BREAD AND NO BUTTER
What the heck do Parisians do with all that extra bread? Eat anywhere in Paris, a bistro, a brasserie, a fine restaurant, a cafe, or a private home, and a basket of thickly sliced baguette is as important to the table setting as cutlery. Not a skimpy 3 or 4 slices, but piled high. No butter. No olive oil. The bread is so good it stands alone. No bread plates, either. A few eateries run by the cool new chefs whose cutting edge menus use the classics as a jumping off point, serve butter beside their bread basket.
The basket is passed with pate, with the main course, with the salad course, with the cheese course. The basket never goes empty. It’s constantly restocked.
The baguettes are so uniformly beautiful that I swear they are from the same place. Golden and crisp on the outside, tender with a large crumb and air holes inside. It’s just the standard. One night I sat down at a brasserie on Rue Cler, known for its flower and vegetable markets. A waiter plunked down a basket of bread that could have come from an American supermarket bakery. I left. Found a much nicer place a few doors away.
The question still stands. No one could eat all that bread. Especially at home. At home, they turn it into a variety of dishes. Two in particular. Onion soup. Onions cooked for hours until sweet, good stock added, then slices of yesterday’s baguette topped with cheese and slid under the broiler. And then, there’s lost bread, pain perdu, never called “stale” or “day old” as we do in the USA. It’s yesterday’s baguette dipped into eggs – eggs are very big here – and fried until golden. Then crowned with confectioner’s sugar. We call it French toast. And to make it authentically, I use a baguette.
PAIN PERDU – FRENCH TOAST A LA MARION CUNNNGHAM
This is based on my favorite American recipe from Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast book. I changed up the American white bread for the French baguettes.
3/4 cup milk, light dream, or heavy crem
salt, to taste
12 slices from a day old baguette
1/2 stick butter
- Whisk together the eggs, milk, and salt in bowl until well blended. Strain through a sieve into a shallow bowl.
- Dip both sides of the bread into the batter. I like to just leave them in to soak, turning from time to time.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a very large skillet. I like to use a stick-free skillet or a good heavy stainless one, like All-Clad. Fry the bread over medium-high heat until golden on each side. Try to only turn once. Do this in batches. Keep the cooked slices warm on a sheet pan in a 250 degree oven. Serve warm sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or with small dollops of butter melting over each one.