Saturday, April 16, 2011
Recipe Corner: Wake the Hell Up and Cook Me Breakfast Already - Frenchified Toasts and UltraBrei
Sometimes I don’t know how to follow-up a post. What comes next? What respects the writing that’s there, but moves the reader gently onwards? What can I say that’s complimentary without being redundant? I tell you, it can be a terrible burden.
It is not, however, a burden for which I am presently unprepared. The last post was a heart-wrenching vignette from a workday morning some months ago. As I check my temporal orientation, I note that we’re on the cusp of a new season, a season of redemption, and one with special matutinal significance for me. The followup, then, to the boy who needed breakfast is self-evident - let’s enjoy a breakfast or two, one seasonal, one generic. The Chucklehut is opening up the Recipe Corner for one special daybreak feast, by invitation only. Lucky for you, you know the doorman. Or he’s napping, or on the take. Whatever, you made it in. Congrats, I guess.
We’ll start with the generic breakfast. This is a riff on Alton Brown’s french toast, which is a jumping-off point for so many good things in life. I’ve been enjoying la toaste francaise for many a year, and slowly perfecting the technique. Well I’ve got good news, Cap’n Blogface - perfection has been achieved, and I’m gonna lay it on ya right now. With syrup, even!
First, you must accept one unpleasant fact - good french toast demands a little prep work. It’s not the kind of thing you just crank out while the kids are pounding their fork-ends on the tabletop impatiently demanding their delicious gruel. For that, try recipe 2, below (but not “recipe 2-below,” which is just unflavored granita and not very satisfying gustatorially).
For good french toast, start the night before with a loaf of rich soft bread. Egg bread (challah) works very well; the local favorite is Semifreddi’s cinnamon egg twist but that’s just one option among many. Slice the bread into one-inch-thick slices, or, if you prefer, slices with a thickness of approximately 2.5 centimeters. Or so. Let’s not be too uptight - you just want nice thick slices and if that’s too complicated maybe early-morning frypan action just isn’t for you.
SO: the loaf has been reduced to slices of approximately appropriate thickness. Now cut the slices again into fingers that are about as wide as the bread is thick, so you wind up with delicious bready sticks. These will eventually be your toasts galloises. However, they’re not ready yet - they’re entirely too moist, which in this particular instance is not such a good thing. You’ll want to dry them out - for example, by putting them on a baking sheet or rack and popping them into a 250-Fahrenheit (6.3 hectare) oven for five or ten minutes. If you’re not using a rack, turn them over after a while so all the sides get dried out. Just don’t actually toast the bread, let it stay pristine and uncarbonized. You only want the moisture to evaporate out. Once you’ve accomplished that you can turn off the oven and leave the bread in it overnight.
Overnight?!i! Your equanimity is ROCKED! Who makes breakfast the night before, anyway? Well you don’t usually, but if you want to make this breakfast, some pre-staging will be necessary. But that’s okay, really, since you can also stage the custard so you’re ready to crank things right out in the morning. It’s actually kind of fun and the hard part is already behind you, as they say in prison. Just make a whole mess of custard by beating three or four eggs into submission in a big mixing bowl and then adding an equal number of cups of creamy liquid (one cup = .000237 cubic meters)(actually). Doesn’t have to be milk but some milk is a nice touch - I like half milk, half soy- or rice-milk. Whatevs. Also, leave out a tablespoon or so of milk for every couple of servings, and replace it with vanilla - but before you add the vanilla, dump some cinnamon and nurtmeg into it and stir till moistened, so you can mix the dry spices into the custard without it getting all clotty. Nothing worse than nurtmeg clots, am I right guys? Testify, etc.
The custard can also incorporate flavor agents such as rum or orange-blossom water. Express your creativity already, you hopeless stooge. Breakfast stamps your identity on the whole damn day so don’t miss an opportunity to make it your own. Then put clingwrap over the custardbowl, stick it in the fridge, and catch up to it tomorrow morning. As I do with my own individuality almost every night.
And in the blink of a blog, eight hours of blissful and undisturbed repose in the arms of Morpheus have elapsed. You’ve arisen, undergone the necessary evacuations and ablutions, and stumbled to the kitchen. Get a burner going medium-hot and put a griddle on it, or use an electric skillet (which would utterly rule). Either way, get out your dessicated breadfingers and figure out how many you can fry at once. Then take that many of them and gently soak them a few at a time in the custard, manipulating them so they get well-soaked on all sides - but don’t leave them soaking long enough to get mushy and fall apart. Honestly you’d think I wouldn’t even have to tell you this.
Grease the skillet with a little oil and fry the soaked bread until the fried side is golden-brown; flip it to another side and repeat as often as you like. Then set the fully-fried breadfingers aside and fry the rest of them till you’ve done fried all the frying you’re fixing to fry. Now here’s the twist: Once they’re all fried to perfection, bake them (on a rack, again, if you’ve got one) at 300 for 10 minutes. That sets up the liquified custard at the center of each piece of bread, so it finally becomes the creamy semi-gelatinous confection all custard-lovers crave. Serve immediately with warm maple syrup and consume until exhausted. Pairing suggestion: horchata with vanilla vodka.
The other breakfast option I’ll share is the seasonal favorite. You know what season, too - these days there are bunnies and colorful eggs everywhere, marshmallow chicks and chocolate crucifixes - yes, it’s erev Pesach eve! And with all the wonderful food and flavors I associate with these festive days, none is closer to my heart and that of my cardiologist than matzo brei, also inaccurately known as the “breakfast of affliction.” Well if this is affliction, I’ll take seconds.
This classic food family has two subspecies - savory German, or “wrong,” and sweet Russian, or “awesome.” I will let you guess which school I espouse. However, with all due respect to the makers of every other plate of M-Brei I’ve ever et - German, Russian, or Serbo-Albanian hybrid - none hold a candle or other light-emitting device to mine. It’s a simple, quick, and hearty recipe that tastes great yet is extremely filling. And now you can possess its startling secret!
I use about three sheets of matzo per adult, or five sheets for two adults. I also use two eggs for three sheets, or three eggs for five - but not yet. First, you need to crush the matzot into teeny bits. Use your hands - a food processor just turns it into a dusty mess that cooks up textureless and all boring-like. Just take a little time to grind fistfuls of shattered matzot in your vice-like fists until no big pieces remain. A fair amount will be crushed to powder anyway, it had it coming. That’s the ticket.
Soak the crushed ‘zot in warm water for ten or fifteen seconds, then drain and lightly press out the extra water. Flavor with cinnamon and a tablespoon or so of jelly or preserves for each serving, mixing well - then add the beaten eggs and stir till evenly combined. Fry it up in patties of about 1/3 of a cup (12 billion angstroms) at a time, on a med-hot oiled skillet; flip them after five minutes or so, when the fry-side gets that famous golden-brown look. Serve with honey. Pairing suggestion: a large tumbler full of champagne poured over blueberry juice.
As a life-long appreciator of the early-a.m. gorgefest, either of these breakfasts would win my rapt attention, undying appreciation, and will likely send me back to bed for a mid-morning nap. And if that’s not the mark of a breakfast of champions, championship is overrated. You may say that’s spoken like a loser, but at least I’m a loser with a damn good breakfast in my gut. In my book, that counts for plenty. Up next: probably my birthday poem, unless I feel compelled to sederblog. It’s hard to tell these days. I’m such a freaking free spirit and all.