Pain perdu

This recipe has been lifted wholesale from L’Espérance, a posh restaurant in Vézelay. The chef’s name is Marc Meneau, and he published it in his book Cuisine des Fêtes, from which I translated and adapted this dish. Juliet, my co-chef, rather liked it, and it featured regularly on the menu. When she left to run her own kitchen, she carried on serving it, and so did I. A review of my place subsequently accused me of stealing her signature dish. This highlights the ridiculous claims that are made about the invention of dishes: Marc Meneau gussied up a traditional rustic pudding with some caramel and a rich sauce; I recognised ‘eggy bread’ or French toast, and simplified it a little; and then Juliet put her personal spin on the dish. The journalist in question, ignoring the fact that almost every bread-baking culture has a dish that dips it in egg and sugar then fries it, decided that there was some sort of intellectual copyright on it. This is patently ridiculous. Virtually every dish imaginable exists and is enjoyed somewhere; if it doesn’t exist, then there is probably a good reason – like it is going to taste horrible.

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Ingredients

Bread

  • 100 ml milk
  • 100 ml double cream
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 4 slices Simple Brioche
  • 50 g butter

Crème Anglaise

  • 250 ml milk
  • 250 ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 75 g caster sugar
  • 4 egg yolks

Caramelised Apples

  • 3 apples (choose a good eating variety in season, Cox’s Orange Pippins are good all-rounders)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 50 g butter
  • 100 g caster sugar

Method

Making the Crème Anglaise

Put the milk and cream in a reliable saucepan and heat to nearly boiling point. Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape the seeds out and mix these with the caster sugar. Simmer the emptied pod with the milk and cream. In a bowl mix the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla seeds. When the milk and cream are hot, pour into the bowl, whisking thoroughly as you do.

Wash out the pan and return the custard mixture to it. Place the pan on a medium flame and cook, stirring almost continuously, until the contents start to thicken. Under no circumstances allow the custard to boil, it will curdle horribly, but don’t be too cautious, as nothing will go wrong until the temperature reaches 95°C/203°F. When the custard will thickly coat a metal spoon, pour it from the pan through a sieve into a bowl, and stir to reduce the temperature as rapidly as possible. Refrigerate until needed.

Preparing the Apples

Peel and core the apples, then cut into six segments. Marinate these segments in the lemon juice. Put a large frying pan over a high heat and melt the butter in it. When the butter is foaming throw in the apple slices and cook for 3 minutes, then add the sugar. Continue cooking until the apples start to brown. The apples may soften before the sugar is caramelised; if this is happening, lift them out and set aside in a bowl. Continue cooking the sugar until it is a deep brown, then pour this over the apples in the bowl. Set aside until needed.

Preparing the Bread and Serving

Warm four soup plates. Heat the custard very gently to taste, a bain-marie might be a good idea here. Heat the apples and their caramelised juices to taste. By ‘to taste’ I mean to an acceptable temperature for serving hot sugary food – all of us must have burnt our tongues when we were being too greedy for a hot pudding.

Mix the milk, cream and eggs together. Pour this mixture into a wide, deep plate and place the brioche slices in it. After 2 minutes or so, carefully turn the soggy slices to absorb the rest of the mixture. Heat a large frying pan on a medium flame, add the butter and, as soon as it has melted but before it colours, add the soaked, and fragile, brioche. Fry gently for 2 minutes on each side then transfer each slice to a soup plate. Pile the apples on each slice, pour a little custard round the side and spoon the caramelised juices evenly between the portions. Serve the remaining custard in a sauceboat or save for another dish.

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