Dessert for Breakfast

By Beacon Staff

I once served as guest chef at a bed and breakfast owned by a friend, whose cook needed to be fired a couple of days before the busiest week of the year for this particular establishment.

The previous incumbent’s infractions are not germane to this story and maybe one week I’ll write about them because they are comically revolting. In any case, unaccustomed as I am to 4 a.m. wake-up calls (and also being finished with work by 9 a.m.), I rather enjoyed the challenge to provide over-the-top breakfasts for 10 guests for five days.

The regular make-your-own standbys of granola and two other cereals, juice, coffee and tea were available, but after day two, I noticed that all of the guests were seated at the table by 7:15 – meaning everyone wanted a cooked breakfast – which put a crimp in my plans, because the day before only half wanted the full treatment.

What to do?

I had actually prepped something that I planned on serving for most of the guests’ last morning, so there was a double dilemma. First, it’s a dish that requires overnight refrigeration so that the ingredients blend and penetrate each other. And second, it also requires time out of the fridge to come to room temperature before baking.

My intermediate solution: Stall for time and make this a two-course breakfast. With a good stock of yogurt, fresh berries and the aforementioned granola, I created a breakfast “parfait,” with each of those ingredients layered in “sundae” glasses accompanied by iced tea spoons.

And then there was my personal entreaty to please be patient because, though I had not anticipated that all would want a cooked breakfast, the wait would be worth it. This was a breakfast I had made for guests in my own home and without fail there were always requests for the recipe.

This dish is called “Crème Brulée French Toast.” I don’t know any one who doesn’t love crème brulée – and French toast gets a ton of votes in favorite breakfast contests, so why not combine the two?

While the classic dessert requires a torch to caramelize and harden a sugar topping, this recipe plays loosely with the definition of crème brulée, but it’s pretty darn close and I’m willing to bet that whomever you make this for will love this breakfast.

Here’s what you need to simulate the topping: A stick of unsalted butter, a cup of packed dark brown sugar and two tablespoons of dark corn syrup. In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring until smooth. Pour into a large glass baking dish. No need to grease the dish.

Trim the crusts of six thick slices of country white bread or Texas toast slices and place the bread on top of the butter sugar mixture, fitting the slices in tightly.

In another bowl, whisk together five large eggs, and 1-1/2 cups of half and half, a teaspoon each of vanilla and Grand Marnier and a pinch of salt until well combined. Pour evenly over bread. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill the mixture at least eight hours or overnight. If you don’t want to use Grand Marnier, substitute undiluted frozen concentrated orange juice.

While your oven is preheating to 350 degrees, bring the bread mixture to room temperature. Bake uncovered in the middle of the oven, until puffed and golden, about 35 to 40 minutes.

The serving technique is important because you have to simulate what crème brulée looks like – no torch necessary, however. Cut between the slices of bread and slip a spatula completely underneath the slice, quickly inverting the slice onto a plate so that the melted butter/sugar mixture (the “brulée” topping) is on top. Serve with fresh berries and, for an extra flourish, whipped cream.

I think you’ll agree with my B&B guests that this is one of the best desserts you’ll ever have for breakfast.

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