"But Erin," you're saying to yourself right now, "berries aren't in season yet!" Yes, you're very smart. But, these berries from my freezer were the end of my u-pick bounty from last summer. I thought it was time to clear the way for the berries yet to come. There's still a few more months until I have to start obsessively checking my favorite u-pick farm's Twitter and Facebook feeds to find out when strawberries begin. So in the meantime, crack open a bag of frozen berries, whip up a batch of French toast, and because it's going to be an unseasonably warm and sunny 70 degrees for much of the next week here in Portland, pretend fresh berry season is just around the corner.
The sauce can be made ahead of time and will keep in the fridge for several days. If making on the same day, start the sauce before cooking the French toast, as reducing the liquid to a syrupy consistency takes about 10 minutes, and the toast is best served immediately after cooking.
For French toast:
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp (a pinch) ground nutmeg
1 (1-lb) challah loaf, cut crosswise into 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices (not including end pieces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For berry sauce:
16 oz frozen mixed berries, such as sliced strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, divided
2 Tbsp granulated sugar (you can add more if you like sweet syrup, but I don't)
1/4 cup water
1. Put 1/2 of the berries (so 8 oz) in a medium sauce pan along with the 2 Tbsp granulated sugar and 1/4 water. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes on medium-high heat, or until the fruit is soft. Transfer the fruit to a fine-mesh sieve over a larger bowl or measuring cup, and drain all of the liquid from the fruit. Mash up the fruit and press as much of the pulp and juice as you can through the sieve. You'll have about 1 cup of sauce.
2. Transfer the strained sauce back to the same saucepan, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook for 10 minutes or until the sauce has reduced by almost half and has a thicker, syrupy consistency. Check for sweetness and add extra sugar if you want now, so it will dissolve into the syrup.
3. Add the remaining 8 oz of berries to the saucepan. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the berries look like they are just beginning to thaw, then turn off the heat and leave the saucepan sitting on the burner while you cook the French toast. Because I wanted the syrup to retain the whole pieces of fruit, and cooking it too long will cause it to break apart, I let the residual heat from the burner and the syrup warm up the sliced fruit.
1. Heat up a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Mix all of the batter ingredients from the eggs through the nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Set this bowl beside the pan you'll cook the French toast in, and have the bread and a spatula nearby as well. And now we cook ze toast.
2. Add half of the butter to the skillet or griddle pan and spread it evenly over the surface. When it begins sizzling, it's ready! Dip a piece of the bread into the egg mixture and turn over so it is evenly coated (I did two quick turns, but don't leave the bread sitting in the eggs too long or it will be soggy), then add it to the skillet. Repeat with as many slices of bread as will fit on your skillet in a single layer; I was able to cook the twelve slices in two batches on a long griddle set over two of my burners.
3. Cook on one side until the bread is golden brown on the bottom, about 2-3 minutes, then flip over to cook the second side the same. Repeat until all twelve pieces are golden brown and delicious.
4. Place as many pieces of French toast on your plate as you wish, then pour on the berry syrup and enjoy.
Serves 4-6 people, depending on the voraciousness of your brunch guests