Decadence: excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury

Creme Brulee French ToastI wish I could have had the opportunity to be Susan Campoy’s sous chef. Seriously! In 1985 she opened a restaurant called Julienne, and it’s definitely on my Top Ten list of places to dine. So, when I had the chance to cook breakfast for Curt’s co-workers, the Julienne’s cookbook was my first place to go.

Leslie the chefHow fortunate to have a fabulous sous chef to cook with! I bribed Leslie with a glass of pinot, and she graciously stepped in to assist.

Julienne’s Creme Brulee French Toast is the definition of decadent. I decided this just had to be on our menu.

French breadCreme Brulee French Toast with Creme Anglais and Fresh Fig Compote
Serves 8-12

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (I substituted real maple syrup)

Checking the caramelFrench Toast:
15 extra-large eggs
3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 1 1/4-pound loaf French bread, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices
Creme Anglaise (recipe follows)
Fresh Fig Compote (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish

To make the caramel: Whisk the brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until the ingredients are melted and well blended. Simmer until the sauce thickens and darkens, whisking occasionally, about 15 minutes. Pour the caramel into a 13x9x3″ baking dish and set aside to cool completely.

Caramelseparating eggsTo make the French toast: Whisk the eggs, cream, half-and-half, Grand Marnier and vanilla in a large bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the custard. Reserve the bean for another use (perhaps ice cream??!!)vanilla beans

Arrange enough of the bread slices on top of the caramel to form a single layer, trimming the bread to fit if needed. Pour half of the custard over the bread and gently press the bread to submerge it in the custard.

seeds from vanilla beansArrange a second layer of bread slices on top of the first layer, then pour the remaining custard over, pressing again to submerge the bread in the custard. Set aside for 1 hour to allow the bread to absorb the custard.

French breadDo-ahead: The French toast can be made up to this point 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. (If you do this, be prepared for a longer baking period, or better yet pull the dish from the refrigerator a bit early to bring to room temp before baking).

DSC_0081Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the bread pudding uncovered until it puffs in the center and becomes golden brown on top, about 45 minutes. Cut the bread pudding into squares and invert the squares onto plates so that the caramel side is on top. Spoon the remaining caramel sauce from the baking dish over each serving.

Under the broilerPour the creme anglais over each serving. Broil until the creme anglaise begins to brown in spots, about 1 minute. Drizzle the fig compote alongside each serving. Garnish with raspberries and serve. (I mis-read the recipe and placed the bread pudding under the broiler without the creme anglais, then poured the creme before serving .. it was still amazingly delicious!)

Creme AnglaisCreme Anglaise
You’ll find a million uses for this classic dessert sauce beyond this French toast: drizzle it over fresh berries, pair it with a chocolate flourless cake, or even pour it into an ice cream maker and churn it to make homemade vanilla ice cream.

Makes about 4 cups
1/2 cup sugar
10 extra-large egg yolks
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk

Combine the sugar and yolks in a large bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the sugar mixture. Reserve the beans for another use. Whisk the sugar mixture to blend well.

Heat the cream and milk in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. Remove the pan from the stove and whisk half of the milk mixture into the egg mixture in a slow steady stream. Slowly whisk the yolk mixture into the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan. Whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the custard thickens enough to coat a spoon, about 5 minutes (don’t overcook!). Strain the custard through a fine sieve and into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Do ahead: The creme anglaise can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Susan Campoy’s recipe calls for a fresh berry coulis to be served alongside the French toast, but since I had a few plump, fresh figs from my friend Nancy’s tree, I decided to make a simple fig compote.

Fig CompoteFresh Fig Compote
Makes 1 cup

1 pound fresh figs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons honey
Pinch of kosher salt

FigsCut stem off each fig, slice fig in quarters, and place in medium heavy-bottom saucepan. Add butter, brown sugar, and honey. Simmer until figs are tender, about 10-15 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently, until syrup begins to bubble.

Ruffoni Review

Ruffoni stock potNot everybody can afford an Aston Martin DB9, but when 007 drives one we all seem to have some form of envy, even though you know the bluetooth isn’t going to work, the navigation is gonna suck, and there are no cup holders to be found.  In a way, owning a Ruffoni pot reminds me of this.

Ruffoni stock potSure, the main line of Ruffoni that most of us can afford doesn’t have 2 mm thick copper, but who cares.  When you bring zuppa to the table in one of these babies, even the late Tony Soprano would shed a tear. Every kitchen should have a space for “style first” and “function second” .. and these gorgeous Ruffoni pots certainly have a prominent place in my collection.

Acorn handleWhen Curt and I were planning our kitchen remodel, we left space for the Ruffoni pots on the display shelf as I wouldn’t dream of hanging one on my pot rack! Not only are these pots beautiful, they are a pleasure to cook in.  If I’m making a pedestrian dish, say, chicken noodle soup, the 3 1/2 quart stock pot works perfectly.

I came across a relatively inexpensive 3 1/2 quart Ruffoni on eBay.  It was damaged in that it had a 2 “dimple” dent on the side, and a bent lid. Curt heated up the pot, took a mallet to the dents, and in no time it was ready to go.

Ruffoni - 11Recently we found this beautiful stainless steel braiser on eBay, with aArtichoke handle base made of hammered steel. There’s plenty of room for a LeCreuset and Mauviel to be jealous as they glance across the shelf to see the graceful leaf pulling away from the handle.  It has a fennel bulb for the top handle .. so interesting.

I admit .. I’ve gotten a bit carried away with the Ruffonis but my husband says it’s like having a couple of Sophia Lorens sitting on the counter.  We both appreciate fine beauty, and when it comes to performance, they’re good enough!

Having a copper stock pot is wonderful for dropping the temperature of a chicken stock quickly before it goes into the fridge.  Because the copper is so quick to react, it works perfectly for cooling stock.

Ruffoni - 02If you’d like to add a few of these Ruffoni beauties to your collection, keep an eye out on eBay as there are broke brides looking to sell!

If you can’t tell, I enjoy driving an impractical 470 horsepower-premium-only car and cooking in a drop-dead-gorgeous Ruffoni .. two of my favorite indulgences.

Ruffoni - 04I recently reviewed Baumalu pots.