Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Frangipane French Toast

OK, so this morning I didn't actually cook this for breakfast because my girls made me breakfast-in-bed! But this would be a great treat for Mother's Day (or any day)! I love stuffed french toast. Usually we use cream cheese mixed with a bit of orange marmalade or chopped apricots, cranberries, or something along those lines, but I also love frangipane--that luscious rich mixture of almond meal, butter, sugar and cream (although it can be made from other nuts as well). It suited the sweet Challah bread we used for the french toast amazingly well.

  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds or almond meal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup softened butter (please do not use margarine!)
  • 2 Tbs. half and half or cream*
Note: you can substitute 6 oz. of sweetened almond paste for the almonds and sugar if desired. You can also use this recipe, plus one egg, for a filling for tarts, sweet rolls and other BAKED goods. I have left the egg out here due to the fact that the filling does not get cooked, only warmed through; plus it would be too runny for this purpose if it had the egg.
*If you don't have or don't want to open a whole container of cream for 2 Tbs. worth, you can substitute rum, brandy, cointreau, Gran Marnier, or other liquer of choice. You could probably even use a spoonful of yogurt or apple juice if liquer for breakfast isn't your thing...

For the French Toast Batter:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
Slice sweet Challah or Brioche bread into thick slices (1-inch PLUS). Slice each piece again as if making two thin slices from one thick one, but do not go all the way through the bread--leave about 1/2-inch from the bottom unsliced--you are essentially making a little pocket to fill with the frangipane (see below).

In a wide bowl, beat egg, milk and flavoring until uniform in color. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Butter or oil skillet/griddle if necessary. Dip stuffed french toast slices into egg mixture, coating both sides. Cook until browned on both sides, 3-4 minutes each (longer cooking time than regular french toast is needed so as to warm the filling). Remove to low oven to keep warm (if you can resist eating them out of hand!). Serve topped with desired fruit topping or syrup (our favorites: apple, pear, or blueberry) or simply dusted with powdered sugar.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Homemade Ricotta

This recipe/technique comes from Mollie Katzen's "Sunlight Cafe," and excellent book full of both unique and tried-and-true breakfast/brunch recipes. The recipe is very simple and an excellent way to use up an abundance of milk. It is a bit on the time-consuming side, but it is mostly all "passive" time, waiting for the milk to reach desired temperature, waiting for curds to separate, waiting for whey to drain off, etc. .

The final product was far different from other fresh cheese I have made (which tends to be more on the rubbery side), I think in part from the addition of yogurt. I also think using whole milk is important, both to the flavor and the texture. The end result is creamy and delicious, unlike any storebought ricotta I've ever tasted. There is a very subtle lemon taste to it from the lemon juice used to curdle the milk, but it is oh-so-slight and was not, in my opinion, undesireable. And, you can adjust the salt (and really any other seasoning you might want) to your tasteIt lasted in the fridge for several days (4 or 5?) without any problem.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese (Mollie Katzen):

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk

  • 1 cup yogurt

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Pour milk and yogurt into a non-reactive pot and whisk until combined. Heat over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the mixture, but do not boil. Remove pan from heat and pour in lemon juice without mixing. Let stand one hour to curdle.

Layer 4 layers of cheesecloth over a fine-mesh strainer (minimum 2-cup capacity) or colander over a large bowl (at least 2 quart capacity), allowing edges of cheesecloth to drape over the sides. Slowly pour the curdled milk mixture onto the cloth, allowing the whey to drain into the bowl and the solids (curds) to stay in the cloth. Katzen recommends NOT pressing or squeezing or hurrying the draining process along at all, which helps keep the texture of the cheese fluffier, and reduces the amount of solids that will make their way through the cloth. Allow the whey to drain off at its natural pace. After about an hour, lift the corners of the cloth gently coaxing the cheese into the middle a bit, and lay the corners over the top of the cheese. Let it stand and continue draining for up to 3 more hours, checking it every hour or so for desired consistency.

Remove the cheesecloth from the colander and carefully turn cheese into an airtight container. Stir in salt to taste and refrigerate.