French toast is one of those dishes that can go from bland to amazing with just a few simple tweaks. A few weekends ago I wanted to make myself a slightly decadent Sunday brunch to celebrate the end of a long week and an extra hour of sleep, and to revive myself after a couple rounds of old fashioneds on Saturday night. I had originally planned to make pancakes, but then I stumbled on the breakfast menu for Chicago's Lula Cafe. "Cornmeal-Crusted French Toast with Plums." How can I have that without having to leave my apartment?
While I like to keep lists of restaurant menu items that I find interesting or inspiring, this is the first dish that I've made based entirely on a menu description and without having eaten it ahead of time. The cornmeal crust was intriguing, as were the plums, though after a trip to the market I couldn't find any plums and opted for another fall fruit instead -- which was delicious.
The trick to a great french toast is the bread and timing. Challah's my favorite bread to use because it easily absorbs the egg mix without falling apart. Ideally the bread and egg mix will sit in the refrigerator overnight, but because I forgot to put mine in the night before -- probably something to do with the aforementioned cocktails -- I stuck it in the fridge a couple hours before cooking and it was just fine.
The recipe was improvised based on the flavors I wanted to emphasize: cinnamon, vanilla, and a touch of orange. The cornmeal adds a wonderful crunch and balances out the softer texture on the outside. Hello, Sunday morning.
Cornmeal-Crusted French Toast with Sautéed Pears
9 slices of challah bread (1/2 inch to an inch thick)
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
2 ripe pears peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
The night before whisk together eggs, milk, cinnamon, and extracts. Dip challah slices into mix to coat and then place in a shallow baking dish. Pour remaining mix over slices, cover, and then place in the refrigerator.
When you're ready to make the french toast, heat butter or oil in a large frying pan. While the butter heats, sprinkle cornmeal on to a large plate and dip in the challah slices into the cornmeal to lightly coat. Fry slices until golden brown on each side. (And keep the cooked slices warm by placing them on a plate in the microwave.)
While frying the french toast, heat butter in a small pan over medium heat and when bubbling add pear slices and cinnamon. Cook until the slices are soft and lightly browned.
When the french toast is ready, arrange three slices on each plate and top with sautéed pears. Serve with maple syrup, apple butter, and anything else you can think of. Nutella?