Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cinnamon Raisin French Toast - A Vacation Breakfast

So we were away on vacation with the kids at a small beach condo down on the Jersey Shore. The rental came with a full kitchen and some basic cookware, plates, and silverware, but no supplies. A quick trip to the local market solved that problem- with the discovery of a nice, on-sale loaf of quality cinnamon-raisin bread. So, with a small selection of cooking gear- not my usual complement of familiar tools and very sharp knives, and a few basic groceries, I was able to whip up a simple, fun breakfast that even the kids loved...

French toast is a very simple idea- take a good piece of bread, soak it in a custard of scrambled egg thinned with milk, and cook it in a hot pan until golden-brown. If you take this simple idea and start to vary it, you end up with endless possibilities. You can vary the type of bread used, you can season the custard differently, and you can top it with various garnishes, fillings, and accompaniments. This simple idea ends up generating a complex variety of possibilities when you start the change things up just a little.

While on a run to the local market, I found a very nice, half-price loaf of cinnamon raisin bread- the bread itself appeared to be a sweet bread similar to a brioche or challah with ribbons of cinnamon and raisins running through it. The outer crust also seemed to be coated in cinnamon and sugar. This bread gave me ideas- simple ones. Sweet breads always work well in a french toast. Cinnamon always works well with anything sweet, and the cinnamon-sugar combination is usually sweet but not so sweet that it becomes cloying. The richmness of the egg custard would be a nice balance- add a little whipped cream, and top it with a sprinkle of cinnamon and granulated sugar, and you've got something nice. As a side, I added a fresh breakfast sausage made with maple and brown sugar.

The bread started on the firm side, but softened up quickly when soaked in the egg custard. The trick to the custard is to use significantly more milk (or cream) than you would for scrambled eggs- about 70% egg, 30% milk/cream seems about right. You may season the custard as you like- but since the bread itself had a liberal coating of cinnamon sugar already, I didn't think it needed the help. When cooked to a golden brown, the center remains soft and creamy, while the outside has a little bit of crunch and resistance. To make sure I got a decent crust, I melted a little butter in the pan before dropping in the custard-soaked bread.

A big dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar is all you need to finish it off. If you are really ambitious, and have the right equipment available, you can boost the quality by making your own whipped cream. Finally, I paired the toast with a maple and brown sugar flavored sausage- this sausage was fairly rich, so it stood in for the maple syrup that some people like to have on their french toast. Honestly, this version came out sweet and creamy enough without syrup to help it. Really, the star of the dish is the good quality cinnamon-raisin bread- everything else was meant to support the bread rather than overshadow it.

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