In college, I took two years of French. I loved studying and speaking this beautiful language. You can literally read a grocery list in French and create poetry. Pommes de terre, les haricots verts, et rôti de boeuf—that’s potatoes, green beans and roast beef, y’all. But today? It’s pain perdu!
My French professors were supportive, interesting and incredibly gifted, but my very first year I got really lucky to have a teacher who thought culture, art and history were as important to our class as conjugating verbs and taking quizzes. We learned colors and botanicals in French by analyzing Monet paintings; we built our vocabulary by “walking the streets of Paris,” past and present. We listened to music and read poetry, and…we got recipes!
About once a week, we’d talk about shopping and cooking in France, from open markets and country estates to tiny Parisian apartment kitchens. This class is where I first realized not everybody shops and cooks like Americans. The French are masters at buying fresh, only what they need for a few days, and making do in between by developing odds and ends into culinary masterpieces.
By far my favorite recipe from that class is one I’ve prepared dozens of times in my own kitchen: The Ultimate French Toast—the art of taking leftover bread, some eggs and cream and making something amazing to serve family and friends. For the holidays, for weekend guests, for any occasion where I want to wow my breakfast diners, The Ultimate French Toast is my go-to. So, let’s go to it!
- Four large eggs
- One-half cup heavy cream or half and half
- One teaspoon vanilla
- One and one-half ounces Grand Marnier liqueur (a must-have!)
- One teaspoon sugar
- One loaf classic French bread or brioche, sliced one inch thick for about eight generous slices (Baguettes don’t work well for this recipe.)
- One-quarter cup to one-half cup unsalted butter for grilling the slices
- Begin the night before serving. Combine everything but the bread and grilling butter in a blender. Blend on high until light and frothy.
- Arrange eight slices of soft French bread in an 11 x 17 pan. Depending on the size of your slices, it might take more than one pan. Pour mixture evenly over the bread and cover the pan tightly with foil. Allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator. During the night, the bread will soak up all the batter and become saturated.
- To prepare the French toast, melt the unsalted butter in a large flat skillet over medium heat. To keep the butter from becoming too brown, I usually coat the skillet with a bit of avocado oil at the beginning of the grilling. Grille the bread slices slowly, allowing them to brown well on each side before turning.
- Keep slices warm in a 200-degree oven until all slices are finished. You’ll want to be generous with the butter in your skillet, as these soggy slices take a little extra care not to stick or fall apart. I add the butter as I go, beginning with several tablespoons and adding more as the slices brown.
- Serve immediately with extra butter (bien sur!), powdered sugar, berries, maple syrup, honey or jam.
This recipe makes eight generous slices that are very rich and filling. If you have leftovers, you can store them in your fridge. They warm up nicely next day in a 300-degree oven for about 15 minutes.
Note that the prep time does not include the overnight soak, just the prep of the bread and batter.
Just to give you an idea, here are my bread slices on the left and here they are soaking on the right. It’s easy.
Tops in Toppings: St. Dalfour Orange Marmalade
I am all about local when it comes to my cooking, and most of my jellies and jams come straight from the farmer’s market. However, I do have one favorite brand of jams and jellies that I’ve bought for years: St. Dalfour. Imagine my absolute delight when two favorite fruit varieties came in my latest New Hope Network Blogger Box! In fact, St. Dalfour’s orange marmalade has always been my first choice to top this French toast. It has a slightly bitter edge that let’s pure orange flavor come through. It’s a no-brainer here, where Grand Mariner is a key ingredient. This blog post was just meant to be, I guess.
And, just to prove a point: I took this picture of all my empties (Well this isn’t all of them.), to show you that I’ve used St. Dalfour spreads a long, long time. And these jars make great containers for gifts once you’ve eaten all the jam—homemade tea mixes, cocoa mixes, herb combos, whatever I’m giving. Just add some homemade tags and pretty recycled string. “C’est magnifique!
But the best part is, of course, the contents—sweetened only with grape juice, following their old French family recipe. St. Dalfour fruit spreads are handmade in the Aquitaine region of France, near Bordeaux, a region renowned for its vineyards and rich fruit-growing soils. The company boasts over 20 perfectly balanced varieties, from this luscious orange marmalade to classic strawberry to exotics such as Mirabelle Plum and Fig Royale. They are a great addition to any serious cook’s repertoire and simply stunning on this French toast.
My Best Brioche
Okay, so this is my favorite brioche recipe but it’s not actually my recipe, truth be told. It is found in a gem of a cookbook I own: The Sono Baking Company Cookbook, which comes with a sweet little personal backstory….
When my friend Holly sold her house and moved to Florida a few years ago, she had the traditional moving sale, but for her special friends she had a private event—a free-book blowout! Everyone took a turn browsing through boxes of treasures from her large book collection. When my turn came up, I immediately spotted the Sono Baking Company Cookbook—spotted, snatched and stowed away. But, I just couldn’t get over the idea that Holly owned this book—Holly who doesn’t hide the fact that she hates to cook, Holly who cuts corners in the kitchen whenever possible, Holly who eats out and buys from the deli at least a couple of times each week. What was she doing with a professional baking book that, even according to the authors, contains some daunting and challenging recipes?
I couldn’t figure out how this serious cookbook had come into Holly’s possession, and to this day, I’m not sure. I want to think it was fate and that—in the end—the cookbook came into the right hands: mine. While I still have many recipes to try (when I’m brave enough—think four-layer tortes here), there are a few that I make all the time. My favorites include, of course, this brioche, which I’m sharing below, but also a magnificent lemon pound cake with apricot glaze and can’t-keep- them-in-the-house Cinnamon Swirl Bread. So try the brioche and get brave and see if you can order a copy of the Sono Baking Company Cookbook for yourself! The company is so….well….sweet!