Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cooking The Breakfast Book, Chapter 2: Fruit Syrup French Toast

Since the last Cooking The Breakfast Book installment (which was indeed, the first), a dash of kismet has been added into the mix. Marion Cunningham, author and home cooking advocate, passed away at the age of 90. Reading about her in a great article in the NY Times only made me admire her more, and I particularly loved this bit: "She loved to go to the supermarket and peer into the baskets of startled strangers, whom she would then interview about their cooking skills. Indeed, she made it her life’s work to champion home cooking and preserve the family supper table." This image brings a wide smile to my face and laughter to my heart. Not so different from how I have begun to feel while reading her book and cooking and sharing her food, actually. So onward we go, offering our humble cooking project as an ode to a food enthusiast of the highest order.

Pain perdu, saved!

Chapter 2: Toasts, French Toasts and Breakfast Sandwiches

The introduction for this recipe taught me something new. With a classically French sense of poetry, in France french toast is called pain perdu (lost bread) as it is considered a way to use up day-old or hard bread.

As a measure of my appreciation of the name  and the sentiment of reclaiming food that would otherwise go to waste  I decided to really put the old bread theory to the test by using the remains of a loaf of Hideaway Bakery's seeded wheat sourdough that was a good five or six days past fresh. After sawing through the tough outer crust I was having my doubts, but the inside of the bread was still quite soft, and Ms. Cunningham does recommend using a dense, homemade style bread for french toast, so I stuck to the plan and was very pleasantly surprised.

The moisture from the egg and milk, plus the layer of fruit syrup flavor really makes this french toast recipe a standout. Even with bread that is on its very last legs!

I did wonder if blueberry syrup was a good choice given the color it would impart (see below), but despite the unappetizing hue while dipping, it thankfully did not present itself in the finished dish.

Though not called for in the original recipe, I sprinkled cinnamon and nutmeg on each side as the toast cooked, because that's part and parcel of french toast in my book. Feel free to leave out or substitute with cardamom or other favorite spices.

Fruit Syrup French Toast
Adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham
Serves 4

3 eggs
1/2 cup milk, light cream or heavy cream
1/4 cup fruit syrup
Salt to taste
6 slices bread (preferably a dense homemade type; typically white, but try rye or whole wheat, too)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
Cinnamon and nutmeg, for sprinkling

Combine the eggs, milk, syrup and salt in a medium bowl with a fork until well mixed. Strain through a sieve into a shallow bowl large enough to easily dip your slices of bread.

Give each side a minute or more (depending on density of your bread) to soak up the egg mixture completely. When done, place each battered slice on a sheet of wax paper.

Melt half the butter in a pan large enough to cook three slices of bread at the same time, and cook them on medium heat until lightly browned on each side, turning once. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg on each side as you cook.

Keep the cooked slices warm in a 250° oven while preparing the last three slices. Serve warm with your favorite french toast toppings. I suggest a dab of butter, fresh fruit and more fruit or maple syrup.

Recipe for Blueberry-Basil Syrup
Makes approximately 3/4 cup

1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup water
2 pieces of lemon peel
3 tablespoons sugar
The top portion of 2 sprigs of basil (or 4 medium to large leaves)

After washing the blueberries, put them in a small non-reactive pan and add half the water. Use a sharp knife to remove two thin pieces of peel from a lemon, making sure to include as little of the white pith as possible. Smash the berries with a potato masher to release the juice, while bringing to a boil over medium heat. After adding the lemon peel, lower the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Strain through a fine sieve and reserve the berries to mix into plain yogurt or add to a smoothie later. Rinse the pan and add the rest of the water and the sugar, stirring as you bring to a boil. Once sugar is dissolved, add the blueberry syrup and the basil springs and simmer for another 4 to 5 minutes. Cook a little longer if you prefer a thicker syrup, but avoid having it thicken too much or it will set into a jelly.

Remove basil sprigs and let syrup cool to room temperature before using. Store in fridge.

I'll be back with another chapter in two weeks, but in the meantime please don't forget to visit the pages of my five fellow food bloggers to see what they picked and prepared from Chapter 2:


  1. Mmm that fruit syrup is making me drool!

  2. Oh wow, you are baking your way through the breakfast book? What a great idea. Did you start this in tribute to Marion Cunningham when she just passed away or before? I love breakfast baking. I don't know if I should join another bake-along but...at a minimum I will be following along.

    1. Yes we are cooking our way through The Breakfast Book! We actually started a couple weeks before she passed away, so it took on an extra layer of meaning for sure. We'll be posting the first and third Tuesday of each month, so next week is Chapter 3. Thanks for following Sara!