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French Toast with Caramelized Bananas

Cooks in many countries use the same method for reviving day-old bread: they dip it in eggs and milk or cream and then quickly panfry it. Our contemporary French toast is a descendant of pain perdu (literally “lost bread”), popularized in the kitchens of New Orleans. This luscious version is topped with caramelized bananas.

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 slices day-old challah or other egg bread
  • Canola oil for cooking
  • 3 firm but ripe bananas
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, plus more, as needed
  • 2 Tbs. dark rum (optional)

Directions:

To make the French toast, preheat an oven to 350°F.

In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, granulated sugar, vanilla, orange zest and nutmeg. Cut the bread slices in half, add to the egg mixture and turn gently to coat evenly. Let stand until the bread has soaked up some of the egg mixture, about 1 minute.

Place a griddle over medium-high heat until hot. Lightly oil the griddle. Remove the bread from the egg mixture, letting the excess liquid drip back into the bowl, and place on the hot griddle. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the other sides until golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Place the bread on a rimmed baking sheet, transfer to the oven and bake until the center of the bread is heated through but still moist, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the bananas and slice diagonally. In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the banana slices and cook, gently turning them occasionally, until they begin to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and cook until it melts, about 1 minute. Gently stir in the 1/2 cup orange juice and the rum and cook until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 1 minute. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more orange juice until it is the desired consistency. Serve the French toast piping hot, topped with spoonfuls of the caramelized bananas. Serves 4.

Variation: Sliced apples, pears, nectarines or peaches are all meltingly delicious when caramelized in butter and sugar. Just substitute an equal amount of whichever fruit you prefer for the bananas. If you like, match the fruit juice—apple juice or peach nectar—to the type of fruit you are using.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food, by Rick Rodgers (Oxmoor House, 2009).