We took a trip up to San Francisco last month to see some pals and to get our food fix. There is so much to miss about the Bay Area food scene. I stuffed myself silly with tea leaf salad from Burma Superstar and waited patiently to taste as many sweet treats as I could stuff into a picture-perfect white pastry box with gleaming, gilded text from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. We had a slow and fabulous meal with good friends and amazing wine at NOPA and even knocked back a couple of brews at Lost and Found in Oakland. I still feel full, but I am already ready to go back.
The last stop before heading down the 101 was a second trip to one of my favorite SF bakeries, The Mill on Divisadero. On our pit stop, I spotted the man, the myth, the legend; Josey Baker (his real name). Josey is a bread guru and the baking genius behind the famous $4 toast phenomenon (it’s worth every pretty penny, I promise).
I saw him casually stocking the shelves with loaves upon loaves of fresh baked golden goodness, and I felt myself nonchalantly gravitating towards him, hoping to talk shop for a minute. But, the moment I got close I tightened up like over-worked bread dough. My mind went blank and all I could muster was something like, “Ummmm, hi. I lurve yo bread”. What?!
I was completely star struck, and I’ve been kissed by Johnny Depp, people! (I was 12 and wearing a B.U.M. Equipment t-shirt at the time, but it still happened!) I think it was just the intimidation factor. This guy really knows his grains, flours and yeast. Of course he was the nicest dude ever and he even called me “sweet”. I left blushing and inspired. It’s incredibly motivating to see good-hearted, talented folks chasing their dreams and making the world a better tasting place.
Our trip to The Mill resulted in an overstock of bread that we couldn’t eat fast enough. So, I froze a couple loaves to enjoy later on. Last week, I had a hankering for Coconut French Toast and as we all know, French toast is nothing without good bread. You’ve got to start with a handmade artisan loaf and build from there. The bread should be soft but sturdy and sliced thick enough to eat like a meal.
I had a loaf of The Mill’s Wonder Bread still waiting patiently in my freezer, waiting for it’s time to shine. When I bought the bread I was thinking it would be a classic white loaf, but to my surprise it is actually a blend of bread and whole wheat flour with a sourdough culture. The sourdough brings a delightful tang and heartiness. I worried that it might not work with the Coconut French Toast, but it paired perfectly with the crunchy, toasty coconut, bright berries and mildly sweet coconut nectar.
I began by slicing the loaf into 3/4″ – 1″ thick slices. You don’t want the bread too thin or it will be soggy and floppy. Then I made a custard by combining the eggs with cream of coconut in place of cream. It subtly reinforces the coconut flavor with a rich and thick creaminess and an ever so slight sweetness. A splash of vanilla, a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg bring warmth and depth to the custard.
The bread then takes a good bath in the custard, has a nice roll in the hay with the coconut flake, then goes straight into a hot buttered skillet. It’s important to get the temperature just right. You don’t want to burn the coconut but rather toast it while the custard soaked bread cooks all the way through. I found that the lower end of medium worked well for me. The result is a toasty, crispy exterior and a soft velvety interior. Top it off with some fresh berries, a drizzle of coconut nectar, and breakfast is served.
- rustic loaf of bread - sturdy with a soft interior - six 3/4" - 1" thick slices
- large eggs - 4
- cream of coconut - 3/4 cup
- pure vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon
- cinnamon - 1/2 teaspoon
- nutmeg - 1/4 teaspoon
- unsweetened coconut flake - 2 cups
- fresh berries - 2 -3 cups
- butter - 3-4 tablespoons
- coconut nectar or maple syrup - to top
- Begin by slicing bread into six 3/4"-1" thick slices.
- Crack eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the cream of coconut, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk until a smooth custard forms.
- Place a cast iron skillet on stovetop and allow it to warm for a couple of minutes over medium heat while you prepare the toast.
- Spread the coconut flake in a baking sheet and set side. Dunk each bread slice into the custard mixture fully saturating both sides. Dip the custard covered slices into the coconut flake and completely coat both sides with coconut.
- Turn the burner down to medium-low(ish). You don't want the skillet too get to hot that it burns the coconut but warm enough that it toasts the coconut and cooks the bread throughout. It might take a minute to find your sweet spot.
- Melt 1 TB of butter in the skillet and coat the entire surface. Place 1-2 of the prepared bread slices in the skillet, depending on how much room you have. Cook each side until the coconut turns a deep golden color and starts the toast starts to crisp up around the edges, 3-4 minutes on each side.
- Repeat with all slices.
- Stack 'em hight and top with fresh juicy berries and a drizzle of coconut nectar and breakfast is served!