My favorite show on Food Network is Giada's Weekend Getaways. I love to watch people try new things, and my taste and Giada's run side by side most of the time, only she's in a limo with tinted windows and I've managed to lose my pants and have gravel stuck to the side of my face, police not far behind. "WE SHOULD BE FRIENDS, GIADA! I smell like the liquid in cans of beans! I have a herd of horses, in my mind! Let's ride them together."
On a recent episode, she visited Austin and a place that is known for Carrot Cake French Toast. Hold up. Hold the dogs off for a minute. In my mind I was throwing down single bills as Carrot Cake French Toast worked for it to a megamix of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'. Then I was picturing a giant slab of iced carrot cake being dunked into eggs and griddled, then delivered to your table, icing translucent, cake dissolved, a puddle of egg custard pooled around the mess. Who would risk it?
Giada, champion that she is, ordered it and promptly freaked out over it. I decided I needed to freak out over it too. But I was not going to Austin tomorrow, so how would we solve this today? How do you solve a problem like Giada?
Done. What follows is the answer to that question. The base of this recipe is a loaf of not-too-sweet, raisin and nut-less Carrot bread. You've got the spice, light, damp crumb and abundance of carrots that most cake recipes will give you, but in a form that holds up better to a brief dunking in a light custard, and eventual hot pan contact. Hot Pan Contact! Say it out loud!
So: make the Carrot bread the day or night before and keep it wrapped in foil - no need to let it go stale. The leftovers are great with peanut butter, on their own, with a mug of tea.
But the french toast? I've never had a culinary experience where my eyes roll backwards of their own accord. Giada has them often. I have tasted delicious things. I love food. I love eating. But this was something that surpassed all of that, and took over my synapses. Eyes rolled. Giada knows a goddamn thing or two. It is the best thing I've eaten for breakfast in a long, long time - and the flavors do so much together, like Giada and I could. They break into houses and vandalize property. They riot and burn things and you find yourself stopping for a minute, breathing through your nose and eating a bite of something else to clear your palate so you can have that first bite all over again. Honey, vanilla, orange, the Beyonce Knowles-like luxury that is creme fraiche, cinnamon and underneath that, the earthy, spicy sweetness of carrot. It all comes through, it all brings you to your knees.
Make it. Make it. Name a child after it.
Carrot Bread (original recipe here)
1/2 cup granulated/vanilla sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup canola, light olive or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
A couple scrapings of fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon orange or clementine zest
1 heaping cup grated carrots
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F, and lightly grease (or grease and flour) a light-colored loaf pan. Set aside.
Now, cream together your sugars and oil, then add in the egg and mix until emulsified. Add in your vanilla, and then the cinnamon, nutmeg, citrus zest and carrots, stirring to combine. Follow with the flour, baking soda and salt - I never mix these beforehand for loaf breads and their ilk, but try to scatter the soda and salt evenly over the surface. Saves a bowl. Gives you surprises. No, really, I've never had issues with this method.
Stir your mix together gently, just until completely combined with no pockets of dry ingredients. Pour into your prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick comes out clean (which was around 35 minutes for me, though the original recipe says up to an hour and a half - I would start checking after 30, and then every 10 minutes thereafter).
Once done, remove from the oven and cool in the pan for ten minutes. Run a knife along the sides, and turn out onto a cooling rack (turning right side up). Let it cool completely, then wrap and let it lie in wait until tomorrow morning.
Go get some sleep.
Carrot 'Cake' French Toast with Honey-Vanilla Creme Fraiche
As many slices of Carrot Loaf as you're into/the day calls for, each slice around 3/4 inches thick
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Creme fraiche
2 teaspoons honey
Seeds from half a vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange or clementine zest
Maple syrup, heated
First, make your creme fraiche. In a small bowl, mix the creme fraiche, 2 teaspoons honey, vanilla bean seeds and extract and citrus zest with a fork. Stir until smooth, then stash in the fridge until you're ready to serve (cover, if this wait will be an hour +).
In a shallow bowl or dish, whisk together the egg (puncture the yolk) and milk until you have a glob-free, pale yellow and thin liquid - I have intense opinions on French Toast batter, which is that the egg and milk should be one, and there should be a little more milk than egg. I'm not into french toast that is bread with a thick layer of scrambled eggs on top, visible pockets of quivery whites intact. Treat yourself well this morning, and make sure you've really got it whisked into submission. Add in your spices, and honey, whisk until dissolved - the cinnamon might glob up, just whisk it lightly before each dunking.
Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat until a drop of water dances. Then turn the heat down to medium, drop a small pat of butter and a drizzle of vegetable oil over the top, swirling to combine - you just want a light skim of lubricant. Then, drop one or two slices of Carrot Bread into your custard at a time, count to one and turn, count to two and lift out and directly onto the griddle or pan. Let the Hot Pan Contact commence.
Because the bread is so absorbent and fresh, it will soak up loads of custard in no time flat so only dip slices right before cooking - too much custard and your french toast will crumble. As for when to turn it, the brown color does you no favors. I went by look, and after the first thirty seconds lifting the edge up with a thin spatula and checking - it should be slightly dry and webbed with darker brown crispness. Flip if you're worried - you can always flip it again. Once both sides are crisp and each slice is cooked through (no custard squeezes out if lightly pressed), remove and plop onto waiting plates (or sheet pan, which will keep them warm in a low (200 F) oven until you're ready to eat them).
Top with creme fraiche, a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkle of orange zest. Then get ready to pass out.