Living in a small town in the Midwest can be difficult sometimes, especially when you are looking for specialty foods. However being in a college town of about 150,000 you can get lucky sometimes. I found Chinese 5 spice powder on my first try. Tahini paste was a different story. The first time I ever tried to find it at the regular grocery store was definitely a learning experience. After 30 minutes of wandering the “international aisle” I finally gathered the courage to ask an employee. He looked at me with a bewildered expression and went to go “find the manager” who never showed up. I learned a valuable lesson that day, #1. Always know exactly what it is that you are looking for (I had never seen Tahini paste and had no idea what it looked like). #2. Specialty stores can be your best friend (I found a small business that had an entire isle devoted to tahini). I have wanted to make French toast with Challah bread since I saw a recipe for it about 5 years ago. I went to every “bakery”* in this town and couldn’t find a single loaf until this Saturday at the farmers market. They had just unloaded the beautiful braided loaves and it took all my self control not to buy every one they had (Okay, Nick helped restrain me a little bit).
*I put bakery in quotations because most of the so-called bakeries in this town import their bread as apposed to baking it themselves. Welcome to Champaign, IL.
Long weekends call for something a little more decadent. So I knew this was the perfect time for my French toast to make its big debut. When I want a dessert or baked good to be a little more special I turn my “Baked” cookbooks, written by the owners of the Baked Bakery in Brooklyn. I own both of their cookbooks and am constantly inspired by both the beautiful photographs and the love and passion that permeates each recipe. A quick search through their second book “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented” and I found a recipe for their version of French toast. I opted to add bourbon (because doesn’t it make everything better?) and it was a big hit. The bread soaked up the custard mixture and the bourbon infused everything with its smoky caramel-vanilla notes. Turns out it was worth the wait.
Bourbon French Toast
Adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
- 1 loaf Challah Bread (a day or two old is best)
- 5 large eggs
- 1 cup half and half
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 generous tablespoon bourbon (optional)
Generously butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 inch glass pan. Slice the loaf into 1-2 inch slices (I will slice mine a little thicker next time) and arrange bread in an overlapping pattern. In a large bowl add eggs, half and half, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and bourbon (if using). Whisk until combined. Pour the mixture over the bread. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350. Using your fingers, flip each slice to ensure even coverage. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes (you may need to cover with foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes if they are browning too quickly) or until the bread is golden and the mixture puffs up.