An Obsession for Toast
As children, we woke up to fuss-free breakfasts – sandwiches or sugary cereal on school mornings and McDonald’s, char kway teow or prata for the weekends. When I mention sandwiches, I speak of the crappy white sliced varietal that we would slap with peanut butter, jams, tuna mayonnaise, or a slice of Kraft cheese. You could say breakfast was not really given much thought, it was just a meal to start the day. (Unless it involved dim sum, now that’s a breakfast we both can die for.)
There was never a time that we were not under the care of a house helper. If we were hungry, she would whip up a bowl of instant noodles or take a trip to the mama shop for some crisps. Basically, we grew up on a diet of processed junk food. But there were times our Dad would get a little creative and request for the helper to cook up something different. I remember it so clearly still, because when Dad liked a certain dish, we would have it for days.
Our crappy white bread slice was soaked into beaten egg and fried in sunflower oil. We didn’t go to McDonald’s that week but I’m sure my Dad’s attempt in a french toast made up for the same amount of calories. The end result was an heavily eggy toast served alongside sugar or butter. Sometimes, when I crave for a little nostalgia now, I get them at our local coffee houses with a generous heap of kaya (coconut jam).
The french toast of our childhood might not pass any taste tests but it was a little bit of innocence from a time when our only worry was missing Power Rangers on TV. There’s a special place for this fried eggy bread in our hearts.
With the onslaught of brunch-centric cafes that popped up on this island in the past years, the real McCoy made an entrance with flamboyance and pompadour. Le Pain Perdu with American brashness that gave birth to thick toast slices bathed in egg custard, topped with exotic fruits, designer ice cream, unique sauces, bacon and cream. (Although I must say that the Eggs Benedict has overshadowed it a little.) It might not be the familiar eggy bread that I know but oh, I welcome thee with open arms.
As I slowly ate my way through a myriad of french toasts offered, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from every dish I sampled from. The bread was too crumbly or too limp, the egg custard didn’t come through, the focus of the toast was dethroned by its toppings, etc. Well, I guess if nothing could satisfy, it’s back to the kitchen to whip up our own.
A snowball started rolling, I began to soak up information as would a pain perdu. A french toast, in essence, is simply just bread soaked in egg custard and then fried. But it’s the simplest dishes that command the most attention for quality of ingredients and technique. Using what I’ve read across thousands of books and websites (I exaggerate), these are the eight commandments of making french toasts.
- Use good quality but dry, stale brioche or challah
- The bread must be sliced to the thickness of an inch
- Ingredients should be at room temperature
- The egg mixture would be a ratio of 1 egg to 150ml of whole milk
- You can flavour the custard with vanilla, spices, zest, salt, sugar or even alcohol
- Soak the bread for approximately a minute on each side until saturated
- Use clarified butter or ghee to fry the bread
- This is optional: use a cast iron pan so that heat is evenly distributed
One thing I love most about toasts in general is the freedom of creativity. You can throw any toppings on top of it; savoury, sweet, flavoured egg custards, stuffed. The sky’s the limit. In fact, I was so obsessed that I came up with a long list of flavour combinations. We decided to only do four versions before Ned kills me or I die from french toast overdose.
All four toasts are stuffed; two are savoury and the other of the sweet variety. We made tons of brioche loaves for this very purpose (what sort of idiots make batches of bread to make toasts and puddings? Us?). Then, just for the fun of it, we invited friends over for a Toast for Brunch party. Behold, the four toasts:
- French Toast stuffed with Ricotta & Baby Portobello Mushrooms, and topped with Prosciutto Ham, Tomato Chutney and Poached Egg
- French Toast stuffed with Avocado & Cream Cheese, and topped with Smoked Salmon, Hollandaise Sauce and Poached Egg
- French Toast stuffed with Passion Fruit curd, and topped with Grilled Lemongrass-spiked Mango, Lime Caramel Sauce, Coconut Ice Cream and Chocolate Biscotti Crumbs
- French Toast stuffed with Kalamansi Curd, and topped with Flambé Banana, Dark Chocolate Sauce, Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Speculoos Crumble
Just reading them is a mouthful. Haven’t we made things complicated? Shouldn’t brunch be a fuss-free affair? Trust us, these babies actually cured my cravings for French Toasts. It might be a lot of work but I did say it was a party. If Ned served it naked with a slosh of maple syrup and berries, I would have gladly devoured it too. But we are always looking for excuses to test flavour combinations. Plus, we had guinea pigs.
It might not be the toast we remembered eating, but damn, this was a new memory to keep for years now.