French Toast with Berries
This is a family breakfast favorite, raised to an elegant dessert. Browned, soaked brioche slices are laced with Amaretto, coated with pastry cream and fruit, and served with ribbons of colorful purees, more fruit, and the zing of lemon sorbet. Chef Neichel reminds that the older and drier the bread, the longer the soaking time. Vanilla sugar is sugar in which a split vanilla bean has been stored. The wild strawberries used in Europe are tiny with intense flavor; in the U.S., find the smallest, sweetest berries you can — not a substitute, but still delicious.
- Rhubarb - 3 stalks, cleaned and chopped
- Strawberries - 1 quart, hulled
- Sugar - 3 tablespoons
- Pastry Cream
- Milk - 1-1/4 cups
- Vanilla Bean - 1
- Egg Yolks - 4
- Sugar - 1/2 cup
- Flour - 3 tablespoons
- Cornstarch - 1 tablespoon
- Vanilla Extract (optional) - 1 teaspoon
- Creme Anglaise
- Milk - 3/4 cup
- Vanilla bean - 1, split in half lengthwise (alt. 2 tablespoons vanilla extract)
- Egg Yolks - 2
- Sugar - 2 tablespoons
- Vanilla Extract (optional) - 1 teaspoon
- French Toast
- Eggs - 4
- Milk - 1-1/3 cups
- Sugar - 1 cup
- Vanilla Sugar - 1 cup
- Brioche - 12 slices (alt. day-old French bread)
- Unsalted Butter - 1/4 cup (1/2 stick)
- Safflower Oil - 1/4 cup
- Amaretto - 1/2 cup (alt. similar liqueur)
- Wild Strawberries - 2-1/2 cups (see headnote)
- Blueberries - 1 pint (alt. raspberries)
- Lemon Sorbet - 1 pint
To prepare the purees: Put the rhubarb and strawberries in separate non-aluminum bowls. Sprinkle the rhubarb with 2 tablespoons of sugar; sprinkle the remaining sugar on the strawberries. Puree each separately with a stick blender, the strain each through a fine-meshed sieve. Put the purees in separate squeeze bottles and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To prepare the pastry cream: Put the milk in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk with the tip of a knife. Drop the pod into the milk. Heat the milk over medium heat until it boils; remove from heat. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale in color and thick. Sift the flour and cornstarch together into the mixture and beat until well blended. Whisk about a half a cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture and blend; slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, whisking constantly, and bring back to a boil over medium heat. Whisk constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly; the mixture will thin slightly as it cooks. Remove from heat and pour through a strainer into a bowl. If using vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean, stir it in now. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to keep a skin from forming. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use. May be made a day ahead.
To make the creme anglaise: Put the milk in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk with the tip of a knife. Drop the pod into the milk. Heat the milk over medium heat until it boils; remove from heat. Set aside. In a medium, heavy saucepan, whisk the egg yolks over low heat until they are pale in color. Whisk in the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, then whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture reaches the consistency of cake batter. Whisk in the milk and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the custard coats the spoon and a line drawn down the back of the spoon remains visible. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using, or remove vanilla bean pods. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside.
To prepare the toast: Mix the egg, milk, sugar, and vanilla sugar in a bowl until the mixture resembles a thin batter. Pour into a baking dish and put the bread slices in the mixture in a single layer. Turn the slices to coat on both sides, then let soak, about 30 minutes for hard bread, less for softer bread.
Combine the butter and oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Put the soaked slices in the pan and fry, swirling the oil over the tops of the pieces from time to time. When lightly browned, about 1 minute, turn and brown on the other side. Remove and drain on kitchen towels.
To serve: Pour the liqueur on a plate and place the slices in a single layer on the liqueur. Spread the tops of the slices with pastry cream, then stud with strawberries. Place three on each serving plate. Drizzle crème anglaise, rhubarb puree, and strawberry puree around the slices. Sprinkle the plates with blueberries and a few strawberries. Place a small quenelle of lemon sorbet to one side on each plate. Garnish with mint sprigs.