Creme Brulee French Toast with Strawberries (Dairy Free, Refined Sugar Free)
Years ago my dad and I were out to dinner. We had reached the dessert course of our dinner together, and thus had consumed a fairly significant amount of wine. Before the waiter was out of eyesight, I had cracked the top of the creme brulee and consumed every bite that included the crispy, sugary crust (I was young. I was horrible. I can’t promise I wouldn’t do it again.)
“What if,” my dad said, after he’d stopped writhing on the floor in depression and agony at the horrible daughter he’d raised, “there was a never-ending creme brulee restaurant? The waiter could just stand over you with a spoon, a torch and a little bowl. And whenever you eat your crust off, they just sprinkle on some more and re-brulee it.”
“I’m not sure re-brulee is a word,” I said confidently, the authority of four glasses of Zinfandel on my side.
“Because,” my father said, wisely ignoring me, “the brulee – ” he glared at the naked custard in the bowl between us, his narrowed eyes drifting to me, “is clearly the best part.”
And it’s true. The brulee is the best part. There’s little in the world that can’t be improved by a good caramelized sugar brulee – fruits, vegetables, ex-boyfriends with anger issues. And french toast. This is, hands down, the best french toast I’ve ever had. The brulee creates this wonderful, rich coating that cracks when you bite into before dissolving on your tongue. Counterintuitively, this recipe uses far less sugar than typical french toast – because the brulee top is evenly distributed over the whole of the toast, making sure each bite is loaded with wonderful, crackly sweetness, you don’t need to put sugar in the batter, and the maple syrup and powdered sugar typically used on top become irrelevant.
All of the sugar used is coconut sugar, too, which is a less processed form of sugar made from the dried sap of the flowers of the coconut palm. Unlike typical white sugars, coconut sugar is loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, all of which it retains during the very minimal amount of processing it receives. It also contains inulin, a fiber that slows down absorption, which results in a much lower GI than white sugar – about half! – meaning that it won’t spike your blood sugar, instead giving you sustained, moderated energy.
I also like to use sourdough bread for this recipe, for both its flavor and health properties. I don’t eat bread that often, but when I do, I prefer to use breads that are sprouted or sourdoughs, both of which are essentially processes that pre-digest the grain, making its nutrients more bio-available and far, far easier to digest. A white sourdough bread is, on the whole, much better for you than a typical slice of wheat bread, and it’s often one of the normal choices at restaurants.
Finally, I chose to top this with fresh strawberries, as I had a whole flat of them from a U-Pick farm I visited the day prior, but this toast would go beautifully with any fruit of your choice – blueberries, nectarines, plums, you name it. Or just eat it plain!
- 5 eggs, preferably pastured
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk of choice (I used coconut, which gives a heartier texture and a faintly sweet flavor, but almond would work really well too)
- 1 small loaf (about 12 slices) sourdough bread, sliced
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar (which you'll be using 1 tsp at a time, so 12 tsp)
- High heat oil, for pan-frying (avocado, ghee and coconut oil all work well)
- Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper on top and put inside oven turned to 200 degrees. Beat together eggs, milk, salt, and vanilla until very well combined, then place in a large bowl or baking dish (I use a big Pyrex for this, which works well); put in as many slices of bread as you can fit, pushing them around a bit so they're well saturated with egg mixture. Melt high heat oil in skillet over medium-high. Shake any excess egg mixture off bread and place in skillet, cooking for 2 - 3 minutes, or until edges on bottom side begin to lightly brown. While the bottom side is cooking, sprinkle 1 tsp of coconut sugar on the top side of toast; then flip toast so sugar side is down and cook 2 minutes more, or until the sugar is caramelized and that side is brown as well. Place in oven to keep warm until ready to serve; top with fruit directly before serving if desired. Makes 12 slices, or 4 servings.