Berry delicious: French toast with fruit and mint

by Terry B on August 20, 2008

Lightly sweetened seasonal fresh fruit with mint and a squeeze of lemon juice replaces sticky syrup and powdered sugar in this delicious take on a weekend breakfast favorite, French toast. Recipes below.

How has this happened? This is my 100th post at Blue Kitchen, closing in on two years of blogging about food, and I’m only now getting around to breakfast. This is just wrong; breakfast is very important at our house. Not so much as a big weekend ritual. [And we are so not brunch people—to us, brunch means too much food for too much money after waiting in line for too long.] For us, breakfast is a practical daily meal, breaking the fast [the period between bedtime and breakfast is the longest most of us go without eating], fueling up for a good start to the day.

Breakfast is usually foraged individually as we get going in the morning, especially during the work week, and often includes some combination of a fiberrific cereal, maybe an egg, maybe some toast [also fiberrific], a handful of nuts or a little peanut butter and maybe some fruit. Oh. And caffeine. Tea or coffee for Marion, iced tea or diet Pepsi for me.

But some weekends, we do opt for what we call a weekend style breakfast. Omelets or pancakes or, far too infrequently, French toast.

French toast’s origins are clouded in mystery. Hardly anyone thinks that it originated in France, although one source claimed authoritatively that it did, in the 16th century. Another popular story is that it was created in the 1700s by a tavern owner in Albany, New York—one Joseph French. And at least one source claims that the first recipe dates back to ancient Rome! No one really agrees on the name, either. We Americans call it French toast. In France, it’s pain perdu—lost bread. French bread dries out in just a day or two and this is a wonderful way to give it another life. In some quarters of the UK, it is apparently called “poor knights of Windsor!”

What all do agree upon is what French toast is: Bread dipped in a mixture of egg and milk, then fried until golden brown. Most also agree that it is delicious.

I’ll be honest with you, though. As much as I like French toast, what got me started on this post was the fruit. Berries and stone fruits only have a little more time left in the markets this season. Most of the time, they don’t make it past their original state in our house before being devoured. Last Sunday, Marion and I polished off a pint of blueberries driving home from the produce market [thank heaven for automatic transmissions]. But the berry mixture Susan over at Food Blogga created for her Skinny Berry Parfaits got me thinking. Then I saw a recipe for minted blackberries in the August issue of Gourmet. Never mind that that it was meant to top cheesecake. I was off to the races.

First, I had to get less basic and lazy about my French toast. Normally for me, it’s just egg-soaked bread in a hot buttered pan. No milk, no fuss. But the more I looked at various recipes, the more I saw I needed some milk [or half & half] and maybe some vanilla and a touch of sugar. Cinnamon popped up in lots of recipes too, but I thought it would clash with the fruit in a major way. After looking at a number of recipes—including one by Alton Brown that involves frying and then baking the French toast—I netted out with a variation on a simpler recipe from Good Egg, the website of egg producer Rose Acre Farms. If you’ve got a French toast you’re already happy with, though, you can just stick with that and top it with the fruit. [If your recipe includes cinnamon, just leave it out this time—trust me on this.]

French Toast with Fruit & Mint
Serves 2 [can easily be doubled]

For the fruit:
2 cups of mixed fresh berries and fruit [see Kitchen Notes]
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For the French toast:
2 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 slices of bread of your choice [see Kitchen Notes]
butter

Prepare the fruit. Slice larger pieces of fruit, such as strawberries, apricots or peaches, into small bite-sized pieces. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and let stand to macerate while you make the French toast. Don’t expect a syrup to form—you end up with a much lighter fruit topping, without the cloying sugariness.

Make the French toast. In a shallow dish, beat together eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla until well blended. A glass pie plate works well.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan. Meanwhile, dip one slice of bread in egg mixture, turning to coat on each side, letting the bread soak just briefly. Place bread in hot pan and cook on both sides until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Sometimes, I’ll use two pans to speed the cooking process. Add more butter to the pan as needed when cooking the remaining slices of French toast.

For informal family weekend breakfasts, top individual servings [two slices of bread cut into wedges] generously with berry mixture and serve as they’re ready. Or keep French toast in a warm oven until all batches are cooked and ready to serve everyone all at once, all proper like.

Kitchen Notes

Pick your own fruit. I used blueberries, strawberries and apricots for this recipe. Substitute at will, based on what’s available and what you have a hankering for. I’d stick to soft fruits, though—all the aforementioned or raspberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines… No apples or pears—they’re too assertive for this. But cooked until soft [and yes, with some cinnamon, perhaps], they could make for a whole different take.

With the bread, fresher isn’t always better. Nearly every recipe I saw called for day-old bread. Any kind of French bread or other white bread will work nicely. I’ll often slice up leftover baguettes from the previous night’s dinner. Take a break from heavy duty fiberrific bread, though, for French toast—it’s like wearing sensible shoes with a party outfit. And don’t do what a friend’s roommate did years ago. She was too disorganized or lazy to run out to the store for suitable bread and served her, ahem, sleepover guest French toast made with some very aggressive rye bread. They broke up shortly after that.

Also this week at Blue Kitchen, 8/20/2008

Cholesterol, schmolesterol—eggs are good for you. Scientists now say that eggs protect you from their own cholesterol, at WTF? Random food for thought.

Listen up: The Chicago Jazz Festival is coming! Gearing up for one of the coolest weekends of the year, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Bad Home Cook August 20, 2008 at 3:23 am

…and in England they call it “eggy bread.” Typical Anglo-Saxon understatement.

Glorious picture, and wonderful way to avoid using syrup, which I feel almost ruins the French Toast sometimes. I’m gonna give a try…but first I’ll have to hit the farmer’s market for $20 worth of fresh berries…..can’t wait!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) August 20, 2008 at 11:09 am

Lovely take on the usual ho-hum French toast, though I wonder whether my maple syrup-addicted husband would be willing to try the fruit topping. The fruit would be great on ice cream or frozen yogurt, too.

Mary Coleman August 20, 2008 at 12:34 pm

I’m so hungry!!!! Congrats on your 100th post. Keep up the great work.

Mike of Mike's Table August 20, 2008 at 8:18 pm

This looks very vibrant–very nice photo! Also, congrats on the big 100

I am of the cinnamon-is-a-must camp, but really, any French toast is a winner in my book. My mom has made many a variant of this breakfast–with a strawberry/cream cheese mix (supposed to be like cheesecake), matzoh instead of bread, cinnamon rolls instead of bread…all very healthy ways to start the day, but oh so good.

Terry B August 20, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Bad Home Cook—”Eggy bread” sounds so homey, doesn’t it? Even as a kid, I only sort of liked syrup. I remember having pancakes at a friend’s house as a kid. He and his siblings viewed pancakes as a mere vehicle for rivers of syrup and couldn’t believe that I wanted to eat at least my first pancake without it, to enjoy the taste of the pancake itself. Guess I was sort of food obsessed even back then.

Lydia—I bet you’re right. The fruit would offer a nice, bright foil to the creamy sweetness of a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, I think.

Thanks, Mary!

Mike—Thanks! I’m not sure why, but I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon. I think the most recent use I’ve made of it was the Moroccan braised beef I posted last February. Interestingly, that savory use of it was quite good. Sounds like your mom may have given you some of your inventiveness in the kitchen!

Toni August 21, 2008 at 6:21 pm

You had me at the photo…..My dad used to call me a two fisted fruit eater. I sometimes call myself part fruit bat. Whatever it is, I’ll take any variation of any theme that includes fruit!

I think I might have posted a French Toast recipe many moons ago. My version includes orange rind and some sort of orange liqueur. I skip the sugar when I’m doing it this way, and I never miss it! I have the feeling it would go great with that fruit topping.

Congratulations on your 100th! I don’t know where you were in the countdown when I discovered you, but I’ve looked forward to reading your posts every week.

Lisa August 21, 2008 at 6:35 pm

I’ve been eating berries and stone fruits by the truckload all summer (yum!) and have always enjoyed mint with fruit. I think that this healthy touch is just enough to get me to break from my wheat-free routine. I love French toast and haven’t had it in ages. I can hardly wait! And no doubt my Sweetheart will love the site of bread in the house – just hope it’ll last long enough to be French toast-ready.

Terry B August 22, 2008 at 3:41 am

Thanks, Toni! And back atcha—I always enjoy your thoughtful posts.

Lisa—Let me know what you and your sweetheart think!

carolyn August 22, 2008 at 3:26 pm

I always was afraid of blueberries because of those TV denture commercials. I’m wild about them now and loved seeing them in the photo. I like to bury my blueberries in rice.

Kevin August 25, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Congrats on 100 tasty posts! That French toast looks so fresh and summery and good!

Mimi September 7, 2008 at 6:12 am

I want this. Now. And I want the plate, too. Just lovely. This is the way to eat it, too. I’ve done at least three posts on French toast or pain perdu and I never tire of it.

Sara December 16, 2008 at 6:28 am

My favorite basic French Toast recipe actually IS Alton’s…I usually skip the sugar and add honey instead: I have no idea why, but it always tastes way better. Who knows.

I’m trying to recreate/find/brainstorm a kind of French toast I had at a breakfast place in downtown Chicago a few years ago…I’ll never forget it: Thick-cut whole wheat bread soaked in a chai-egg-milk mixture, and then stuffed with granny smith apples and ricotta cheese. It was a restaurant called Orange, where they squeeze fresh juices of your choice in whatever combo you want…ever heard of it? I don’t know if they still exist…

Sara December 16, 2008 at 6:30 am

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