French Toast

Sunday, 30 August 2009

PhotobucketThere used to be a Hilton Hotel in Hong Kong, where Cheung Kong Centre now stands. It was a pretty nondescript hotel in Central and most people probably never thought of it once it was gone. Neither would I except that was where I had the best French toast ever.

The French toast  was really special because it was crispy. I've had good French Toast elsewhere but the crispy part was always missing.

After the Hilton Hotel was torn down, I had no idea where their chefs went, so that was the end of crispy Hilton Hotel French Toast. And the beginning of homemade French Toast.

When I first made French Toast, it was bland, it shrank after it was fried, and it just wasn't crispy.

Over the years, I've tweaked the recipe many times. I started with just eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla extract and bread. Now, cream cheese is a key ingredient. It keeps the texture creamy and "custardy", and stops the bread from shriveling after it's cooked – provided the bread isn't oversoaked. It also adds depth to the flavor, which is enhanced with a splash of dark rum. Most importantly, it's crispy with a sprinkling of sugar caramelized under the grill. And it's not oily because it's not fried.

I now have the perfect French Toast for a weekend breakfast or even dessert. Yay!

FRENCH TOAST
(Recipe for 2 persons)

4 slices stale sandwich bread, thick-cut (I use Gardenia brand's Junior White)
regular-cut sandwich bread would turn soggy and not make good French toast
2 eggs
40 ml milk
20 g cream cheese
1 tbsp fine sugar
1 tbsp dark rum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp butter at room temperature
1 tbsp fine sugar (for sprinkling)

Depending on the type of bread used, the amount of egg mixture and soaking time required may vary. Please adjust as necessary. For dense bread, a few slits in the middle and a regular rather than thick-cut would help speed things along. The bread should be thoroughly saturated with the eggy liquid without turning soggy. If necessary, cut the bread in the middle and check.

If possible, make egg mixture the night before so that flavors have time to mingle and develop. Stale bread is essential; fresh bread turns soggy and shrinks after it's grilled. Let some butter come to room temperature before starting to cook.

When you're ready to make toast, preheat grill to 230°C, and line grill tray with parchment paper.

Put cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and beat till smooth. Add dark rum, vanilla extract and milk in stages, beating till smooth after each addition. Add eggs one at a time and – you guessed it – beat till smooth.

Remove bread crust. Do it by hand if you have time; jagged edges turn really crispy. Cut each slice into four pieces. Soak bread thoroughly in egg mixture, turning over half-way so that both sides are evenly saturated. Do not let bread get soggy.

Place bread on grill tray. Dot each piece with butter – just a bit, not too much. (You could put butter on a knife, then push small blobs onto bread with a tapered chopstick. Or, if you're making a lot of toast, make a small piping cone with parchment paper, then use it to pipe the butter. Third option: Keep butter chilled and hard, then shave with a vegetable peeler directly onto bread.) Sprinkle bread with sugar, right up to the edges.

Grill with the door closed till bread is golden brown or even slightly burnt, then repeat butter-sugar-grill procedure for the other side.

Enjoy French Toast piping hot with its best buddy, maple syrup. Or drizzle with melted butter and honey and serve it as dessert. How about a light coat of icing sugar, some fresh fruits and cream or ice cream? I'm sure that'll win you lots of 'Ooh!' and 'Aah!'

Fried Anchovies and Peanuts

Sunday, 23 August 2009

PhotoFried anchovies and peanuts is great with rice. In nasi lemak, for instance, it's one of the standard side dishes. For me, I find it a bit dry with rice. I like to eat it with Teochew porridge but mostly I eat it as it is as a savory snack.

You know how too much chocolate leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth and you long for something salty? That's a little craving I have not infrequently, especially in the afternoon after my Kit Kat break.

Being a well organized person who doesn't like to panic when confronted with such a culinary emergency, I like to keep a ready supply of the antidote in the fridge.

The key component of the antidote for sugar is, of course, salt, of which dried anchovies have plenty. So, I make a good size amount of fried anchovies, more rather than less because I want to make the most out of the oil I'm going to throw away.

PhotoFried peanuts make a classic combination with fried anchovies. The additional calories from the nuts doesn't spoil my diet since there isn't one. It flies out the window every time I set my eyes on chocolate.

The dosage for the sugar antidote is two tablespoons immediately after sugar consumption. Unfortunately, the antidote is addictive and more often than not, I eat a whole plateful.

You know how too much salt leaves you craving for something sweet? Back to Kit Kat . . . . Oh dear, I think I need help.

FRIED ANCHOVIES AND PEANUTS
(For 4 persons)

50 g dried anchovies (ikan bilis), without bones and heads
50 g dried, raw peanuts
150 ml vegetable oil
a pinch of salt (optional)

Wash and drain anchovies twice to remove excess salt. Squeeze and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a pan till smoking and add anchovies. Fry, stirring occasionally, till almost golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Reduce heat to low. Let oil cool down slightly. Put one peanut in the oil to check that it's not too hot. Oil should not bubble on contact with raw peanut. Add all peanuts to oil when temperature is right. Stir to distribute heat evenly. Pick a peanut without skin and watch it. When it changes color slightly, turn off heat and quickly remove peanuts with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and – if you think the anchovies aren't salty enough – toss peanuts with a pinch of salt. Combine fried anchovies and fried peanuts. Eat with rice, chocolate or beer. Have I ever eaten all of these together in one go? I'm not telling you.