french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears

french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog
‘I am not a chef and have never been. I am a home cook who writes about food. Not even a passionate cook (whatever one of those is), just a quietly enthusiastic and slightly greedy one. But, I like to think, a thoughtful one. Someone who cares about what they feed themselves and others, where the ingredients come from, when and why they are at their best, and how to use them to give everyone, including the cook, the most pleasure…

The art of crafting something by hand – a sandwich even- for others to enjoy is something I can always find time for. Making a dish over and over again till it is how you want it, whether a loaf of bread or a pasta supper for friends, gives me a great deal of pleasure…[i]f we follow a recipe word for word we don’t really learn anything, we just end up with a finished dish. Fine, if that’s all you want. Does it really matter how you get somewhere? I don’t think it does. Short cuts are fine, rule breaking is fine. What matters is that the food we end up with is lick-the-plate delicious.

Let us never forget that we are only making something to eat. And yet, it can be so much more than that, too. So very much more.’
(Nigel Slater, Notes From The Larder)
french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog
french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog
french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog

french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog
French Toast with Bittersweet Chocolate and Pears
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

8 slices brioche (or challah, or good white bread will work, too)
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for the pan
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
a few ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped (I used a vegetable peeler)
sautéed pears (recipe follows) (optional)

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees, and arrange the bread on a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and bake until the bread is slightly dry, 15 minutes or so (alternately, you can also leave the bread slices out uncovered overnight, which will help then dry). Remove the bread from the oven but leave the oven on, with the pan still inside.

Melt the butter and let cool slightly. When it has cooled a bit, whisk the egg and butter together until well combined (if the butter is too hot, the egg may scramble, so make sure it is warm, not hot). In another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the half and half, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add butter-egg mixture, and combine. Slowly add the flour and whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into a shallow dish.

Melt some butter (about 1 tablespoon) in a 12 inch cast iron pan (a non-stick skillet will work, too) over medium heat until it is just beginning to brown, and swirl the butter in the pan to coat it. Soak two pieces of bread in the batter while the butter is melting (about 30 seconds per side), allowing any access batter to drip off back into the dish, and put the bread in the hot pan. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer the toast to the wire rack and keep warm in the oven. Repeat until all the bread is cooked.

Remove the baking pan from the oven, and sprinkle the grated bittersweet chocolate evenly over the toast, as much or as little as you’d prefer (I’ll just say I started out with a little bit, and ended up going back and adding more. I liked my slices covered well). Serve with maple syrup and whipped cream, or warm, sautéed pears.

Sautéed Pears
4 large pears (I used Barletts), sliced
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey or sugar

Melt the butter and honey together in a cast iron skillet (I used the same skillet I had made the French toast in – just made these quickly while the toast was warming in the oven). Add the pears and cook until soft and beginning to brown slightly, 3-5 minutes (the time will depend on how ripe your pears are). Serve on the French toast warm.
french toast with bittersweet chocolate and pears | the vanilla bean blog

  • Reply
    Pamela @ Brooklyn Farm Girl
    Monday, October 28, 2013 at 10:37 am

    If I knew this would be at the table for breakfast I wouldn’t mind waking up so early! Beautiful!

  • Reply
    Claire @ The Black Cat Kitchen
    Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:56 am

    What a beautiful recipe. We have a pear tree and every year I’m looking for stacks of recipes to make the most of them. This looks absolutley perfect for my next Sunday brunch! Can’t wait!

  • Reply
    cucee sprouts
    Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Sarah, have you ever made your own Vanilla Extract. I used a recipe from a cookbook and it was so much better than any vanilla that I have ever purchased!!! Here is the recipe, in case you or your readers want to try it

  • Reply
    Monday, October 14, 2013 at 6:13 am

    Nigel Slater is always so right isn’t it? A perfect quotation to go alongside this wonderful dish.

  • Reply
    Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Brilliant post – sometimes I think, as food bloggers, we put too much pressure on ourselves for the sake of our blogs, it’s easy to forget about the simple bliss that comes from working in the kitchen.

    This French toast looks exquisite!

  • Reply
    Sarah Crowder (punctuated. with food)
    Friday, October 11, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Beautiful passage. And photos. They look like they were taken at breakfast! I love that it’s decadent but not too much so.

  • Reply
    Friday, October 11, 2013 at 2:11 am

    That quote is perfect. (I love that Nigel.) And kinda something I mulled over lots during my own cookbook process. Chef vs home cook. I think my boundaries around that one got a little confused for a bit there, but perhaps I had to get confused to find clarity. And french toast. The best.

  • Reply
    Melissa@Julia's Bookbag
    Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Ok, do you know about my DEEP and CRAZY love for all thing Nigel Slater cookbook related?? I’ve been waiting and waiting for this cookbook to come out. Oh you made my day. I have ‘Tender’ and ‘Ripe’ but it was his first ‘Kitchen Diaries’ book that really changed the way I see preparing food. Over the summer I also read his book about his childhood. I just adore Mr. Nigel. Thank you for this recipe, can’t wait to try!! xo

  • Reply
    Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 10:02 am

    oh my. i don’t even know what to say. delicious.

  • Reply
    Emma Galloway
    Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 9:57 am

    ‘just a quietly enthusiastic and slightly greedy one.’ Hehe, love that line! Go Nigel! And absolutely stunning pics, as always love xx

  • Reply
    Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Your beautiful words certainly resonate with me. A lovely post as always, Sarah.

  • Reply
    Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 7:36 am

    What a wonderful way to describe home cooks. You’ve inspired me to read more of Nigel Slater’s work.

  • Reply
    Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 6:15 am

    Fabulous quote. I love Nigel Slater’s recipes.

  • Reply
    Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 3:32 am

    I love this quote from Nigel Slater – incredibly humble (almost too much it feels) and a great reminder to note take ourselves too serious!

    It’s been far too long since I last ate French toast and your post is such a beautiful reminder to remember to make this sometime soon!

  • Reply
    Beth | {local milk}
    Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    What a comforting quote. My dad (though he’s gotten better) used to, in his enthusiasm, tell people I was a chef. My face would get red, and I’d be like no! no! I’m a cook! A *home* cook!

    I am & always will be a cook. And what a wonderful thing to be. I’m so grateful for chef’s, but I’d never want to be one. The humble alchemy of cooking is forever a source of wonder, even toast. How lucky are we that people have to eat every day! Your work is beautiful as always. I don’t know what you do…but your photos are always so perfectly rich while still being calm & clean. Really. This is going to sound like a weird compliment (but it’s a big one!): you work never irritates OR bores me! : )

  • Reply
    Mallory @ Because I Like Chocolate
    Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Breakfast or dessert, this sounds amazing! I’m all for chocolate with french toast!

  • Reply
    Sarah | The Sugar Hit
    Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Poires belle helene french toast. Yum.

  • Reply
    Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Great passage—a good reminder to pick this up. Nigel Slater’s just the best sometimes, isn’t he? Just looking at this French toast makes me feel as warm inside as that passage does. I love the flecks of dark chocolate.

  • Reply
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    I love the way you describe yourself as a “cook”…not snooty or pretentious…just you. Also, I really like the pears in this french toast! Delicious!

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