Spring break started this week and I’ve come prepared: I stocked up on the basics for the ultimate French toast, to treat myself and my loved ones to the most lovely leasurely breakfast.
Ever since I was little, my mum made the best French toast – and so she still does. I don’t know if it’s that blackened old pan that does the trick, or a special mum-knack, but every single slice she bakes turns to golden, crisp perfection. So you can imagine, that when I started looking for a vegan alternative, my standards were set high.
It did take quite a bit of trial, error and frustration, though, before I could wholeheartedly list vegan French toast amongst the blissful brunch options. Traditional French toast is soaked in a sweet and cinnamon-y milk and egg mixture and what makes it so good, is that when fried, the egg glaze turns crisp on the outside of the toast, while thickening to a creamy custard in the centre. Replacing the milk with a plant based alternative is the easy part, but making egg-free French toast without it feeling lacking something poses more of a challenge.
Many of the recipes out there simply leave out the eggs, or replace them with chia seeds. Though this delivers toasts with the right flavour, in my view they don’t have that crisp and luscious texture that will lure me out of bed on a rare lazy morning. I recently bookmarked a promising recipe using tofu to replace the eggs, and another one using mashed bananas, but before trying this, I wanted to have a go with that magic ingredient which makes so many baked goods so much better: homemade pumpkin purée. As I have already been using it as a base for fluffy cinnamon buns, muffins and cakes for ages, I feel a bit foolish for taking so long to let it loose on French toast. Because the result is amazing – I will even venture to say: better than the original.
Whisking plant based milk with spices and fresh pumpkin purée makes a naturally sweet batter which not only gives the toasts a wonderful flavour, but also that perfect golden crisp exterior and fluffy feel. You can combine it with any kind of bread to make French toast, as long as you make sure the bread is slightly stale, as its firmer texture will hold up better after absorbing the added liquid. Thickly sliced ciabatta, baguette or regular sliced bread all work well, but when I’m feeling fancy and up for a real treat, I use a crusty loaf of sourdough which I let go stale especially for the occasion.
In my house, pumpkin or butternut squash purée is a staple ingredient. I use lots of it during the year, to make soups, sauces, gnocchi and baked goods, so as part of my meal prep I regularly make a new batch, using this easy recipe. And I’ll admit that since some time now I keep portioned batches in the freezer especially for making French toast. Simply take one out to defrost ovenight, mix it in the morning with milk, vanilla and other spices to your liking and your toast will be ready in under 15 minutes.
The fun part comes in the flavouring and topping. You can keep it traditional with just a little cinnamon and vanilla added to the batter, and some brown sugar on top. Alternatively, you can vary the choice of spices and toppings following the seasons and your mood of the day. Turmeric and orange zest make a lovely and warming addition, whereas adding one or two teaspoons of instant coffee granules to the mixture gives the toasts some extra punch.
For this particular batch I flavoured the batter with a fragrant pumpkin spice mixture made up with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and a generous dose of cardamom. This pairs wonderfully with the different kinds of winter citrus widely available at the moment, so making the most of them, I stacked on as many as would fit. A dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of maple syrup and a coffee on the side and you’ll find yourself in French toast heaven.
Pumpkin spiced French toast with yogurt and citrus wedges – serves 4
- 8 slices of stale crusty sourdough bread, each 2 cm thick
- 230 g pumpkin purée
- 2 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cardamom
- generous grating of nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 230 ml unsweetened almond milk
- sunflower oil or rapeseed oil, for frying
- fresh citrus fruits: blood oranges, regular oranges, grapefruits, satsumas and/or tangerines, peeled and sliced
- 300 g tub of coconut yogurt
- a drizzle of maple syrup
- 2 tbsp. shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
- mint leaves
In a shallow dish, mix the pumpkin purée with the sugar, spices and salt. Add the vanilla extract and the almond milk and stir until smooth.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and lightly brush it with oil. Dip a slice of bread in the batter and let it soak for a few seconds, then flip and repeat. Take out the bread and let excess batter drip off, then place it into the pan. Repeat with a second slice, if it will fit in the pan. Fry the toast for 3-5 minutes per side, until browned and crisp. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining bread.
Top the toasts with coconut yogurt, citrus slices and a drizzle of maple syrup and serve, scattered with the pistachios.