Outsmarting Brunch: Double Vanilla French Toast

I love going out to brunch. I love meeting up with friends for bottomless coffee and perfectly poached eggs, and I love how the light falls through the restaurant windows as morning stretches into afternoon. But let’s be honest. Restaurant brunch is grossly overpriced. Even the best ingredients in breakfast food are only so expensive, and most of the dishes can be recreated at home to great success with pretty minimal effort.

This homemade french toast is better than many on the menus of our local spots. It is fragrant with nutmeg and perfect with a spoonful of fruit on top. I like a little unsweetened yogurt with it too, but we were all out, and this was strictly a pantry meal.

I’m going to come out in favor of white-bread french toast over challah or other egg-based bread. The heaviness and sweetness of challah overpowers the delicate spices, and fresh egg custard is really all the egg you need. I love the chewy Portuguese loaves found in groceries in New York and New Jersey, but any flavorful and sturdy white loaf would probably be nice. Perhaps you have bread left over from making this loaf?

The other secret to this recipe is a double dose of vanilla. I scraped a fresh vanilla bean into the soaking liquid, and also added something I’ve been brewing up for awhile: vanilla-infused bourbon. It’s basically a vanilla extract I started at home by putting a few chopped vanilla beans into a dark-sided jar and filling it with decent-tasting bourbon. Whenever I have extra beans (even if they’ve been scraped) I add them to the jar, and top off with more bourbon as I use it up. It started smelling wonderfully vanilla-y about two weeks after I mixed it, and I shake it up occasionally to move things around. Shiv and I bought a GIANT bag of about 120 plump, moist vanilla beans from this site awhile back and I’ve been quite pleased with them. Perhaps more vanilla beans than we will ever use up, but it’s so much better than being charged an arm and a leg for two measly dried-up beans at a time every time you need them.

If you want to make this now, though, or this very weekend, feel free to use regular vanilla extract, or half vanilla extract and half drinkable bourbon.

Double Vanilla French Toast
serves 2 generously

4 organic eggs
1 cup milk (2 percent is good)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (try grinding your own from a whole nutmeg!)
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon vanilla-infused bourbon (substitute vanilla extract or half vanilla extract and half bourbon if you don’t have the infused bourbon ready.)
6 or 7 thick slices from a good loaf of white bread
butter for the pan

warmed maple syrup
plain yogurt

Whisk eggs, milk, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Cut vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the interior into the bowl using a spoon or dull knife. Stir in vanilla-infused bourbon. Heat large cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat and add a pat of butter, moving butter around until it just melts. (Or use two skillets to prepare entire batch at once.) Submerge each slice of bread in egg mixture, counting to three, and let excess drip off. Add to skillet, repeat with other slices. Cook until lightly browned on each side, turning heat down if necessary to avoid burning. Top with warmed maple syrup, fruit, and plain yogurt.

Vanilla-Infused Bourbon

Slit 3 vanilla beans in half, exposing the seeds, and chop lengthwise into 3 sections each. In a small jar (ideally dark glass) or empty vanilla extract jar, insert the vanilla beans. Fill jar with bourbon, close lid, and shake. Store in cool, dark, place, shaking every few days, a minimum of two weeks. As you use the infused bourbon, top off with more bourbon, adding vanilla beans (even if they’ve already been scraped) as you have them.

In bread, breakfast, brunch, budget, french toast, vanilla

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