French Toast – Crowd Pleasing Brunch Edition

French Toast casserole style made with store bought cinnamon bread and fresh berries

This weeks recipe is a super easy way to make French Toast for a crowd. Typically if you’re making French Toast or pancakes for a large group, there’s inevitably someone waiting around hungry while whoever’s cooking is furiously trying to get fresh and hot pancakes/French Toast served as quick as possible. Not only is this extremely stressful for the cook it’s not particularly conducive for folks to gather around the table and eat at the same time.

Essentially what we’re making here is a French Toast Casserole or bread pudding. For added convenience, I used store bought, pre-sliced cinnamon bread that I cut diagonally and let sit out on a wire rack for an hour so that it would start to stale. This allows the bread to absorb more of the custard without becoming a soggy slimy mess. Alternately you can toast the bread but that’s one more step and this is all about ease and convenience.

To augment the menu, I’d suggest having things like granola, yogurt with fresh fruit, baked eggs, quiche or a Spanish style tortilla and sausage/bacon which you can bake ahead and warm up along side the French toast the last 15 minutes of baking. Here’s the recipe:

Recipe

  • 1 egg for every 4 slices of bread
  • 2 slices of bread per person
  • 1 cup half/half for every 4 slices of bread
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 TBS brown sugar for 4 slices of bread
  • butter or cooking spray
  • pinch of salt
  • fresh berries (optional)
  • Powered sugar (optional)

Spray a large casserole pan with cooking spray or coat with butter and set aside. In a large bowl, mix half/half, eggs, sugar, salt and cinnamon until well combined and set aside. Arrange sliced cinnamon bread in the casserole dish and then pour the custard mixture over the bread. Let sit for 15 minutes to ½ hour so the custard can be absorbed by the bread. Preheat oven to 350F. Bake casserole at 350F for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the egg mixture is set in the middle. To serve, dust with powdered sugar and top with fresh berries. That’s it, and it’s that easy.

Here there be dragons…..

Homemade fortune cookies decorated for Valentine’s Day.

Every once and a while as I’m wandering around Pinterest and Instagram I see an idea that I find inspiring and I try to reproduce it or riff off of it and usually it works out how I imagined it in my head. So, with it being Lunar New Year (’cause I tend to write posts a week ahead) and with Valentine’s Day coming up I thought I’d try my hand at making fortune cookies from scratch. I love the idea of being able to customize the fortunes as well as the cookie itself being an interesting package to hide surprises. Seems perfect for Valentine’s Day, right?

I can deal with doing a lot of seemingly tedious culinary tasks. I can spend hours decorating cookies and using tweezers to apply sugar pearls and such to cakes and cookies. But I have to admit these fortune cookies are a little too tedious for me. The recipe I’m going to share will make 2 dozen fortune cookies. But I actually made 10 and called it quits. The batter is super easy but the tedium comes into play with baking them 2 at a time. Then putting the fortune into the hot from the oven cookie before the cookie cools too much and starts to crack. And off course accomplishing this without burning your fingers. Turns out this is much easier said than actually done. So cool idea but a bit of a PITA. Good luck and may the odds be in your favor.

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp orange extract (or whatever other flavor you’d like)
  • 6 TBS melted butter
  • ⅔ cup AP flour
  • 24 precut sayings or fortunes

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the eggs and sugar with a wire whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Then mix in, salt, extracts and flour. The batter will be really thick and that’s ok. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to stir until the batter is the consistency of instant pudding.

Using a silicone mat, spread 1 TBS of the batter into a 3 ½ round.

Try to spread the batter as evenly as possible. Bake the cookies at 375F for 5-8 minutes or until they start to brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven and place onto a cooling rack. Immediately use a metal spatula to loosen the cookies from the mat and place the fortunes in the middle.

Slowly press the edges of the cookie together (the cookies will still be hot to the touch) and fold over the edge of a cookie sheet or glass. I used a metal ruler I had laying around.

Allow to cool and decorate as you like. These should be eaten same day. Since there are no preservatives in them, they a susceptible to humidity.

Lemon & Lavender Shortbread

lemon and lavender cookies with nasturtium and lavender blossoms

I’ve been looking forward to posting this recipe for quite a while. We have quite a few lavender bushes around our yard and I’m always trying to think of ways to put all that lavender to use. Last Holiday season, I embedded some into resin to make coasters and trivets and I plan to make candles (ssh…they’ll probably wind up as Christmas presents for some folks) and maybe try soap though messing with lye kind of scares me so maybe not.

Anyway back to the lavender. A few weeks back I went through and picked blossoms off the lavender plants and I’ve been letting them air dry. I realize that not everyone grows their own lavender, several of the popular online spice retailers have dried lavender available and of course good ‘ol Amazon does.  Just with Amazon, make sure that its food grade or for culinary use.

Shortbread is pretty easy to make there’s no leavener, its just sugar, softened room temperature butter, a pinch of salt, flour and whatever flavoring you’d like to add, like vanilla extract or in this case lavender and lemon. They’re also nice because you don’t need any special cutters. You can roll the dough out to about a ½” thickness and then cut the dough into bars with a knife or pizza cutter. The dough is also very forgiving. I frequently re-roll the scraps though typically I will chill the dough back down in the fridge for a little while before I do that.

I suppose you can also make shortbread vegan by replacing the butter, though I’ve yet to find a shortening or similar that actually tastes good enough that I’d want to give up the butter. Shortbread dough is versatile. I use shortbread for my cut-out style Holiday Cookies and shortbread is a nice crust to use with custard style pies. Just dock the crust and blind bake before filling.

I’m using my regular shortbread recipe which you’ll find here. With a few important differences, first the cooking temperature and time which in this case is 275F for 60-75 minutes and I’ll be adding lemon zest and lavender blossoms as well as lemon extract. Baking the cookies low and slow will give them a really nice snap (perfect dunking texture). Here are the ingredients and instructions and there’s also a video below to walk you through the process.

Recipe

  • 3 ½ standard sticks of room temperature softened unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 Tablespoon lavender blossoms
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
  • 3 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup of powdered sugar for dusting rolling pin and work surface
  • white sanding sugar, 1 TBS more of lemon zest and lavender for decorating (optional)

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bow or the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add the your flavorings and slowly incorporate the salt and flour. Blend until dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl and a ball starts to form. Wrap the dough in wax paper and chill for at least an hour. Roll out and cut into desired shape and dock cookies several times with a fork or toothpick. Optional step: sprinkle with the sanding sugar, zest, lavender blend and use the rolling pin to slightly press the decorations into the dough.  Bake at 275F for 60-75 minutes. Larger thicker cookies require more baking time. You want the cookies to be golden brown on the bottom and set. Let cool on a wire rack

Turned Over

Fig Turnovers with a lemony glaze drizzled over the top

We’ve known for a few weeks that we were going to hit a mother-load of figs from the two fig trees out back. Well this week it happened. So we’re going to make fig and plum turnovers and then figure out some other stuff to do with all of figs ( fig jam and fig bars probably).

To keep things simple, I’m going to use store bought puff pastry to make the turnovers. Perhaps someday I’ll show you how to make puff pastry by hand, but its one of those things that’s extremely time consuming and takes a couple of days. I’m not a professional pastry chef and I actually have a 40 hour a week job that has nothing to do with cooking and baking so I know I don’t have that kinda time and I don’t know too many people that do. Store bought puff pastry will be just fine.

The store bought stuff is easy to find, you can find it in the freezer section in the grocery store. It’s usually next to things like frozen cream puffs, pound cake, pie shells and phyllo dough (all great things for quick easy desserts). To use, you just need to let the puff pastry thaw for 30-45 minutes at room temperature.  I rolled it out until it was about a ¼ thick then cut it into squares.

Squares of puff pastry with a tablespoon of fig and plum filling and egg wash on the edges

Then I brushed adjacent edges with egg wash, folded over corner to corner so non egg washed edge is touching the egg washed edge. To seal the edges, work the tines of a fork along the entire length of the two short edges.

You should have something that looks like this:

Turnovers with edges crimped and vented for baking

I brushed the turnovers with milk then I baked the turnovers in an oven pre-heated to 400F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Turnovers backed to a golden brown and cooling on a wire rack.

Plum and Fig Filling

1 cup each of diced figs and plums

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp lemon zest

Juice of ½ lemon

pinch of salt

¼ corn starch sifted

Place all the ingredients except the corn starch into a medium sized bowl and let sit for an hour or in the fridge overnight. You should see a pretty decent amount of liquid has come out of the fruit. Sift in the corn starch and stir slowly until the clumps work themselves out. It should look like this:

figs and plums with corn starch to form a slurry.

Let stand for 15 minutes. Cook on low in a heavy bottomed pan until mixture comes to a boil. Let boil for 3-5 minutes while continuously stirring.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. To cool mixture to workable temperature more quickly, put the fig mixture into a clean heat safe bowl and then place that bowl into larger bowl that’s been filled with ice. Once the mixture cools down its ready to use or you can store it in the fridge for later use.

filling cooking on stove top on low.

This same process works for making all kinds of pie fillings but will work best with fruits that are high in pectin like stone fruits and apples.

Lemoney Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar

1 TBS lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon finely chopped

2 – 4 TBS whole milk

In a small bowl combine powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Gradually add the milk and mix with a fork or whisk. You’re looking for a texture that allows the glaze to easily run down the tines of a fork.

Peach Fritters

Fried and glazed with buttermilk peach glaze just waiting to be eaten.

The inspiration for this week’s post was a sort of necessity is the mother of invention kind of thing. I had been toying with making donuts for several weeks originally planning on making malasadas, which are a type of donut popular throughout Hawaii. So I’ll save that idea for another time and make buttermilk peach fritters. Why peach? Well as has been the theme of late, I have a whole lot of peaches and apricots that need to be used up. I’ve had my fill of fruit salads and cobblers for a while, since that’s how we’ve been using up the fruit so far this summer.

Now my goal was to make the style of fritters you get from donut shops versus drop style. So first things first. I’ll need to make a yeast based donut dough.

Yeast Donuts Recipe

Ingredients

2 packets instant yeast

4 cups All Purpose Flour

1 ½ cups whole milk

⅓ cup shortening

⅓ cup warm water

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp salt

¼ cup buttermilk powder

Instructions

Bloom yeast in bowl of warm water.

yeast getting frothy.

While yeast is blooming, melt the shortening in the milk over low heat then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix salt flour and buttermilk powder.  The yeast should be frothy by now. So put the yeast water mixture in the bowl for a stand mixer and slowly add the milk shortening mixture and beaten eggs.

adding milk, egg, shortening and vanilla to mixer.

Slowly add flour.

gradually adding flour and mix with paddle attachment.

Once all the flour is added, Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, this should take about 5 minutes while mixing on medium.

See the video below to get an idea of the texture you’re looking for.

Place dough into a greased bowl and cover with a clean towel or cling wrap and let rise till doubled in volume.

Peach Fritters

Now for the fun part, the actual making of the fritters. I rolled the dough out to about ½” thickness and cut out 8 donuts using a 3″ round biscuit cutter (we’ll get back to those another post). I gathered the scraps and kneaded them into ball, periodically dusting with bench flour if the dough started to stick. I rolled the dough out ½ thick and then spread approximately 1 cup of chopped up peaches (reserving some of them to use for the glaze) . I then dusted the peaches with pumpkin pie spice and some of the bench flour. Then I rolled it all into a log and used a bench scrapper to slice the log into ½ thick slices and then cut again diagonally. You should have a bunch of dough and peach pieces that are about the size of the peach chunks you started with. Now form into tennis ball to baseball sized balls and flatten those into disks and dust with bench flour. Place on a floured baking sheet  and cover with a tea towel and let proof in a warm area until the dough doubles in size.

Here’s a video to walk you through the process:

Once they’ve doubled in size like this:

fritters doubled in size and ready for the fryer

Fry at 375F until golden brown

Let them drain and cool on a wire rack for about 15-30 minutes before glazing.

Buttermilk Peach Glaze

½ cup of chopped peaches that were reserved from earlier

1 cup water

2 cups of confectioners sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 TBS buttermilk powder

⅛ tsp of ground ginger

¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice

½ tsp salt

In a small sauce pan over low heat, heat the peaches and water until the peaches soften. Remove from heat and mash the peaches with a fork. Let mixture cool. Strain the mixture through a fine strainer, but reserve about a tablespoon of the mashed fruit. In a Medium sized bowl, mix the confectioners sugar, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, salt and buttermilk powder with a whisk. Slowly add the peach syrup and mix until the mixture is the consistency of honey. Add the vanilla.  Using a couple of forks, dip the fritters into the glaze then turn over to coat the other side. Let excess glaze drain off then move to a wire rack. Let the glaze set up before handling the fritters (about 5 minutes).  Enjoy