by Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
At this is the time of year we are well into the second quarter of the spring semester. The Food Production II students begin working as separate teams for the rest of the year. Their assignment for 2021 is to create a brunch menu that fits the selected theme. This year the teams are British, Italian, Latin and Middle Eastern, and they must come up with a braised egg dish, brunch-style sandwich, a pastry, a beverage and a griddle cake that represent a style close to their chosen countries.
Griddle cakes include pancakes, crepes and French toast. I am not big on sweets in the morning, but I do like really good French toast. Not the run-of-the-mill sliced sandwich bread with imitation maple syrup – I like something made with a little more TLC. Years ago my brother took me to one of his favorite spots in Chicago called Luna. He was going on about the French toast so we ordered some for the table. It was over the top! Made with fresh brioche, served in a pool of crème Anglaise, layered with mascarpone cheese and garnished with fresh Rainier cherries. It was the perfect brunch dish.
Years later I wanted to offer the same on my brunch menu so I did – Rainier cherries are in season late June/early July and occasionally some are sent to Central Illinois. I would happily substitute fresh, local berries and toss them with a little sugar and a splash of Grand Marnier or Chambord. Let them marinate in the fridge for a bit; this is called maceration. So with a few little upgrades and pinch of this or that you can really elevate your French toast game.
I do like to use brioche, but I don’t make it. A couple of local bakeries have it (check first) and a few grocery stores carry it more often now. You can use homemade bread, challah bread, sourdough, French bread or thicker Texas Toast. I like to add a pinch of salt and cinnamon to my custard that the bread will be dipped in before cooking; it helps make the other flavors sing. Try serving with berries, fresh peaches or apples. Mascarpone or crème fraîche is a nice touch. You can use real maple syrup, powdered sugar, whipped cream or crème Anglaise – recipe below. You may substitute non-dairy milk for the custard batter and cook the toast in coconut oil or olive oil if avoiding dairy.
Crème Anglaise – make first so it is ready, about 12 servings
- 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons butter
Place a glass or ceramic bowl in refrigerator to chill for later use. In a sauce pan over medium heat, add half-and-half or milk and half (1/4 cup) of the sugar with the vanilla and gently heat to a slight simmer – keep an eye out and don’t let it boil.
In a bowl whisk together the egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar. When the cream comes to a simmer, remove from heat and add a ladle (3-4 ounces) of the hot liquid to the eggs and whisk in gently. This starts to bring the temperature of the eggs up slowly so they don’t scramble. Add another ladle and whisk, then add the contents of the bowl to the sauce pan and return to medium-low heat this time.
Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, continually stir the sauce until it thickens enough to lightly coat the spoon or spatula. Pour the thickened sauce into the chilled bowl to stop the cooking process. Serve right away or cover and put in the fridge to chill and serve later. May be stored cold in a sealed container for 4-5 days.
French Toast – 4 servings
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup milk, half-and-half, coconut milk or almond milk
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, honey or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 slices of bread
- butter or oil as needed
In a shallow dish like a pie pan or 9×9 brownie pan, whisk together the first six ingredients. Over medium heat in a large skillet, melt a pat or two of butter or a half tablespoon of oil. Dip a slice of bread into the custard and immediately flip to the other side. Do not let the bread sit too long in the custard as it will become too soggy to cook. Add the dipped bread to the skillet (do not overcrowd) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until nice and browned. Serve immediately with desired toppings and/or sauce. If making a larger batch you may lay out the cooked toast on a sheet tray and keep in a warm oven, about 200°F, for up to 30 minutes. Enjoy!
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.