Almond-Vanilla French Toast

Weekends grant us the time we need and desire to unwind from busy weeks. A weekend morning seems to demand a special kind of breakfast that supports an equally special mentality. It is our time to truly slow down and appreciate what we have around us. We have the leisure to sleep in late, while away hours in cozy jammies reading and chatting, roll lazily out of bed, and take our sweet, unhurried time to prepare the extraordinary kind of feast reserved for an indulgent, carefree morning.

I took advantage of this luxury last Saturday, when I had nowhere to be and no obligations to uphold. I had purchased a loaf of wonderful egg challah a few days prior, and I knew from that moment exactly how I would appropriate its rich, eggy sweetness in the weekend to come. As I soaked the pillowy bread into the custardy french toast batter, I held dear this time that allowed me not only the freedom  to create a sumptuous meal that I would share with my household, but also granted my loved ones and me the moments we would cherish in all their tenderness and simplicity.

The secret to well-prepared french toast is to really saturate the bread and to cook the toast at low heat for a long time. This allows all the eggs in the batter to cook fully through, so your finished product is a crispy, golden brown exterior and a creamy, custard interior. If you find you are reverting to your anxious, rushed weekday self and feel the urge to cook the french toast faster at a higher heat, just take some deep breaths. Appreciate the time you have to not be hyper-productive for once. Otherwise, you will end up with soggy, burnt bread, and that is the opposite of what our weekend morning is calling for.

This recipe is truly indulgent. The almond flavor in this french toast lends itself to a more complex and refined adult palate, and the high quantity of eggs in the batter deliver a consistency that will have you convinced that what you’re consuming is not french toast, but rather a fine crème brûlée. I’ve never been a fan of maple; I know, it’s sacrilege, you say. Instead, I like to make an easy sort of compote by mixing some fruit preserves of choice with water until it takes on a syrup consistency. I top my french toast with this fruit syrup, some fresh raspberries, and a dollop of mascarpone. Et voila! A truly decadent breakfast worthy of the most extravagant weekend morning. Now, scoot those cute little bunny slippers into the kitchen and get toastin’!

Almond-Vanilla French Toast

Ingredients:
Challah Bread – sliced 1/2 in thick
6 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup half n half
1/2 cup sugar
butter, butter, butter

Directions:
In a large, flat-bottomed mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, half n half, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and almond extract

Prepare the blackberry syrup by mixing about 1/4 cup blackberry jam with water until jam reaches syrupy consistency.

Crush raspberries with a potato masher. Add a sprinkle of lemon juice to maintain freshness.

Dip the challah slices in the egg mixture to soak. About 30 seconds on each side. Heat a flat pan or griddle on medium-low. Melt 1 tbsn of butter until it gets foamy in the pan. Lay flat the soaked challah slices in the pan and cook until golden brown on both sides.

Spread mascarpone on french toast. Top with crushed raspberries. Dress with blackberry syrup.

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Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Muffins

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I didn’t realize I liked banana bread until I started experimenting with vegan baking in college. Come to think of it, I didn’t realize I liked vegan baking, either. Vegan pastries are so stigmatized as being rubbery, tasteless, or otherwise undesirable, that I took it as a challenge when I became vegan to produce scrumptious desserts that would trick even the most adamant animal-free opposers.

It was an easy transition into my prankster phase because my friends were accustomed to my bringing sweets to events and gatherings, anyway. Once I started baking vegan recipes, I shared the goodies as usual, and not until after I received feedback about the treats would I tell my guinea pigs *ahem – friends* that what they had enjoyed so thoroughly was in fact vegan.

Breaking the vegan-conventional pastry border always managed to make me feel accomplished when I was just starting to experiment with animal-free cooking and baking. This particular recipe was the first vegan baking recipe I made, and it has been on my list of all-time favorites since day one. Now, as I sell my own vegan recipes in a real NYC cafe, I still feel a great sense of pride when customers tell me they enjoy the products I make from scratch. Amazingly moist and chocolatey, these animal-friendly muffins prove to the world that vegan can be delicious, whether you’re a meat lover or not.

Ingredients

4 super ripe bananas, smashed (brown, over-ripe bananas are perfect for this purpose!)
1/3 c. melted vegan buttery spread (I use Earth Balance)
3/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. ground flax
3 tbsp. water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (Guittard or Ghirardelli are both milk-free options)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a small saucepan, combine ground flax and water over medium heat. Stir until mixture takes on gelatinous consistency (about 1-2 minutes). Remove from heat. Set aside.

In a large bowl mash bananas. Mix melted butter into mashed bananas.

Mix in the sugar, flax mixture, and vanilla.

Mix in baking soda and salt.

Mix in flour.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Fill each cavity of a greased or lined muffin tin with approximately 1/3 c. of batter.

Bake for 18 minutes, or until muffin tops are cracked and golden brown and toothpick comes out clean of bread batter (note that chocolate chips will be melted, so chocolate on toothpick may be disregarded).

Let cool and enjoy!

Vegan Pistachio Cherry Muffins

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With each new year it seems my tastes expand, as I begin to enjoy things that I used to place in the I-wouldn’t-touch-that-with-a-ten-foot-fork category. Foods that I just didn’t like before are now becoming new favorites as I lose the sensitivities that made me so picky as a kid.

Among these new favorites is the pistachio. The green little buggers are a royal pain to get into, but I suppose that’s part their grandness: it takes a lot of work to crack them open, so eating the nutmeats once you do is more rewarding. Plus, as a snacking fiend who is well aware of her mindless eating problem, I’ll take any snack that requires some genuine effort and time before consumption is made possible!

My newfound love for pistachios has opened the door to so many tasty possibilities, and I seek them out wherever I can. And when I can’t find what I’m searching for, I make it myself.

Pistachios are naturally sweet, so I paired them with sour Montmorency cherries for a complex and nicely contrasting palette of flavors in this delightful muffin.

Vegan Pistachio Cherry Muffins

Ingredients:
2 c. white sugar, granulated
1 c. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. ground flax seed
6 tbsp. water
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. almond milk
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3/4 c. pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
3/4 c. pistachio kernels (see below for instructions on grinding)
3/4 c. dried, pitted montmorency cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 c. pistachio kernels, roughly chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Prepare a “buttermilk” by combining almond milk and apple cider vinegar. The almond milk will begin to curdle immediately. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Set aside.

To prepare the pistachio paste, place 3/4 cup of pistachio kernels in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process the nuts for 30 seconds and scrape down the side of the bowl. Process for another 30 seconds. Finished paste will have a dry, coarse consistency. You may process the pistachios for an additional 30 seconds if needed. Set aside.

In a small saucepan combine ground flax and water and heat over medium. Stir until mixture obtains gelatinous consistency (about 1-2 minutes). Remove from heat. Set aside.

Cream the sugar and oil in a large bowl. Add the flax mixture slowly, then the vanilla, beating until incorporated.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed sugar, alternating with the almond “buttermilk”, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and beating until just incorporated. Beat in the pistachio paste and fold in the chopped nuts and cherries.

Line a muffin tin with paper liners and spoon or scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin – fill each cavity to just below the top lip of the liner. Sprinkle remaining chopped pistachio kernels evenly on muffins.

Bake the muffins for 18-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool slightly before unmolding.

YIELD:  24 muffins