Baking sets us up for failures. Not every time – but every baker, whether of the home enjoyment variety or a professional, seems armed with stories of overflowing batter, overbaked cookies or cakes that collapse like deflated balloons when removed from the oven. Worse yet are the kind that all outward appearances would suggest were successful, but are cut into at dinner parties only to discover a runny, uncooked centre or a missing ingredient. A story frequently retold in our house involves my grandmother, a skilled cook herself, accidentally replacing sugar in a cake recipe with salt – I can only imagine the faces of those at the table at their first mouthful of the inedible chocolate creation.
Precise measurements, raising agents, the unpredictable nature of yeast (and its many variations), oven temperatures – the number of opportunities to mess up seem never ending. My most recent experience at work is not one I will forget in a hurry.
Charged with slicing up 16 loaves of biscotti and baking them off to dry them out, I was using a different oven to usual and set the temperature to 120°C. At least, what I thought was 120°C. Still a little unsure as I couldn’t see a little arrow on the temperature dial, I took the step of rechecking with the girl in charge of that section, who confirmed it was all okay. Six big trays of fig, coffee and walnut biscotti were loaded into the commercial oven. Though the baking time was up to 20 minutes, being a worrier I checked after 10.
Swinging open the door of the oven, the huge waft of black smoke and acrid smell pouring out forced me backward along with a sense of crushing disappointment and slight shocked humiliation. Completely and utterly blackened biscotti greeted me. Burnt to a crisp. Charred. Toasted. Customers in the cafe peered curiously through the window, thinking there must be a fire as the hazy smoke traveled outside and down the street, while we frantically opened all possible windows and carried out the trays to the rubbish area. Honestly, if they had been left for the full 20 minutes, I think the oven might have been flaming (and probably destroyed).
The dial on the oven temperature had rubbed off, and I managed to turn it around the opposite way – so although it looked like 120°C, it was actually set to about 280°C. Commercial ovens also tend to seal in all the smoke, so while at home you would have noticed the burning smell much earlier, nobody realised until it all poured out on opening the door. I guess it makes a good story now (and I will hopefully be able to laugh about it at some point), but I was SO embarrassed (and annoyed at myself for not being more careful!).
When the next week another baker managed to char-grill sixty chocolate-raspberry bread and butter puddings, a new arrow was penned in on the oven dial to avoid the same mistake occuring again.
Along with the freezer episode, I feel like I have had a few kitchen fails lately – so I needed an uncomplicated recipe. Something that couldn’t fail to rise or set (or burn), and is suitable for summer holidays and the imprecise measurements and old equipment of baches and holiday rentals. Along came this french toast: an enriched brioche loaf, soaked in a coconut milk mixture, coated in shredded coconut and transformed in a fry-pan into a golden, crusty edged toast with a rich custard-like interior. Topped with sweet grilled peaches and a decadent coconut caramel, it is a summery dessert for breakfast (or brunch) option that is hard to get wrong.
In saying this, I had to make it harder for myself (of course!) by making my own brioche loaves – but if bread-making does not sound like fun, a time-saving option to reduce error would just be to buy it. I used this brioche recipe which worked out perfectly. The caramel is the only other tricky thing – the traditional butter and cream is replaced by coconut cream for a healthier option and a strong hit of coconut flavour- but if this is not your thing either, just replace it with maple syrup and a drizzle of coconut cream.
Tips & tricks:
- All the measurements for the peaches and french toast are very flexible, and are very easy to increase or decrease quantities to serve different numbers of people.
- Coconut caramel: I would advise making it the night before and keeping it in the fridge for the morning. Watch the sugar carefully as it caramelises to ensure it doesn’t burn. To avoid the sugar seizing as you add the coconut cream, warm up the cream in a separate pot first, and then whisk constantly as you slowly add it. On the off-chance that it still occurs, just keep it over a low heat and whisk to remelt the sugar. Unless the sugar is burnt, it will be salvageable! I
- You could also cook the french toast itself on the barbecue along with the peaches – just keep it over a low heat and I would probably use a flat plate rather than the grill bars.
- If you want to make your own brioche loaves, this recipe from A Cookie Named Desire worked really well for me.
- 6 thick slices of brioche loaf
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- pinch of cinnamon
- a couple of handfuls of shredded coconut for dipping
- a tablespoon or two of butter and olive oil to cook the french toast (or just oil if dairy-free)
- a punnet of fresh blueberries
- icing sugar to dust
- ⅓ cup toasted coconut chips
- 4 ripe peaches, quartered
- 3 tablespoons of melted butter or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 190mL coconut cream (just over ¾ cup)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Heat the coconut cream in a small pot over a low heat.
- Meanwhile, heat the sugar in a medium pot over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. It will form clumps and start to melt into an amber liquid - watch carefully, ensuring it doesn’t catch/burn.
- When it is melted and golden-brown, slowly drizzle in the warm coconut cream, whisking constantly until fully combined (1-2 minutes). Remove from the heat.
- Stir in the vanilla and salt to taste. Leave to cool.
- Heat the grill bars on a barbecue on low.
- In a bowl, stir together the melted butter (or oil) and vanilla, and add the peaches, tossing to coat them. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
- Place the peaches cut side down on the grill and cook for 3-5 five minutes or until caramelized. Flip and cook another 3-5 minutes, coating them with the leftover butter/vanilla/brown sugar mixture.
- Remove and place in a bowl for serving.
- Slice the brioche thickly (see photos).
- Whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, sugar and cinnamon until frothy.
- Heat a non-stick saucepan on medium with a bit of butter and oil. Dunk each slice of brioche into the eggy mixture, turning so each side is fully coated and it has soaked through the bread (about 30 seconds-1 min per side, but may need longer depending on how stale and dense your loaf is - you want it to be completely soaked through the bread).
- Spread the shredded coconut out on a plate and coat the soaked brioche with it on both sides.
- When the butter is bubbling, add brioche slices to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest of the french toast (add more butter and oil to the pan between each batch).
- Serve the french toast with coconut caramel and grilled peaches, dust with icing sugar, and scatter with blueberries and toasted coconut chips.