Breakfast and Brunch

Vanilla Cardamom Skillet French Toast

by editor on March 20, 2011

Vanilla Cardamom Skillet French Toast

I’m quite in love with the vignette of a perfect weekend morning – a fat NYT, international editions of the Guardian and Le Monde and something sweetly-scented and rustic to stab at with a fork while I consume the trials and triumphs of the week along with too much espresso. Such morning idleness, however, is a rare occurrence these days and I’m trying to spend more time enjoying the first meal of the day. Yesterday, a perfectly composed breakfast sandwich at Homegrown in Melrose Market on Seattle’s Capitol Hill – a softly fried egg, Beecher’s Flagship cheese, aioli and applewood smoked bacon. The delicate antithesis of a heavy, greasy, flavorless fry-up smashed into a tough English muffin. Today, this fragrant brioche toast baked in a skillet with a vanilla cardamom custard.

I love cardamom in sweet things. It’s just a little more complex than cinnamon, yet not too clever for breakfast time. A dominant flavor in Nordic pastry, Indian food, middle-eastern coffee and chai, it pairs beautifully with peaches, strawberries and oranges in particular.

Brioche for Vanilla Cardamom Skillet French Toast

Somewhere between a bread pudding and a french toast, this lazy weekend dish can be prepared the night before and baked in the morning (sleep in, stumble into kitchen, throw pan into oven, enjoy) or whipped up while you peruse the Sunday broadsheets and ready yourself for the week ahead. Serve with seasonal stone fruit or macerated strawberries, whipped cream or ice cream, and lots of maple syrup…

Vanilla Cardamom Skillet French Toast
Serves 2 for breakfast

8 oz day-old brioche
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp confectioners sugar

To Serve
Strawberries, fresh or frozen, or any other seasonal fruit or compote.
Maple Syrup
Whipped Cream

Special equipment
8-in cast iron skillet or 8 x 8 in baking dish.

Cut brioche into thick slices. Cut each slice into 4 triangles. Set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, sugar, salt and cardamom.

Place brioche pieces in mixture and gently press to ensure they are all soaked.

Set bowl in refrigerator for about 30 mins, until bread has absorbed egg mixture.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Butter an 8-in cast-iron skillet.

Arrange bread mixture in prepared skillet and bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown on top and crispy at the edges.

Dust with confectioners sugar and serve with fruit, maple syrup, whipped cream and good coffee.

Note: If you aren’t using a cast-iron skillet which could corrode overnight, you can soak the bread and egg mixture in the same dish you are baking it in and even leave it to soak overnight in the refrigerator.

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Croque Monsieur in a Jar

by editor on February 1, 2011

Croque Monsieur in a Preserving Jar

Do you remember a perfect day? A day full of simple pleasures, a day that you wanted to last forever and knew you would never forget? One of my “perfect” days occurred when I was living in the Cote D’Azur several years ago, when we took a weekend day to eat breakfast in Monaco, drive to Italy for lunch and home to France (Nice) for dinner and a long night of dancing. Just because we could. Of course we made this “three courses in three countries” trip over and over, getting acquainted with all the curves of this seductive coastline, and her tiny towns; but it never felt quite as thrilling as the first time.

Looking out over Port Hercule de Monaco

In Monaco, we would sit by the harbor watching crew on the superyachts (you’re a nobody if you don’t have a helipad…) hose down decks and scurry to and fro with provisions like Nautica-clad ants. Bathed in warm morning sunshine and the evocative aroma of seawater, diesel and sunscreen, we made idle plans for the day as we sipped on strong coffee and chewed on Croques Monsieurs. These grilled ham and cheese sandwiches are not technically a breakfast food, but our breakfasts were often eaten late, as a result of those long nights by the Promenade des Anglais; those were perfect days.

Looking over the Med from Eze on the road between Nice and Monaco

Fast forward to this winter where I found myself stuck in the airport in Paris, close to mummified in scarves and what I like to call “Paris appropriate snow gear”. Reading through a French food magazine, I found a little booklet on the French cheese Comte and spotted these little preserving jar Croque Monsieurs. Memories of warm days in the South came flooding back and I almost skipped out on my flight home. I’ve been dying to make these ever since and here they are – more whimsical than cutesy, and quite fun to eat.

These mini-croques could be rather fun with a similarly stylized French Onion Soup, perhaps in a mug or a mason jar. Serve them for brunch or as a more substantial appetizer with a glass of wine. If I were you though, I’d crack open a cold French rosé and start planning your trip ;)

Travel Note: If you’re planning a vacation in the South of France, I highly recommend setting aside a day to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different countries! It’s a surprisingly easy 80km roundtrip if you start in Nice, drive along the coast to Monaco and eat lunch in Ventimiglia before returning home, and only 100km if you keep going ‘til San Remo….

Croque Monsieur in a Jar
Adapted from a recipe by Comité Interprofessionnel du Comté | Serves 6

12 slices white bread
6 slices of ham/jambon blanc, thinly sliced (more if you want a thick layer of ham)
12 fl oz / 35 cl milk
3tbsps / 40g butter
1/3 cup / 40g flour
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
6oz / 180g Comte or Gruyere, grated
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

Special Equipment
6 clip-lid preserving jars, mason jars, large ramekins or Staub mini cocottes
Cookie cutter of about same diameter as these jars

Preheat oven to 300F / 150C

In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour until smooth consistency is reached. Slowly pour milk into mixture and stir with whisk over medium heat. Continue stirring and bring to boil until sauce is thickened. Stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg and 2oz/60g cheese. Set aside to cool.

Cut a circle out of each slice of bread using a cookie cutter (I used the leftover bread to make breadcrumbs). Place bread circles on a baking sheet and toast briefly under broiler until golden brown. Flip over and toast other side.

To assemble: Spread one side of each toast circle with a little mustard. Place a slice of toast, mustard side up, in the bottom of each glass. Then place a slice of ham on top, scrunching to fit instead of trimming or folding. Top with a tablespoon of the sauce and finish with another slice of toast. Press lightly.
Divide remaining comte among pots, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and bake for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Serve with a simple green salad or a few crisp apple slices, or see suggestions above recipe. Eat with a spoon!

Photo Credits: Image of Port d’Hercule in Monaco by @bugbog.

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