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This all started with a mad craving for French toast. You know how that goes. You wake up, think to yourself, “What would be good for breakfast?” and then, “French toast!” Only it’s a Tuesday and you don’t have nearly the time you need to whip up French toast before getting on the road for work. So instead you eat your cereal and move on, sadly toastless.

Cue work later that week, when a friend kindly lets you review her copy of the Tupelo Honey Cafe’s cookbook. (For those who don’t know, Tupelo Honey Cafe is in Asheville, NC, and has a well-known following as being fantastic.) You’re flipping through the pages, and there it is: Pain Perdu. French toast.

Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. Then you plan to make it this weekend, this weekend comes and goes, and you think, “Dang it. I never made pain perdu.” No problem. You reschedule it as your weekly vegetarian meal. Problem solved. Craving soon-to-be fulfilled. Life is good.

And as it turns out, life is definitely good with Tupelo Honey Cafe’s Pain Perdu. In case you aren’t familiar with pain perdue, here’s some info from good ol’ Wikipedia: “In France, Belgium, New Orleans, Acadiana, Newfoundland and the Congo, French toast is called pain perdu, which means ‘lost bread’ in French. It is called ‘lost bread’ because it is a way to reclaim stale or ‘lost’ bread. The hard bread is softened by dipping in a mixture of milk and eggs, and then fried.The bread is sliced on a bias and dipped into a mixture of egg, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. The slices are pan-fried in butter and traditionally served dusted with powdered sugar and jam on the side. Alternatively, it may be served with syrup…In France, pain perdu is considered to be a dessert and not a breakfast food item.”

So there you have it. Here in the U.S. of A. we’re eating this as breakfast for dinner, though it would made a great dessert, too. Anyway…

First things first. Ingredients:

1/2 cup sliced almonds
8 large eggs
11/4 cups milk (I used 2%)
4 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
11/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
1 (16-oz.) loaf challah bread, cut into 8 thick slices (Mine were about 11/2-inches thick)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Now, Tupelo Honey says to serve this with their Blueberry Preserves, which I’m sure are awesome, but I forgot to photocopy that page out of my friend’s cookbook. Oops.

Method:

  1. First, cook the almonds in a medium-size nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, 5 minutes or until they’re toasted and fragrant. I knew I’d overdone mine when they were smelling up the kitchen and I hadn’t stirred yet. Another oops. They were just fine. Remove from heat.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk in zest and lemon juice.
    If you’re making this in advance, you can keep this in your fridge until you’re ready to use it. I made it about 15 minutes ahead. Once you’re ready to cook, pour the mixture into a large glass baking dish so that the egg mixture can spread out and cover the flat surface. It’ll be easier to soak you’re bread in it this way, rather than in a bowl.
  3. Once you’re ready to cook, slice your challah and lay the slices in your egg mixture in the baking dish. They may not all fit at once. That’s okay. Put as many as you can, and the rest can soak while the first batch bakes. I soaked mine about 5-8 minutes, turning them once during that time.
  4. While the bread soaks, preheat a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Add butter, and melt. Once the butter is melted, add the soaked bread. Cook 4-6 minutes on each side or until browned.

    While the first batch cooks, add whatever remaining bread you haven’t soaked to the remaining egg mixture in the baking dish. By the time my first batch was done, the bread in the baking dish had soaked up every inch of the egg mixture.No waste! Cook the second batch the same way you did the first.
  5. To serve, plate the pain perdue on individual serving plates, and sprinkle with almonds. Stir together powdered sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and dust each serving with it. Serve with pure maple syrup.

Notes:

This was decadent. We each ate two slices, but I could have been satisfied with one. So, either halve the batch if you’re serving two, or make it all and have the leftovers (as we did). It was supposed to be served with raspberries (my addition), but we ate the rest of ours on Sunday. Triple oops.

Challah bread is key here. I’ve also heard it called Jewish egg bread, or braided egg bread. I asked the bakery counter at my local Publix if they had any, and that’s were I got it. If it’s not out on the shelves, ask. It has a wonderful texture for this application.

Also, since you might not know, it’s traditionally pronounced “hollah.” Picture this: B and I are walking through the grocery store, and I say, “Oh! I need challah bread.” “What’s challah bread?” he asks. So I explain, and then he hums to himself, “Few times I been ’round that track, but it ain’t gonna happen like that, ’cause I ain’t no holla’ back bread, no I ain’t no holla’ back bread…”

I’m telling you, I was rolling in the aisle. Tell me you don’t hear Gwen Stefani! Watch it, you’ll be singing it in the car now.

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