French Toast Won’t Make Me Fat, Right? (Or How to Make Candied Pecan French Toast)

French Toast is more interesting with it’s stuffed with cream cheese and candied pecans. For real.

My dad’s mother, Agnes, was Finnish, and she was an excellent cook. She was a sweet, reserved woman, and she expressed her love for her seven children and their families by making meals for them. She passed away in April, and it’s a lasting regret of mine that I never had the opportunity to sit with her and copy her recipes.

I feel like a part of my culinary heritage has been lost. A piece of the past went to the grave with my Grandma five months ago….

I mean, she made her own pickles. How do I not have those recipes?!? (See more on my pickle obsession here. God help me if I ever get pregnant; I’ll probably hijack a Vlasic truck.)

I can remember visiting her as a kid and thinking she was some sort of magician because she knew how to make pickles. I was a city kid, so it was somewhat of a revelation that pickles came from cucumbers and not the Vlasic Stork.

I need to see if any of my aunts have her pickle recipes….

She also made thin Finnish pancakes that sort of resembled crepes and the most amazing Finnish Nisu bread. Nisu is similar to challah, which I also adore. They’re both sweet, egg-based breads and, honestly, I forget I’m trying not to be fat in the presence of both of those breads.

A good friend of mine brought me a loaf of challah left over from Rosh Hashanah, and after I decimated most of the loaf in one sitting, I decided to use the remainder to make French toast. I was in the mood for something with a little more pizzazz than the typical variety, so I decided to stuff it with cream cheese and candied pecans.

Why not, right?

In case you’re wondering… the why not came a few days later when I put on my don’t-you-dare-get-fat-jeans and discovered that I am indeed fat. I mean, I know I’m not really fat, ‘cuz the only other people more critical of their bodies are 16 year old girls currently residing in eating disorder clinics.

Whatever….

The rational half of my brain is telling the vain half of my brain not to freak out (too much). It has been murderously hot the last two months so my hikes have been shorter than usual. Plus I have been recipe testing all kinds of cupcakes, which you will see in the coming days.

OK, enough lamenting. Let’s just be happy and talk about egg saturated bread slathered in syrup.

This is how I made the French toast. I served it with real Canadian maple syrup and spicy sausage because I can’t have all sweet without some savory.

I think this would also be awesome with Trader Joe’s sweet and spicy pecans, by the way.

Challah French Toast with Candied Pecans
The portions are approximate.

2 thick slices of Challah
2 eggs
¼ C whole milk
½ tsp vanilla
4 T cream cheese, room temperature
8 candied pecans, finely chopped
whole candied pecans for garnish

2T butter
½ T vegetable or grapeseed oil

Whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish or pie plate. Tear a small hole in the center of the slices of challah (but do not tear all of the way through the bread) and place the bread in the egg mixture. Allow the bread to become saturated with the egg mixture. Flip the bread over allowing the other side to absorb the mixture.

In a separate bowl, mix the finely chopped pecans and the cream cheese together.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. (Adding oil to the butter will prevent it from burning too easily.)

Place the bread into the pan with the hole in the bread facing the bottom of the pan. After the pan side of the bread has become golden, flip the bread over so that the fully intact side is on the bottom of the pan. Spoon the pecan cream cheese mixture into the hole. Allow the second side to get golden brown.

Remove the bread from the pan. Serve with real Canadian maple syrup and garnish with additional pecans, if you wish.

Bread and Billy Ocean Make me Happy (Or How to Bake Bread from Scratch)

My mood rises with the yeast while baking homemade bread. True story.

The dogs and I live east of Lassie’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We border the beautiful homes in the Hollywood Hills to the north and incredible poverty to the south. Our neighborhood just might be a metaphor for LA, which is simultaneously a city of meteoric rises and epic devastation.

A graffiti artist has drawn his own “stars” on our sidewalk. They include “Greed,” “Silicone,” and “Cocaine,” among others. This city can really prey upon you if you don’t remember where you came from or what matters most. If you’re not vigilant, the so-called city of angels will bring you to your knees. Now, I’m sure there are other cities that are much the same, but this is the one I know.

If you have time management issues, the erratic traffic patterns caused by unexpected street closures, massive accidents, and mudslides will make you late for meetings no matter how hard you try to be on time.

If you covet other people’s possessions, you’ll see more glitz, glamour, and couture in one afternoon at the grocery store than an entire month on Pinterest.

Have issues with your appearance? You’ll be competing with Angelina Jolie to find a date for Friday night. (Well, maybe not Angie anymore because she’s busy with Brad or whatever, but you get the point.)

You’ll see the wealth and beauty, but you’ll also see the poverty and the pain. You’ll get to know the old lady picking through the recycling bins, looking for bottles she can return. You’ll meet the unemployed, uninsured man with cancer who panhandles at your freeway exit. You’ll talk to the blind gardener who is struggling to make a living. It’s all here, and it’s enough to break your heart if you’re paying attention.

Because I’m out walking the dogs every day, I see a lot. And I just can’t close my eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s not lost on me that some of the sad things I see regularly are all happening beneath the shadow of the huge Hollywood Sign looming overhead.

When I’m feeling extra sorry for myself for some trivial reason, I go out and do something nice for someone else. Nothing cures a bad mood like kindness – or a little Billy Ocean. Seriously, I dare anyone to savor a bad mood while listening to License to Chill. (Go ahead, try it. It’s impossible.)

So, anyway, last week I was mopey and needed a little bit of happiness in my life, so I broke out my mother’s homemade bread recipe and cranked up the Billy in my kitchen.

The recipe makes two loaves, and as much as I loooove bread, I was never going to eat it all. So, there I was with like two monstrous loaves of homemade bread. Rather than wiping out half of the available real estate in my tiny freezer, I decided to share it with some of my neighborhood buddies.

First, I took a few slices to Jerry up the street. Jerry sits in his walker on the sidewalk every afternoon wearing pajamas and purple sunglasses. He knows everyone in the neighborhood who stops to take the time for him. Some Friday nights the dogs and I sit on his steps and he has me look up World Series stats from the 1940’s on my iPhone, and the causes of death of all of the Hollywood greats. (I dig Jerry.)

“Did you bring your computer?” He’ll ask, and we find out what killed Gloria Swanson or who scored the winning run in the 1941 World Series.

Even though Jerry is not hungry or poor, he lives alone and he doesn’t have anyone to bake him bread.

I also brought a few slices to our new friend, Dan. Dan is in a wheelchair and lives in a Winnebago a few blocks away with his white Boxer puppy, General. We first met Dan and General because Albus simply had to stop and play with the tiny puppy tied to the door of the rusty old rig. (Even Woodley was nice to General, which was nothing short of a miracle.) He’s a sweet, skinny little pup, so we also brought him a bone and some dog food samples from the pet store up the street. Dan invited us back any time, so we’re going to make him our version of Stouffer’s veggie lasagna later this week. The Roos have also promised to share their homemade doggie popcicles with General. (I’ll post the recipe for both later.)

So, this is my life and the city I call home. I’m not telling these stories so people will pat me on the back. It’s just where I am at the moment, and I’m doing my best to make the most of it. So there you have it.

If you want to bake my mother’s bread, the recipe is below.

Like I said, it makes a lot. You can certainly eat it all. Or you can share it. It tastes good either way.

My Great Aunt Betty was a nightclub singer and a painter. When she passed away at 100 years of age, I inherited some of her linens (and her paintings). The bread is doing its thing under one of her pretty towels here.

My Mummy’s Brown Bread Recipe

1/4 cup, plus 1 Tablespoon honey, room temperature
2 Tablespoons yeast
3 Cup warm water, divided
1/4 Cup oil, room temperature
1 Tablespoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 Cup molasses, room temperature
4 cups whole wheat flour
4 ½ C of all purpose flour, divided

Mix together 1 tablespoon of honey, yeast, and ½ C of warm water. Let stand for 10 min.

In a separate bowl, mix together 2 1/2 cups of warm water, oil, salt, ¼ C of honey, egg, and molasses.

Combine the yeast mixture with the egg and molasses mixture. Add 4 C of whole wheat flour and mix for 7 – 10 minutes. Stir in 3 cups of all-purpose flour. Knead in 1 more cup of all-purpose flour.

Cover and let rise one hour. Punch down and knead again (with 1/4 cup flour). Divide into balls, cover, and let rest 10 minutes. Knead again (with an additional 1/4 cup flour). Shape into 2 or 3 loaves and put in pans greased with butter. Let the loaves rise for 30 minutes or until almost double in size.

Place the loaves in a cold oven. Set the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 and bake for 20-30 minutes. (If you are using glass pans, set your oven temperature at 375 and 325 instead.)

Slice. Slather with butter. Smile.