Baked French Toast

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2009 is shaping up to be the Year of Yeast-raised Breads for me. Back in April, I hadn't baked a loaf of homemade bread in so long that the yeast I found at he back of my spice shelf was dead --- nary a carbon dioxide bubble when I dissolved it with sugar. So when I went to the store to restock, I decided to buy an entire jar (equivalent to sixteen packets, and reusable for bulk yeast) and thought to myself, "By the time I'm done using up this jar, I'll be an expert!"

The yeast in the jar has mightily dwindled, and I'm pleased to report that my dough instincts have been honed. My trusty Pyrex and I have risen pizza dough, cinnamon rolled, and kneaded a challah on a Friday afternoon.

But what has made me deliriously happy is I found a recipe that very closely resembles the Custard French Toast that was offered at the now-defunct Tower Cafe in Sacramento (as in the Tower Records; it was the flagship store). Actually, technically it's not a French toast, but more like a bread pudding or pain perdu. Ok, enough food geek nattering.

What's special about this recipe is that it really does require stale bread (a hark to its French name of "lost bread") to work right, and hence an overnight soak. But the results! Ah, the custard solidifies into a heavenly creation that can be a brunch dish or dessert....or dessert later in the week. Unbelievably, it tastes better the next day.

And I make this recipe starting with homemade challah --- before you panic, it isn't going to be braided, just pop it into a loaf pan, it's all easy-breezy. And for those who don't know, challah is a slightly sweetened egg bread, similar to brioche or Hawaiian bread or Taiwan bread....apparently every culture has its own version).

So here goes....

Challah

For a loaf pan 9" × 5" or even 8" × 4"

  • 2 ¼ tsp yeast (or 1 packet)
  • 1 1/3 cups milk (whatever kind you want, but I use soy milk because the finished dish is dairy-rich)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 4 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (I substituted half with whole wheat pastry flour to add fiber)
  1. Heat milk to 100-115 degrees F, and dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Mix and set aside.
  2. Combine eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and oil in a large bowl. The yeast should be foamy by now, so add it to the other wet ingredients.
  3. Add salt and flour, mixing until the dough comes together, then begin to knead. Add additional flour or water as needed until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Cover tightly with plastic wrap in a warm place and rise, or until the imprint made by two fingers poked into the dough remain, approx 1 hour.
  5. Re-knead the dough --- this step is very important, because the yeast needs to be redistributed throughout the dough.
  6. Shape into a loaf by patting it into a rectangle the length of the loaf pain and about 4 inches high. Roll up along the length and place seam-side down into the buttered loaf pan.
  7. Rise for an additional 40 minutes.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Depending on when you bake this bread, you may have to speed-up the time it takes to dry out. I cut it into ¾ inch slices and place on a baking sheet and leave it uncovered in my oven with the door slightly ajar. Or you could bake it at 200 degrees F until just before it starts to brown.

Pain Perdu

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc)
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

Mix the following:
* 5 eggs
* 3 cups half-and-half (or heavy cream if you want it richer)
* 3 tablespoons sugar
* 1 tablespoon vanilla
* ½ teaspoon salt

  1. Butter a 13"× 9"x 2" pan, then butter one side of half the bread slices.
  2. Place bread, non-buttered side down, onto the pan to make one layer. Cut and break up pieces of bread to fill in any gaps.
  3. Sprinkle on raisins, nuts, and cinnamon.
  4. Cover with second layer of bread, sandwiching in the fillings.
  5. Pour egg mixture over everything.
  6. Cover tightly and refrigerate.
  7. Remove cover, sprinkle with white sugar and cinnamon before baking at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes.

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