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French toast with berry compote and brie

By Paul Suplee,

And so I sit in my office on another glorious morning, the sun not up yet as the autumn darkness has set in. It is the beginning of winter, I am afraid. The nights will get longer, and, of course, it will get colder. But fret not, as you can combat this time of year knowing that a warm plate of breakfast foods will help to get your day started. And throw in a mimosa or two, and you have a formidable start to the weekend. I mean, if you want to start your workday this way, who am I to say not to? I just know that it is not an option for me, so I will leave you to your own devices when it comes to that.

But I digress. What is it about warming breakfast/brunch foods that make them so satisfying? Maybe it’s the spices used — cinnamon and nutmeg notably. Maybe the richness of many breakfast foods soothes the soul as we feast, filling ourselves in preparation of a midday nap. And what better dish is there to accomplish this deed than French Toast.

French Toast has always held a special place in my heart, as it is rich, sweet and filling all at once. And I scoff as I think to myself that it is pretty much bread pudding designed as a plate of wholesome food. It is literally dessert for breakfast, and that is a fabulous thought.

In digging through information on this ubiquitous dish, I learned a few things. First, French Toast was first chronicled in an English cookbook centuries before it had been documented in France proper. Second, The French call French Toast pain perdu, which translates into ‘lost bread’ as it is made with stale, old bread. Mind that I did not say moldy. Don’t get all bleu cheese on me, please.

Third, and this was just an epiphany that I had as I was writing this, is the aforementioned notion that this is nothing but bread pudding. Why is it that I had never thought of this before? Sometimes it is these small connections that I make that my life complete, as sad as that may sound.

So, I need to get back to the whole “dark morning” thing. It amazes me, annually, that it stays dark so much later in the morning these days. I mean, just last week it was light at 6:40 a.m. It comes on so fast, and I can understand why some people dread this change, as it inevitably leads into winter. Personally, I am a fan of all four seasons, as I don’t think I would be able to handle year-round summer. Maybe when I retire, I will become that person, but for now I like the seasons.

But, man is it dark outside. We are just shy of two weeks away from daylight savings, so at least we will get back to a little light in our mornings, but then it also means that it will get darker so much earlier. Then, the real countdown sets off, which is the race to Dec. 21, the darkest day of the year. But starting Dec. 22, the days get a little lighter, with periods of light growing by just over two minutes per day until spring arrives. And then, we will be right back in the springtime and summertime groove. It is truly a beautiful thing.

But, for now we have to make it through the winter months and gear up for the cold. And nothing will warm you up more than a rich and filling, hot breakfast. And adding some brie cheese will warm the heart even more. Trust me, it will make a chilly dark morning disappear.

French Toast, berry compote, brie

Serves 4

8 pieces sourdough bread

1 c. Whole milk

1 c. Heavy cream

¼ c. Granulated sugar

1 tsp. Cinnamon

dash nutmeg

4 whole eggs

½ tsp. Pure vanilla extract

dash salt

Pure maple syrup, as needed

1 wedge brie cheese

2 c. Berry Compote (recipe follows)

1. Just pretend that you’re making individual slices of bread pudding (because you are) and let the bread sit out for a little while to stale a bit. If you are not patient enough, you can also toast it before you soak it. This instruction is for the French Toast purist, and is completely optional.

2. Combine the next seven ingredients in a bowl and whisk heartily.

3. Heat a pan to medium and spray with a non-stick spray.

4. Dip the bread, ensuring that each slice has plenty of batter on and in it.

5. Cook the French toast for a few minutes on each side, removing it when it is golden brown and cooked through.

6. Remove and when you are ready to plate, cut the slices diagonally and then alter bread and brie.

7. Top with the berry compote and serve with the maple syrup.

8. If you are hungover, try this with a Mimosa. It is a delicious pairing.

Berry Compote

Makes about 2 cups

2 c. Assorted berries

1 Tbsp. Champagne vinegar

1/2 c. Granulated sugar

1/2 c. Orange juice

1. Combine the ingredients in a pan and bring to a low simmer

2. Cook until the berries have broken down and it starts to thicken

3. Make sure that it does not come to a hard boil

— Paul Suplee is a Professor of Culinary Arts
at Wor-Wic
Community College and owner of boxcar40.
Visit him at