Cook's Country (April/May 2013)
Our friends Drew and Ralph -- characters you know doubt recognize from many a dinner featured here on The Bitten Word -- have just opened a restaurant (a second restaurant, technically, that just so happens to be very favorably reviewed in today's Washington Post).
As they've been getting the new eatery up and running, they've been understandably busy, so we haven't been able to hang out as much. To make up for lost time, they invited us to come over to their house for brunch on Sunday.
"What's for brunch?" Clay casually asked Drew a few days beforehand.
"We saw this recipe in the latest Cook's Country that looks awes---,"
"The Really Crunchy French Toast with the Cap'n Crunch?!?!"
The answer: a resounding yes.
We'd spied this recipe when picking out April recipes. We loved the idea, but it seemed a bit of an overindulgence to just make for the two of us.
But when friends invite you over for a French toast feast, you don't turn them down.
So we didn't make this French toast. But we were present for the making of it, perched on stools in the kitchen, sipping coffee as Drew pieced the meal together. And that, Bittens, is a pretty nice Sunday morning if you ask us.
This recipe uses a few unusual techniques to produce French toast with a marvelously crunchy outside and a soft, nearly-creamy center.
Here are the tricks:
Challah. This is hardly the first time we've encountered challah French toast; it's nearly de rigeur on brunch menus around town. But there's good reason. The eggy, chewy Jewish bread is the perfect base for French toast.
Spiced custard. Dip your bread ever so briefly in a custard mixture. The idea is to give the bread a good, brief soak, but not to overdo it. Fifteen seconds per side is recommended.
Cap'n Crunch. Insane, right? Each piece of toast gets a nice coating of crushed Cap'n Crunch cereal. It had been years (and years and years) since we'd eaten Cap'n Crunch. It tastes the same as we remember: sweet, sweet and more sweet. And that amazingly crunchy crunch.
The oven, not the stove. In this recipe, you coat a preheated baking sheet with a thin layer of oil. Then you lay the bread in the oil and bake the whole thing, flipping the toast once. Cooking it this way keeps the Cap'n Crunch from getting soggy or, on the other end of the scale, getting seared in the saucepan.
Watching Drew make the French toast, the only slight downside of this recipe is the number of dishes it uses: two baking sheets, wire cooling racks that are cleaned mid-process for a second use, a bowl for the custard, a dish for the cereal, a plate or cutting board for the sliced bread.
It seems like a lot of dishes, but you can't argue with the results.
This is sinfully good French toast -- definitely the best we've ever had from a home kitchen, and likely the best we've ever had in our lives. It more than delivers on crunch. And of course it's sweet (and even sweeter when doused in maple syrup).
If you're looking for a showstopper of a treat for an Easter brunch, you can't go wrong here. And if you want other great inspiration for Easter brunch, check out Our Best Easter Ideas, which includes both breakfasty brunch and lunchy brunch ideas.
But if your'e looking for a fun splurge, call the Cap'n.
Serves 6 to 8
Note from America's Test Kitchen: Day-old challah works best. To crush the cereal, pour it into a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag, seal and use a rolling pin to roll over it several times.
6 cups Cap'n Crunch cereal, crushed coarse
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (12 by 5-inch) loaf challah, cut into eight 1-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Adjust oven rack to middle position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 450 degrees. Set wire cooling rack inside second rimmed baking sheet. Place cereal in 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Whisk half-and-half, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt together in large bowl until combined.
Working with 2 slices of bread at a time, soak in half-and-half mixture until just saturated, about 15 seconds per side. Transfer soaked bread to cereal and press lightly to adhere; transfer to prepared wire rack. Repeat with remaining bread.
Add oil to preheated sheet, tilting to coat evenly. Return sheet to oven and heat until oil is just smoking, about 4 minutes. Carefully remove sheet from oven and arrange bread in even layer on sheet. Bake until exterior is golden brown and crunchy, about 20 minutes, flipping once and rotating sheet halfway through baking. Transfer toast to clean wire cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve.