Welcome back to Sunday Sustenance! Last week we preserved the freshness of summer and sampled it as delicious esquites. Today, we're going to work with old, stale bread.
Photos by Sam Bithoney.
Well, not that old. Overnight, ideally. Because we're making French toast, and fresh soft bread soaked in custard would fall apart. "Nah, it will be fine if you just move it carefully to the pan!" That's true, but we're not cooking this in a pan. We're grilling it.
As a kabob.
"Whoa whoa whoa. You can't grill French toast!," you might say. Of course you can! What is a grill more than a big convection oven that just so happens to be able to produce the world's best hot dog? With a grill, you can cook with direct or radiant heat, smoke low and slow, or let it come up to a temperature that burns the grass in the surrounding area and sear yourself a beautiful ribeye. I'd be surprised if someone hasn't used a grill to bake a pie by now.
Also, by cooking French toast as a kabob, we'll be able to expose more surface area of the bread to the heat, leaving us with crispy sides and tender, soft middles.
For the French Toast & Custard
- 1 loaf of bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 1/2 cups of milk, half and half or heavy cream
- 6 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- Pinch of salt
I'll leave the great debate of the ideal bread for french toast open, but I prefer good hearty sourdough, Italian bread, french baguette or the occasional challah. I'm not discounting brioche, but trust me here - thicker is better, and crust is best.
Start by cubing the loaf of bread. Place the cut cubes on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet, uncovered, and leave it overnight. While you could cook with fresh bread, the innate moisture of the bread combined with the added custard will make it very prone to disintegration. This is a state which is not ideal for grilling, let alone eating. Dried bread, devoid of it's own moisture, will sop up our custard happily and still retain it's shape.
If you're using wood skewers, soak them for about 15 minutes so that they are able to withstand the heat from the grill. While they soak, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss the bread cubes in to coat. Skewer the bread, leaving some space between each piece. Depending on the size of the skewer used, you should be able to get four to six pieces of bread on each.
Your nice, clean and well oiled cooking grates are going to act as our skillet today. We want medium heat and very, very clean grates. Did I mention the grates? They should be clean. Crunchy leftover bits will grab onto our bread and egg and refuse to let go, and that could be disastrous. So spend some time scrubbin' it down, wipe it clean, and use a high smoke point oil - grapeseed works well - on the grates.
It is super important that you let the skewers release when they're ready, otherwise you'll be tearing off chunks of eggy bread and leaving them to turn into carbon. Go for about 2 minutes per side and gently lift. If it's ready, you'll know.
Be careful with challah and brioche - don't let them soak too long.
While you can serve your toast immediately, it can be held in the oven at 100 degrees for quite some time if you want to get some toppings together. You could use the classics like butter, confectioner's sugar, maple syrup, honey, berries, or let your sweet tooth reign with Nutella, Biscoff, Ice Cream, or Biscoff Ice Cream. The list is endless. I particularly enjoy some buttered pecans and bourbon maple syrup. Speaking of those:
For the buttered pecans
- 1 cup of pecans, raw
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
While you could toast the pecans on a baking sheet in a 180 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, your grill is already that hot anyway. Throw them into a 25cm cast iron skillet and place it on the grill. After they have toasted, add the butter, sugar and salt and stir to combine. The butter mixture should be a golden brown in about 3-4 minutes, and remove the pan from the heat.
For the bourbon maple syrup
- 1 cup of pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon plus 42.52g of bourbon, divided
- A dash of vanilla extract
Pour the 42.52g of bourbon into a shot glass and drink it. It's been a tough week; you've earned it. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until combined and warmed through. Remove to a glass measuring cup to keep warm while serving, not that it will last very long.