Category: DIY

Stellar Brunch (Oven-baked french toast with caramel sauce)

Springtime peeked it’s shy little head out to say hello to us Montrealers this week, and I instantly felt excited & inspired. There’s just something about warm weather and sunshine that get me into a crafty mood. Quite a good time to be feeling creative, as I’ve had a lot of decorating to do recently: we’ve officially moved into our new apartment! The perfect way to settle in? A good old-fashioned Sunday Brunch!

Though bagels and lox are generally my choice brunch food, I decided to make something a little more decadent this time. Introducing Oven Baked French Toast, and her bff, Caramel Sauce. Make this for your next brunch if you’re looking for a dish that is surprisingly quick & easy, and as eye-catching as it is tasty. Bonus: the air will fill with a warm, sweet aroma as your guests arrive.

This is a decadent, salty-meets-sweet, stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast – definitely weekend food! Tip: to make it extra yummy, you can prepare it the night before so the bread really gets some time to soak up the eggy goodness. This is also a perfect way to use up some stale bread you have lying around – once it soaks up the egg mixture, it’ll come right back to life!

Oven Baked French Toast
an original recipe by allison sklar

NOTE: I’ve included two versions of caramel sauce here. One is a shortcut (no-fail) caramel, and the other is the traditional method that we were taught in pastry school. They yield slightly different flavours, and the shortcut method is a little more rich. If you’ve never made caramel before, I suggest you try the shortcut method first!

what you’ll need

french toast
1 small loaf of your favourite bread, sliced or cubed
(challah bread, or other fluffy, soft bread works best)
6 eggs (8 if using a large amount of bread)*
1/4 cup icing sugar*
4 tbsp milk or cream
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp cinnamon sugar **
1 to 2 tbsp butter, melted

caramel sauce (traditional method)
460g granulated sugar
160ml water
240g light/white corn syrup
125ml heavy (35%) cream
2 tbsp butter
pinch sea salt

OR 

caramel sauce (shortcut method)
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch sea salt

how to do it

french toast
Place all of your bread in a large mixing bowl.
Beat eggs with icing sugar until colour turns light yellow and mixture becomes fluffy.
Whisk in milk (or cream) and vanilla. Pour over bread and toss to coat. Allow to sit until mixture is absorbed, about 10 minutes. This mixture can also be prepared overnight.*

Grease a shallow, oven-safe dish with butter. Preheat oven to 325F. Lay bread mixture evenly into dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce.

caramel sauce (traditional method)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring granulated sugar and water to a boil, while stirring with a heatproof spatula. Once mixture boils, stop stirring and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, brushing down the insides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in water to avoid the formation of sugar crystals. Use a candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to 140C(285F). Carefully add in butter, cream and salt, stirring constantly. If mixture feels too thick, add more cream, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

caramel sauce (shortcut method – no thermometer needed!)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, warm butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and cream. Stir with a heatproof spatula in figure 8 motion, until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, stirring slowly but constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 6 minutes. Voila! Caramel!

Pour sauce over hot french toast. Sprinkle with icing sugar or more cinnamon sugar just before serving.

Eat & enjoy!

notes
*If doing this overnight, increase the egg quantity to 8 to 10 eggs and the sugar to 1/3 cup.
** If you cannot find cinnamon sugar, make your own using equal parts of cinnamon to sugar.

Cool As Custard (Strawberry Rhubarb Trifle with Pound Cake)

Being a student in pastry school means exactly what you’d imagine: that I get to spend 8 hours a day in a kitchen, making delicious pastry. It also unfortunately means that I’m no longer home on weeknights, so weekend dinners with the boy have become an extra special affair.

I decided that the best way to toast to our new home was to make some kind of stellar springtime-inspired dessert. My favourite seasonal combo? Strawberries, rhubarb and cream. But how could I take these three ingredients and turn them into something dazzling? Easily! Whip up some custard, chop up a pound cake, and layer it all into a trifle, just like the one on the cover of Canadian Living’s April issue. Lacking a trifle dish? No worries! A big glass bowl propped up on a cake stand will work well. Or, be super resourceful and scoop them into tall drinking glasses. The colourful, layered presentation remains intact, and each person gets their own individual serving. Brilliant, right?

Canadian Living suggests using a pound cake, which is easy to find at any grocery store, but also very easy to make at home. Coincidentally, we recently spent an entire class making various pound cakes, so I’ve become quite the pro. (I’ve included a simple recipe below!)

I love the versatility of the pound cake – you can add virtually any flavour to it, and one simple recipe can yield a different flavoured cake every time you bake one. The pound cake manages to retain it’s form nicely when soaked in the tangy rhubarb sauce, and it’s dense texture compliments the airy cream and the velvety custard.

Helpful hints

You don’t have to be a pro to make this stellar trifle, though making custard might seem a little intimidating for some. Follow the recipe quantities exactly as shown, and you’ll be a-ok! Still nervous? Don’t be!

Here are a few helpful tips that will help you achieve the velvetiest of custards.

Custard is a type of pastry cream that is thickened using eggs and cornstarch. It’s important that your eggs don’t get too hot, or else they will curdle & scramble, which is why you can’t just throw all of the ingredients into the pot right off the bat. You absolutely must temper the eggs (by pouring the tepid milk into them in a steady stream while whisking.) This is a crucial step to follow for a nice texture.

Once the eggs are added, your custard should always be cooked on medium heat. 

Do. Not. Stop. Whisking. Whisk that custard! Build those pastry muscles! Once you’ve tempered your eggs and poured them back into the pot, whisk it all until it boils, then continue whisking for one to two minutes. You know your custard is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Make sure to strain it as the recipe instructs, to ensure that you don’t have any hidden lumps.

If your mixture starts to curdle, remove from heat immediately and whisk. Return to heat once the curdles are broken up. Your burner was likely too hot.

How to cool your custard faster : Line a baking sheet / cookie tray with plastic wrap, hanging it well over the edges. Pour your hot custard onto the plastic. Fold over the plastic wrap to cover custard. Place in fridge for about an hour. Voila! Cool as custard. Use a spatula to remove from plastic after. If custard turns gelatinous in the fridge, just give it a quick whisk and it’ll be smooth as silk.

Substitutions

If you don’t have a vanilla bean as the recipe suggests, you can substitute vanilla extract – just make sure that you beat it in at the very end, once the custard is off of the heat. Extracts will vaporize in the cooking process and will leave you with very little flavour if you add them too early. 1 tbsp is all you need. (An extra tbsp of dark rhum or rhum extract would also be sinfully delicious.)

I’m not a huge fan of orange, so I substituted with lemon zest (I even used a lemon pound cake!). The acidity balanced out the sweetness very well.

The Recipes

You can find the original trifle recipe over at Canadian Living, or pick up a copy of the April issue for even more yummy stuff.

For my pound cake recipe, see below!

Basic Pound Cake

Pound cake is made using equal quantities (in weight, not in volume) of eggs, butter, sugar and flour. Historically, pound cakes were made using a pound of each ingredient, which, as you can imagine, meant they were huge. I’ve cut down the quantities, but I’ve kept the ratio intact. The recipe below will yield 2 standard loaf pans.

what you’ll need
200g sugar
200g butter
200g eggs, beaten (approx 4 eggs)
200g flour
5g vanilla

how to do it
Cream butter and sugar together until light. Beat in eggs. Add vanilla. Fold in flour until completely incorporated. Grease or parchment-line 2 loaf pans. Divide batter equally. (Fill about 1/2 to 3/4 way up the pan, your cakes will rise!) Bake at 350F, 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden on top and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.

VARIATIONS: You can add any extract of your choice (almond, maple, rhum), nuts, seeds, raisins, chocolate chips, citrus zest, or any combination that you like, such as lemon-poppy-seed. Mix your desired quantity of add-ins after you fold in the flour. Tip: If you’re adding dried fruits, toss them in flour before they go into the mixture. This will help them spread out evenly and not sink to the bottom as the cake bakes.