When we moved from St. Louis, we knew we’d give up many things to which we’d grown accustomed. Seasons? See ya. Never thought I would miss a layer so much, but for about two weeks each October, I keenly pine for the cool temperatures that demand a cardigan and fashionable scarf. Staying present in the news cycle? Goodbye current affairs, possibly forever. Island life exists in a bubble, and I can’t say that I exactly miss the 24-hour news cycle that permeates the mainland. But what I actually lost sleep over, however, was the dearth of good bread.
Our dear friend and devoted Buttertooth reader, Shari, spun a tale of a Hawaii rich in island fruit, magical vistas, and amazing culture, but lacking in one capital category—bread. Now, our gal grew up in St. Louis, where a variety of food cultures vie for king of the carbohydrate (not an actual fight, but one I’d love to judge just the same). She also knew that, like her, bread might be one of the most—if not the most—important parts of any meal for us. So she worried. And we worried for ourselves. But though Honolulu might not boast as many contenders in the “Top Sourdough Loaf” or “Winningest Sandwich Bread” categories as St. Louis, several restaurants and bakeries have filled the void since our fair Shari last visited these islands.
One in particular is a French-inspired restaurant, La Tour, that has found immense success in farmers’ markets as well as a brick-and-mortar with a croque madame that leaves us breathless. They also inspired us to try our hand at homemade macarons rather than featuring store-bought for catered occasions, a fact we’re proud to tout to this day. Their bread, however, is worth every penny we spend. And, for Hawaii, it ain’t too much. The minute we know we need a baguette, we make a trip to weekend farmer’s market—and once there, in their little canopied tent, we can’t stop—flavors of bread like roasted garlic or cranberry walnut are too good to resist. So we don’t. Savory breads work as croutons in soup, and the sweet ones, well, we find a purpose for them even better than that.
Cranberry walnut is our favorite, and, though it stands perfectly on its own, it shines as a key figure in Micah’s French Toast (I secretly call it Micah’s French Toast Extraordinaire, but that’s because, when he makes it, I’m so happy that I add superlatives to everything for at least the next hour). He employs one key trick that I insist you try from now on when making any French toast—wait to add the egg until last, and taste up until that point. This way, you can ensure the most perfect and harmonious of custards in which to dip your bread. He also uses great ingredients like fresh orange zest and freshly scraped vanilla bean. Depending on what bread you use, you can surely mix these up a bit, but for the cranberry and walnut, the orange and vanilla are a stellar addition.
One last note on the bread—for our Hawaii readers, go out and get this exact loaf; it saves well and, frankly, the longer it sits, the better it holds the egg custard. In fact, you should really wait at least one day after purchasing the bread to make this dish, guaranteeing a perfect plan-ahead brunch. For readers elsewhere, look for a dense, Italian loaf—the more fruit and nuts, the better. I only insist that you don’t use sad, wimpy Wonder sandwich bread. Anything else will be great, as long as you add the egg last and taste as you go.
- 2 Cups half & half
- zest of 1 large orange
- ½ vanilla bean, scraped
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 1 loaf bread
- In a mixing bowl, combine half & half, zest, vanilla extract, vanilla bean caviar, and sugar. Whisk together.
- Taste mixture for preferred sweetness/flavor and adjust to liking.
- You don't want a bad egg in your custard, so, in a separate small bowl, crack the eggs one-by-one, & add to the custard. Whisk vigorously to combine and pour into a shallow dish.
- In a large, heavy bottomed skillet, melt butter over medium heat.
- Slice bread to desired thickness, and dip in custard. Flip bread in dish to ensure a well-soaked slice.
- Pan fry slices until golden brown, then flip to cook the other side.
- Serve with real maple syrup and diced fresh fruit.