Saturday, June 13, 2009

The makings of brunch


Brunch on the weekends is such a lazy, decadent treat.  Every now and then I rise early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and rush to prepare a complicated or time consuming dish, but usually it's a time for simple and easy-to-prepare food.  
Eggs and pancakes -- that's the way to go.  Something savory and something sweet.  I try to stick to that rule when making brunch, and it serves me well.  Sometimes I go with straight-up scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes, and sometimes I play around with it a little.  Today the pancakes took a turn and became Creme Brulee French Toast with Strawberries.  I wanted something I could prepare fairly quickly then toss in the oven while I made a fruit salad and cooked eggs and bacon.  I tinkered around in the kitchen for awhile before coming up with a recipe, and boy am I pleased with the result.  It's light, fluffy, sticky, and gooey all at once.  It's sweet but not overwhelming, and the flavors all blended perfectly.  Also, my quick and easy plan worked.  This is a no-fuss fancy dish. :)

Creme Brulee French Toast with Strawberries

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
4 slices challah bread (sliced 1 1/2 inches thick)
3 eggs, plus 1 eggwhite
1 cup half-and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange liquer
pinch of salt
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup sliced strawberries
confectioners sugar (for dusting)
fresh mint sprigs (optional)

Melt the butter in a small pan on medium heat.  Add the brown sugar and 1 Tablespoon vanilla sugar (recipe to follow).  If you do not have vanilla sugar add 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 1/8 tsp vanilla extract.  Stir constantly until sugar has melted and mixture is smooth.  Pour into the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish.


Place challah slices in one layer on top of sugar mixture, gently squeezing to fit.  


In a medium bowl whisk together the 3 eggs, half and half, vanilla extract, orange liquer, and salt.  Pour over the challah.  Allow to sit at room temperature for one hour.  It may sit for up to 1 day but should be refrigerated and allowed to return to room temperature before continuing. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg white, heavy cream, and 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (or regular sugar) until it just begins to thicken (before stiff peaks are formed).  Pour over the challah.


Bake for 35 minutes or until french toast is puffy and golden.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for five minutes.  Top with sliced strawberries and confectioners sugar.  Serve and garnish with  mint.



This type of food makes me feel like I'm cooking in the country.  It's so warm and homey with the sticky bottom and the light top.  Bacon compliments this dish.  The sweet and salty play off one another quite nicely.

One last little thing before I finish the mimosas still on the table.  Vanilla sugar is a real treat to have around and is very simple to make.  After scraping the seeds out of a vanilla bean (and using them for something else) place the pod in a jar and fill with granulated sugar.  Put the top on and shake it up a little.  In a couple of days the vanilla will have infused the sugar, and you'll have vanilla sugar!  It's a wonderful thing to have around and can be used in a variety of ways.  Add it to coffee and use it in place of regular sugar when baking.  It adds that little something extra to the recipe above.


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