Morning is my favorite time to cook. Something about the way the light filters in through our kitchen window fills me with inspiration. I had bought a loaf of challah, knowing that I wanted to make French toast for Phillip, but I had no definitive plans. But I woke up last Sunday feeling restored and began rifling through my pantry and freezer to find things to put on top of my French toast that would be more interesting than just maple syrup.
I dug out the frozen bag of cranberries that I had squirreled away a few months ago when cranberries were everywhere. I pressed the sides of the pears sitting in my fruit bowl, determining that they were just ripe enough. And I eyeballed the fast-fading leftover Meyer lemons, blood oranges, and clementines that rested in the secondary fruit bowl. (Everyone should have more than one.)
Next, I was peeling, slicing, zesting, and squeezing all of the above ingredients into pans and bowls, making a righteous Sunday morning mess. This is how I worship: by handling the foods that will sustain me, yes, but that will, maybe more importantly, soothe me and prepare me for another Monday to come.
When I finally called Phillip to the dining room table to eat the breakfast, slightly cold, that I had been conjuring and capturing in the still morning light for the past hour, he good-naturedly rolled his eyes at my “sour sauce,” which is what he calls anything containing cranberries. I always think, wrongly, that one dish will make him a cranberry fan. He brushed off most of the compote, and doused his French toast with maple syrup, then helped himself to two more slices, saying, “I’m doing it. Eating a fourth slice. This is really good.”
I complained that he can’t call my recipe “really good” while simultaneously eradicating all traces of what make it unique. Otherwise, it’s just plain old challah French toast. He said that the French toast itself is good and asked what’s in it. “I don’t know. Cloves?” That’s the ticket, apparently.
“There is a time and a place for fruit,” said Phillip. “And that time and place is not on my French toast this morning.” And he shoveled another forkful of syrup-drenched French toast into his mouth. I spooned his discarded fruit onto my slice and thought about how we are star-crossed lovers, just like Romeo & Juliet, but with more breakfast-related drama. I gave Nolan a taste of a cranberry off my finger, and he grinned at me. Maybe I will win one over, yet.
- 2 firm ripe pears, peeled and cut into cubes (about 300 grams)
- 1 cup (100 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries
- 3 tablespoons (30 grams) light brown sugar
- ½ cup lemon juice (I used two Meyer lemons)
- zest from 1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- heavy pinch of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 loaf of day-old challah, cut into 12 thick slices
- 3-4 small oranges, sliced into rounds and peels cut off (I used a mixture of blood oranges and clementines)
- In a large saucepan, combine pears, cranberries, brown sugar, lemon juice, and zest. Cover the pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have mostly broken down, 10-15 minutes (the pears should still be intact). Set aside and cover to keep warm while cooking the French toast.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Melt ½ tablespoon of butter in a large skillet (or griddle) over medium heat.
- Dip three slices of challah into the egg mixture, coating both sides. Place slices into the pan and cook until browned on one side, 2-3 minutes. Flip the bread slices and cook until the other side has browned, about 2 minutes. Remove slices from pan and place on a platter, covering with foil to keep warm while you cook the remaining slices. Repeat this process with the remaining butter and bread slices.
- Distribute the Cranberry Pear Compote over the French toast. Arrange orange slices over the top and serve immediately.