Vacay Vittles: Tropical French Toast
I’m going to be straight with you: While the rest of the country has been enduring a December deep freeze, I’ve been enjoying tropical trade winds and 80-degree temps on Vieques, Puerto Rico, my tropical home away from home. Sorry, but somebody has to do it.
In addition to replenishing my vitamin D supply, I’ve been having great fun cooking in the house we’ve rented up on a hill. The kitchen is well equipped and has a sunset view at dinnertime, with an occasional rainbow emerging after a late afternoon shower.
We’re here this week with two other couples, including fellow Post blogger Liz Kelly (Celebritology). Sarah (aka Mrs. Fonz) arrived with a loaf of challah bread from a Jewish bakery in New York. All three gals immediately shouted “French Toast!” and I began to think of the breakfast-y possibilities, what with papaya in the fridge, ripe limes on the tree in the yard and cinnamon and nutmeg in the cabinet.
The key to tasty French toast that doesn’t taste like scrambled-egg fried bread is a batter that includes a little sweet, a bunch of acid and fragrant spice. You also need sorta stale bread with a soft crust that will yield to batter and pan-frying. The rest is up to you. You can flavor and doctor up your French toast however you wish.
Early one morning this week, Liz and I had gone for a hilly walk through town to pick up provisions and then we three gals got to work. While Sarah sliced the stale bread, I peeled papaya and prepped batter. She dipped bread while I heated the skillet. And Liz shot photos, every step of the way.
It’s a stroke of luck to have backyard access to sweet limes and a whiff of ripe, antioxidant-rich tropical fruit in the middle of December. I do understand. But don’t let the wintry weather get in the way of a profoundly delicious breakfast this weekend or over the holidays. French toast inevitably feels special -- and if tropical jewels are out of reach or range, try a few apples, pears, persimmons, or clementine segments instead. Just follow the guidelines, below, and listen to your FT muse. There’s no way you can go wrong.
For six servings:
2 ripe bananas, sliced
½ ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and diced
Juice of 1 lime, preferably just off the tree
Sprinkling of brown sugar
Options, depending on season and time of year: sliced peaches, plums, pears, mixed berries, diced mango, pineapple
8 medium eggs (or 6 extra large)
2 tablespoons sugar (I prefer light brown)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg, about ½ teaspoon
Juice of two oranges, and grated zest of one, if desired
Approximately ½ cup milk
Optional: 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract or equal amounts brown rum
Should be slightly stale
Ideal options include challah, cut on diagonal, brioche, pan de agua
Avoid bread with a thick, hard crust.
Estimate two pieces per person.
We used a mix of grapeseed oil and Smart Balance spread. I added a teaspoon of spread and a glug of oil for every batch (about four slices)
Prep the fruit and place in a mixing bowl.
Combine the batter ingredients in a medium shallow mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Dip bread into batter in batches and allow to coat both sides.
In a cast-iron skillet or on a griddle, heat fat over medium-high heat. When fat bubbles, reduce heat to medium-low and add as many pieces of bread as possible without crowding the pan, which creates steaming.
Allow battered bread to cook for at least four minutes, or until golden brown, and then flip to second side. Cook for an additional three or four minutes.
To serve: Line French toast on a serving platter and garnish with fruit. In addition to maple syrup, agave nectar, fruit jam and powdered sugar work as sweeteners.
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