, it bears absolutely no resemblance at all to that other Wonder Bread.

The thing that makes me a little sad about bread is how it's gotten a bad rap over the past five or six years.  
Sigh...so many bread haters out there...for various reasons, of course. Some, most legitimately need to stay away from bread for health reasons, but others, “the lemmings”, let's call them, just follow whatever the current food fad. Paleo, gluten-free, all-kale, juicing, etc...you know them...and they've proclaimed bread to be “bad”.

So, first off, let me say that I LOVE bread, but in a very finicky, highly selective way. You see, there is so much bread out there in the world that should be ignored and bypassed. The strange and spongy “french” bread (really? French??) I see at my parents' local grocery in the Midwest. The stale pita that tastes like cardboard you get along with a salad at the airport. Sad dinner rolls deposited on your table in many ho-hum restaurants. These are the times you should ignore bread.

But, the bread here in San Francisco?
It has ruined me so that I've become an insufferable bread snob.

The thing you should know about San Francisco is that it feels like the very epicenter of a bread making renaissance. I remember first moving here almost seven years ago and being introduced to AcmeBread.  (Cue the hallelujah chorus.)
Their baguettes (both sweet and sour) and their pain au levain tasted like the real deal you find in France. I even loved the story of how Acme came to be.  The founder had been a busboy at the legendary ChezPanisse, and became obsessed with breadmaking after a trip to Europe. His bread project was serious and he experimented and refined his technique in the back of the restaurant's kitchen. People must have loved what he was doing because he eventually took over supplying the restaurant with his bread when their regular supplier couldn't meet demand. He was eventually encouraged (nudged) to head out on his own when his operation grew too large for the restaurant's kitchens. Now there is Acme bread in almost every SF area grocery store (applause!) and my favorite location: a small storefront in Berkeley at the main bakery, where there is a perpetual queue of bread lovers (carbs?! Bring 'em I say!). I typically grow giddy with indecision when I reach the front of the line there and am standing in front of an array of Acme's breads and delectable baked goods.

There's more amazing bread in this town than you can shake a stick at, but I don't want to shake a stick at any of it...I just want to slather it with butter and eat it. And by the way, there is not much that's better than a slice of a beautifully made loaf of bread spread with some nice butter.

There are intensely handsome loaves of bread baked by Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery.
 

Tartine's breads come out of the ovens in late afternoon because that accommodates the baker's surfing schedule (bravo!) but also happen to work perfectly with the idea that you pick one up on your way home from work and enjoy with your dinner. I've always wondered why one of the food magazines hasn't picked up on the success of People magazine's Sexiest ManAlive, or Most Beautiful Woman series with a version that selects a cover bread named Most Gorgeous Bread! each year because if they did, I would immediately nominate Tartine's Country Bread.

More humble in the looks department, yet splendid in its own way is the house bread at Outerlands, a restaurant in the outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. Order their grilled cheese made with the house bread and you have achieved bread-lover nirvana. The house loaf has more the look and shape of a sandwich bread and incredible flavor. Word to the wise, ask if they have extra and take a loaf home for yourself. (Extra bonus: your car will fill with the delectable aroma of bread.) Toast it up in the morning and see what all the fuss is about. You're welcome.

And, speaking of toast, this brings me to Wonder Bread.
I can't remember exactly how I first heard about it...maybe in one of the local food blogs I read from time to time?

JoseyBaker (insert obligatory joke about is-that-his-real-name? here, and, yes, it is.) started out just fiddling around in his kitchen at home in his spare time, making bread and then giving it to people. The bread was good. The sourdough starter he was using came from a friend's grandma or grandpa. How could it not be?
Friends, neighbors...they all wanted more. If I remember correctly, he started a subscription service so people could get his bread on a regular basis with him delivering his bread, on a bike. (It's a perfect San Francisco story.) He connected with a local coffee roaster and they opened up a place where he mills his own flour and makes his incredible loaves...You can get toast there...coffee, of course...and even pizza on Monday nights. Note to self as I was reading that article: find your way to this bread-happy place at some point.

Last winter, I was wandering the bread aisle at my favorite local,worker-owned, food co-op (power to the people!) I saw they had started to carry some of his bread. Happy day! Incredible, artisanal bread available at my go-to market. Life is good. So I grabbed a loaf of Wonder Bread. Shaped like a sliceable, sandwich loaf, it smelled “wonder”ful. Yeasty and nutty and bready...intoxicating, for this bread hound. This is bread with character, people. It has a gorgeous, dark brown top and it's as far from a white loaf of the other Wonder Bread as you can imagine.

A slice right when you get home is delicious. It's a kind whole wheat, but the crumb is beautifully fine and dense. Super tasty. But I also encourage you to wait until morning. (I sometimes fall asleep with a smile on my face because I'm thinking of my morning toast.) Because that's when you want to cut yourself a nice, thick slice and toast it. That, my friends, is when the true magic happens. Toasting does something amazing to this bread and if you sliced it thick enough, you get this perfect ratio happening: a wonderfully chewy interior that perfectly balances the warm, crispy, nutty crust.
Be smart and slather some almond butter on that, and then, maybe a little jam.  Take a bite and behold the wonder.
You too can be ruined by good bread. Just don't tell the paleo crowd...this way there's plenty of bread for us snobs.

*          *          *

For those not inclined towards almond butter, another idea if you come across some outstanding bread is what I call California toast, and no it's not mushing some avocado on toast, though I do get why you might think that.  

California Toast
serves one

one thick cut slice of  a tasty sourdough loaf, toasted 
(Acme's Walnut Levain is particularly nice here)

a couple spoonfuls of good ricotta
honey

You know what to do.