A good morning makes all the difference. I start most of my mornings by pressing snooze at least three times. That is probably not the right start to my day. In an ideal world, I would wake up early without an alarm and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee before heading out for the day. Although that’s not my reality, I do have certain morning routines that brighten my day. For example, I usually walk by a court house on my way to work, and when I do, I can always count on being greeted by name by the friendliest security guard. His name is Tro. Yes, T-R-O, like temporary restraining order, as he explained it. Lately Tro has been working with “the Italian”, who likes to say, “Buongiorno signorina. Come stai?” or “Dove è il mio cappuccino?” These things make me happy.
As most of you know, breakfast also makes me happy. I tend to be a creature of habit with my favorite breakfasts. On weekdays, I like a little bit of Greek yogurt with fresh berries and cashew ginger granola for some crunch. On weekends, I usually find myself at The Old Townhouse with a plate full of fried eggs, hash-browns, and crispy bacon. A couple of weekends ago, however, I decided to spice it up a bit. I had my two girlfriends, Kristen and Shradha, over for Sunday brunch to try out this recipe. It’s French toast, with an Italian twist. And it’s so good, I imagine my old friend “the Italian” would try it and say, “Brava!”
Now, what I am about to tell you, may blow your mind. French toast … was not invented by the French! The earliest reference to what we know as French toast is in a 4th century Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius. Just as we do today, the Romans would soak bread in a milk and egg mixture and fry it in oil or butter. They called this recipe “pan dulcis”, hence the title of my post. The French actually call this concoction “pain perdu”, or “lost bread”. The bread is described as “lost’ because the recipe calls for hard or stale bread. The name “French toast” allegedly originates with an Albany, NY innkeeper named Joseph French. In 1724, he made the dish we all know and love, and he advertised it as “French toast”. The rest is history, I guess. But as far as I am concerned, I think the Italians through their Roman ancestry can claim this dish as their own.
For my version of French toast, I wanted to incorporate some Italian ingredients. I was inspired by a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, which uses “panettone”, a Milanese sweet bread loaf enjoyed for Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately, since “panettone” is a seasonal treat, I couldn’t find it for this dish. However, I did find an amazing substitute at Con Pane – raisin hazelnut bread. I think any hearty fruit and nut bread you can find would be delicious. I did borrow one ingredient from the French – Grand Marnier. Everything is better with a little Grand Marnier, right? Then, to bring it back home, I put a big scoop of marscapone cheese on top of the final product.
This recipe marks my 50th blog post! August will be my 5 year blogaversary, which I will celebrate with a special recipe to be determined. Some years I have been more productive than others, but I’m just happy that I’m still doing what I love and that you are still reading. By far, my favorite mornings are those when I am cooking something up for y’all. Cheers.
Pan Dulcis, serves 4-6
- 1 loaf hearty fruit & nut bread (see above)
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup half & half
- 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
- Zest of 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Marscapone cheese
- Fresh berries
- Maple syrup
- Powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut loaf into roughly 1-inch thick slices and set aside. In a casserole dish, whisk together the eggs, half & half, Grand Marnier, orange zest, and sugar. Warm the maple syrup in a small pot over low heat.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, dip the bread slices into the custard, turning to allow both sides to absorb the custard. Cook the soaked bread slices until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining butter and bread slices.