All right, I’ll admit it, this isn’t technically a ‘bake,’ what it is is a decadent, naughty and lip-smackingly good way to start a lazy Sunday morning, especially, if like me, you’re feeling a bit shaky from the night before and need a sugar injection.
I’ve always had a sweet tooth. I love a bacon sandwich as much as the next person, but if it was a choice between a pile of lacy, buttered crepes with sugar and lemon and a poached egg it wouldn’t be a contest for me. It’s probably the result of having a dentist for a father, but apart from my mother, who has a quite serious Mini Egg addiction, my home wasn’t full of sweet breakfast fanatics growing up. There were, of course, illicit bowls of breakfast cereal that we used to have as treats at our grandparents. They used to fill us with mugs of sugary tea and sugar puffs and coco pops and then send me and my brother – thrumming on sugar highs – to sprint laps around the block of their Dorset bungalow in a never-ending fitness competition.
The first time I tired Pain Perdu, or posh eggy bread as it was presented to me at the time, I was at a school friend’s house. I loved staying there. I’m never sure if it was just the novelty of new food or the cook not being my mum, but I used to make excuses to be in the kitchen while she prepared food, hovering and making fruitless attempts to help as she wafted about chopping and seasoning and tasting. Looking back she was probably irritated by the little blonde girl getting under her feet in the kitchen, but I used to hope, with all my fervent eleven-year-old heart, that she appreciated the company as her own kids preferred to ignore her until any food was actually on the table and ready to be eaten.
One morning we were sitting around the table in eager anticipation of pancakes or waffles when she plonked down an earthenware bowl full of runny egg. As I watched she proceeded to push slices of bread under the slippery surface and drop them into a pan sizzling with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and then, after a few minutes, there was a golden-brown wedge of steaming bread on my plate, charred in some places and oozing butter in others in one, unctuous, sugary, fluffy mass. Ironically, despite the name, you never forget you’re first piece of Pain Perdu. It was heaven and since then I’ve been on a never-ending quest for the perfect forgotten bread recipe.
4/6 slices of old, stale bread, white or brown (depending on how hungry you are!)
100 g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
240 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp nutmeg
20 g unsalted butter
For the pears
3/4 ripe English pears, conference work well. This recipe is also great with oranges or clementines and bananas, use whatever you have in the fruit bowl.
50 g brown sugar, I use a mix of dark, light and fine muscovado for a caramel flavour. A mixture also helps to use up any odd little portions you might have lurking in the back of the cupboard
40g unsalted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
- Start by caramelising the pears to go on top of the bread. The start of this is very much like making a tarte tatin. Peel, core and slice the pears into chunky slivers.
- Pour the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon into a heavy-based saucepan and melt down.
- When it starts to bubble add the sliced pears and gently move around the pan to cover. Turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer so as not to burn the sugar and cook the pears in the caramel for about 4-5 minutes until tender.
- Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a deep bowl and whisk in the milk, caster sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Soak triangles of the bread in the egg mixture for 3-4 minutes until they have absorbed as much as possible of the eggy mix.
- Remove the pears from the heat and leave to keep warm in the pan.
- Heat the remaining butter in a griddle pan or shallow frying pan and, when it’s bubbling, add slices of the soggy bread, turning only when the griddle-side down piece is golden and crisp.
- Pop onto a plate or shallow bowl and top with slivers of sweet, sticky pear and drizzle with the pear juices from the pan.
Warning, this is a very sweet dish, if it’s too sweet for your palate you can halve the sugar in the egg mix.