Oh yikes! I can’t remember which of these pictures is the pre-baking and which the post-baking one. But I shall begin my post nevertheless.
I have mentioned my grandmother quite a few times in this blog. Her breakfasts were quite surprising, I now realize. Growing up, I thought they were normal. Crisp ootappams with tomato sauce, thick, well-browned chapattis served with a jaggery-sweet and tamarind-sour onion gravy, and dosa with lime pickle, not chutney, and especially not coconut chutney. Toast was another regular item on the breakfast menu. By toast, I mean French Toast, but back then, we just called it toast. I am pretty sure it was called Bombay Toast in my other grandmother’s house. Only much later, I learnt it was called French Toast across the world.
Now I learn French Toast is not just French, though it got the name ‘pain perdu’ (lost bread, literally) from French bread, in whose nature it was to go stale quite quickly. Lots of nations had thought of this sweet, puddingy mixture earlier, and ‘retrieved’ or ‘recovered the loss’ by soaking this bread in a mixture of milk and eggs and then frying it.
When my grandmother made this, it was quite a treat even though it was a regular. When I was a kid, freshly baked bread wrapped in butter paper would be brought around homes from the bakery. A man called Rahman from Hanuman Bakery would come on his cycle, box attached to its rear. There would be fruit bread too, with tutti-frutti in it. And bun. If the bread hadn’t been sliced that day, we would slice it with a red-handled bread knife. Bakery or us, we would slice it pretty thick, and it wouldn’t disintegrate like today’s does on being immersed for just a few moments in the eggs and milk. It would come off the skillet moist and hot and sugary, patches of brown adorning it where it got a little too roasted, and transport me to heaven.
Neither our cook back home nor I have been able to recreate that taste, but I keep trying when the mood strikes me, and am often disappointed. It is flimsy, and no amount of sugar can make it sweet enough. I rarely eat bread, and the loaves are too big for my liking so when I am not giving away the majority of it to the person who works for me, I try to make some French Toast. Bread upma, too, but maybe I’ll have a story about it another day.
Last week, it seemed as if the stars were in alignment for me to use up some bread which had seemed ‘perdu’ the moment I opened the pack, just an hour after I had purchased it from the departmental store. It was rough and dry. I masticated my way through four slices over two days and could take it no more, when the local newspaper carried a recipe for French Toast casserole.
Of course, I did my own thing with a few substitutions. To begin with, it was a slow cooker recipe; I only had an oven. I had opened a pack of tinned peaches to make dessert for a potluck a few days earlier. I had bought the peaches (and pineapple and cherries) in May to make something for guests but never did. I used up quite a few things that were lying unused around the house. The recipe below contains my substitutions, while the rest is from the newspaper. (No credit was given, probably because it was no one person’s invention. The Internet is awash with recipes for French Toast casserole.)
Whole eggs - 2
Egg whites - 2
Milk – 1.5 cups
Honey - 2 tbsp
Cinnamon – ½ tsp
Plain white bread – 10 slices
Salt - a teensy weensy pinch
For the filling:
Tinned peaches, chopped roughly – 3 cups
Honey – 3 tbsp
Lime juice - 1 tsp
Almonds and cashews, chopped – 1/3 cup
Raisins – a handful
Cinnamon – ½ tsp
Put the first six ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Lightly spray the inside of a slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray or grease lightly with oil.
Combine the ingredients for filling in a small mixing bowl and stir to coat peaches; set aside.
Cut bread slices into triangles. Layer a greased dish with some slices, add some of the filling and repeat until there are three layers of bread. End with a layer of filling.
Pour the egg mixture over bread. Bake for about 30-35 minutes at 160 C
It was nice enough and I had it for breakfast for a few days. It tasted good both cold and warm. You can have it for dessert too. Bon appétit!