Sunday, January 20, 2013

Recreating restaurant favorites- challah french toast with caramelized bananas

A few months ago the boy and I had this AMAZING french toast with cinnamon bananas from this quirky breakfast place called Pick Me Up Cafe (it also serves lunch, dinner, vegetarian, and vegan options... 24 hours a day). The toast was cut super thick, it was perfectly cooked, and the bananas and cinnamon added a great sweet flavor (along with the maple syrup we decided to drench it in). I'm not the biggest fan of a sweet breakfast, but this french toast really hit the spot.

Yes, this is a single serving...

So today, when he mentioned a craving for Pick Me Up's french toast, I wondered if I could recreate this signature dish at home. After a "quick" trip to the grocery store, my question was answered and we were eating delicious french toast ~2 hours after first talking about it. And although my french toast tasted a bit different from the Pick Me Up Cafe's creation, I'm happy to say it was a delicious (and sweet) way to start the morning!

Thick-cut challah french toast with caramelized bananas

Unfortunately we thought we had maple syrup at home but didn't, so instead I whipped together 2 different sauces to serve as a replacement:
  1. Brown sugar sauce: I cooked a few teaspoons of brown sugar in 1 TBSP of butter with a splash of orange juice until it was the right consistency
  2. Fruit juice sauce: I took ~1/4 to 1/2 cup of fruit juice he had laying around (passionfruit, orange, papaya) and cooked it down until it was thick, syrupy, and "pourable"
The boy liked both sauces (luckily for me he likes everything) but definitely preferred the brown sugar syrup sauce; I liked both of them and couldn't really decide which I liked better.

In addition to the sauces, I also tried 2 different techniques with the french toast itself. In one I followed the recipe as written, allowing the bread 5 minutes to soak up the liquid, which resulted in a super silken and custardy french toast. In the 2nd, I simply dipped the bread in the liquid for a brief moment, and immediately cooked it up, which resulted in a more traditional french toast in texture and flavor. Both were incredible, but the boy preferred the traditional kind, while I think the custardy toast had a slight advantage for me.

The more "bready" version of french toast

So I'd suggest cooking the french toast both ways and seeing what your favorite is. And no worries if you and your loved one (or if you yourself) can't agree- it's easy to whip up both batches in the same breakfast! Whether you're a bread-y french toast fan or a custard-y one, I promise this recipe will give you exactly what you're looking for. 

Yours in spending her Sunday morning cooking instead of paying others to cook for her,

Challah French Toast, from Barefoot Contessa

Note: If you want more "traditional" french toast don't let the bread soak for so long in the milk mixture; simply dip each side in the liquid and cook it up right away. Soaking the bread for 5 minutes turns the french toast into a custardy, silken version of this classic bready dish.


6 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half or milk
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon good honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large loaf challah or brioche bread
Unsalted butter
Vegetable oil

To serve:
Pure maple syrup
Good raspberry preserves (optional)
Sifted confectioners' sugar (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, orange zest, vanilla, honey, and salt. Slice the challah in 3/4-inch thick slices. Soak as many slices in the egg mixture as possible for 5 minutes, turning once.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a very large saute pan over medium heat. Add the soaked bread and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. 
  4. Place the cooked French toast on a sheet pan and keep it warm in the oven. Fry the remaining soaked bread slices, adding butter and oil as needed, until it's all cooked. Serve hot with maple syrup, raspberry preserves, and/or confectioners' sugar.
Caramelized Bananas, adapted from Eating Well

Note: The ingredients and cooking time for this recipe are not firm. Use them as a starting point and play around with things to adapt to your taste. If you want this to be saucier, add more orange juice or rum. If you feel like your bananas need more time to get a bit more caramelized/brown, add less liquid or cook them for longer. I probably ended up doubling the cooking time (or more) to evaporate the liquid and give the bananas a nice crust.


2 medium-small firm bananas, peeled and cut on a diagonal into 1/3" thick slices
1/2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP brown sugar (light or dark)
2 TBSP dark rum, or orange juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and lay the banana slices on top.
  2. Cook undisturbed for 20 seconds, then add rum (or orange juice) and cinnamon. Cook for 10 seconds, then turn bananas carefully and cook for 45 to 60 seconds more, basting with the pan sauce. 
  3. If you want your bananas to brown a bit more, continue to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.


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