[Eds.: Sage, our brave brave scrapple guest blogger, is back and again talking about breakfast food today...]
French Toast, Pain Perdu, Eggy Bread, Gypsy Toast, Poor Knights of Windsor, Amarilla, Drunken Virgin, Bread with Fur, Female Dog, Rascal’s Slices, Breadfish, Nun’s Toast, Gilded Sippets, Ducklings… Bread soaked in an egg batter and then fried is known by many names, and is a worldwide and ancient phenomenon. In my research I found references to variations of this dish from all six continents, and if against all odds there is an Atlantis buried beneath Antarctica I bet french toast was eaten there too.
Undoubtedly the food’s origins were humble. French toast is the classic way to use up bread that has gone stale, and for much of its history it was seen as peasant food. Many of the names it has been given illustrate this reputation. But that hasn’t stopped cooks from across the ages making it into a delicacy fit for kings. The oldest apparent reference to french toast comes from a cookbook from ancient Rome, when cookbooks were written by and for the literate aristocracy. A more recent reference from 1450 calls for the inclusion of rose water in the batter and saffron-tinted rose syrup for topping. So it’s safe to say that people of all stripes have enjoyed french toast for a very long time. Check out foodtimeline.org for some interesting food history trivia.
Not surprisingly, different regions have different takes on this food. Here in Canada we tend to douse it with maple syrup and powdered sugar. In Australia a combination of bananas and bacon is a common topping, and in Portugal it’s often cooked with cinnamon and topped with Port or Madeira and eaten cold. Some parts of the world use wine in place of the milk.
Many nations prefer savoury versions. In Hungary it is often made with salt, pepper, onions and tomatoes, and served with mayonnaise or ketchup. In India the egg is beaten with milk, salt, green chili and onion, and ketchup is the condiment of choice. Beef, beans, Marmite and duck fat are other savoury toppings found around the world. Some sandwiches, such as the Monte Cristo and Mozzarella in Carrozza make use of egg-battered breads.
It is the savoury possibilities that excite me. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I’m often adapting sweet dishes to suit my tastes. (Don’t get me started on savoury waffles!)
To me, the beauty of french toast is that the milk can be a carrier of lots of flavour, infusing the bread with wonderful base flavours that can be accented with toppings. Salt, pepper and Parmesan are a great start. Take a look at this recipe for an example that looks delicious! The last time I made french toast I chopped mushrooms and onion fine, sauteed them, then added the milk and kept it just below a simmer for a while. Once it was infused I blended it with my trusty immersion blender, and topped the finished toasts with sauteed mushrooms, miso gravy and chives.
When he heard that I was doing a savoury french toast for today’s entry, L made two requests: First, that it include poached eggs, and second, that I make a sweet version as well, because what kind of french toast entry doesn’t acknowledge the sweet french toast tradition? So today you get two versions. Both are written as baked, but could just as easily be pan fried like most french toast.
Sage’s Baked West Coast Toast – makes 8 slices.
First the savoury: Taking a cue from the poached egg I went for a very west-coast brunch-y kind of dish and opted to top my toasts with cold-smoked salmon, the poached eggs, and a lemon-dill hollandaise.
Put 1 c of milk in a small saucepan. Add about 1/4 of a white onion – keep the chunks large as it will make them easier to remove later. Also add about 1/3 cup large chunks fennel root, some fennel fronds, some dill, salt, pepper and a bay leaf. Warm the milk, but don’t let it quite simmer. Add some S&P, and maybe some onion powder if you want to intensify the flavour. Steep it until you lose patience. Half and hour is great, but you could get away with less.
Remove the big chunky stuff, including the bay leaf. Let it cool, then whisk in 4 eggs.
Set your oven to 500.
Cut eight slices of bread about 1/2″ thick or slightly thicker. I used Terra Bread’s Black Olive loaf, which is basically a U.S. style ciabatta bread made from a sourdough starter and flecked with large chunks of scrumptious black olive. It gives the finished dish a hearty texture and the olives are reminiscent of the capers paired with so many smoked salmon dishes. If you’re using a softer, more tightly crumbed bread you may want thicker slices, and you’ll get fewer slices of bread before running out of batter.
Soak the bread in the batter, and really let it absorb. Meanwhile, cover a baking tray (or 2) with parchment paper and lightly grease it. (If you don’t have the paper, grease the pan(s) really well). Arrange the soaked bread on the tray. If there’s a bit of batter left in the bowl you can pour it over the slices.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping once after about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, poach your eggs and make your hollandaise. I just make blender hollandaise, but I make it really really lemony and for this recipe I added chopped fresh dill.
The bread should come out of the oven puffed and golden. Arrange it on the plate, top with salmon, eggs, sauce, and a sprig of fennel frond.
Yu-um. L says: “Can we have hollandaise soup topped with hollandaise?”
Round one was immensely satisfying, but I still had a sweet french toast to prepare, so in a pleasant sort of stupor I got cracking on the Indian-inspired french toast that L introduced me to almost 6 years ago. Ahead of time I had infused my whipping cream with a bag of double-spice chai, and it was cooling in the fridge.
Indian-spiced French Toast – makes 4 or 5 slices
1/2 c milk
1 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Dredge in this mixture 4-5 slices of cinnamon-raisin bread. Make sure the batter really soaks in. Bake as per the previous recipe. Meanwhile whip the chai whipping cream and make a strawberry sauce. It’s November, so for me that means frozen berries, lemon juice and a bit of sugar, simmered down. I betcha B’s cardamom praline sauce would be amazing on this.
Top your toasts with the sauce and whipped cream, add some maple syrup if you desire, and dig in!
P.S. So far the winning scrapple recipe is a riff on Tacos Al Pastor, using 2 kinds of chiles, tomato, onion, pineapple juice and herbs to season a blend of scrapple mush and diced bacon. I was too lazy this day to make my own corn tortillas, but if you’ve never tried it, I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s surprisingly easy and the result kicks the ass of store-bought corn tortillas.