Some beautiful things are born out of frugality in my kitchen. Dense, fudgy loaves of banana cake made to rescue two blackened bananas from the fruit bowl. Bowls of healing broth whipped up from the sad-looking carcass of a picked-clean roast chicken. Glossy, scarlet chilli jam that has saved a bag of overripe tomatoes from a tragic fate in the compost bin. I love averting waste and turning ingredients that were so nearly rubbish into something delicious, particularly when it encourages me to try new recipes in the process.
Last week was a good example: faced with a big bottle of milk that was nearly on the turn, I decided to bake a loaf of milk bread. I would normally go for soda bread, but had an evening in which to laze around watching bread prove so went for something slightly more time-consuming. I made another loaf the following day, because this milk bread was ridiculously delicious and has been a revelation in my life. A simple dough enriched with milk and a little butter gives you the softest, fluffiest, cloud-like crumb, while the glazed crust of the bread is sweet like brioche. Slathered in salted butter, it is actual bread heaven, and is amazing just like this but also wonderful with scrambled eggs for brunch.
I had an inkling that it would make great French toast, too, so purposely left the end of the loaf for a couple of days to get a bit stale and dry before rescuing this ‘lost bread’ (pain perdu, the French call it) by saturating it in vanilla-scented milk and eggs before caramelizing it in some butter, brown sugar and spices. I haven’t made French toast in years, and as it sat there bubbling stickily in the pan, wafting the scent of caramel, cinnamon and dough through the kitchen, I cursed my negligence.
Of course it’s delicious. The inside is tender and gooey, the outside crisp and caramelized, scented with spices and brown sugar; I love the texture contrast that comes with every mouthful of French toast. It’s very rich, though, so I served it with a simple mixture of blood oranges and sharp berries (though my oranges were definitely not as bloody as I’d like them to be, in terms of aesthetics), plus a dollop of milky ricotta to balance the sweetness. I was right: milk bread makes amazing French toast, buttery and sweet and gloriously tender.
It was luscious and probably the most decadent brunch I’ve cooked for a while. I swore I wouldn’t have any lunch to justify consuming it all. This obviously didn’t happen. And I’m not even sorry.
Milk loaf French toast with blood orange and berries (serves 2):
- 4 slices of milk loaf, brioche or white bread (a few days old is best; if you use fresh bread you’ll need to leave it in the milk for less time)
- 250ml milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- A pinch of salt
- 20g butter
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- A grating of fresh nutmeg
- A pinch of ground cinnamon
- 2 blood oranges
- A handful of raspberries and strawberries
- Ricotta, to serve
Whisk together the milk, vanilla, eggs and salt and pour into a shallow dish. Lay the bread in a single layer in the mixture and leave for around 10 minutes, then turn over and leave for another 10 – it should have absorbed almost all of the liquid.
Meanwhile, slice the skin off the oranges with a sharp serrated knife and then slice the segments away from the membranes of the fruit into a bowl. Squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl. Stir in the raspberries. Quarter the strawberries and add to the bowl. Stir and set aside.
In a large, non-stick frying pan, heat the butter over a medium heat until melted then swirl to coat the pan. Sprinkle the sugar and spices evenly over the butter. Place the bread in the pan and let it sizzle and caramelize for a few minutes, then flip over (check by lifting with a spatula to see if it’s lovely and golden brown on the bottom before flipping) and cook for a few minutes on the other side.
Divide the toast between two plates, spoon over the fruit and its juices and serve with a dollop of ricotta on the side.