“When I was a child, anytime my ma made French toast, she would top it with grape jelly and sour cream,” Melina Hammer explains in her new cookbook, A Year at Catbird Cottage. “Sounds bizarre probably—but playing the game of sweet-versus-tart/savory, it was also delicious.” She’s carrying that tradition forward and taking it to the next level with her recipe for pillowy French toast with wild blueberry compote. It’s paired with a blend of crème fraîche and thick yogurt for even more richness.
“Do not skimp on double soaking the bread,” she advises. “This step produces toasts that are lush and moist all the way through, an excellent textural contrast once they are well caramelized in the pan.”
So…brunch at your place, or ours?
Reprinted with permission from A Year at Catbird Cottage: Recipes for a Nourished Life. Copyright © 2022 by Melina Hammer. Photography Copyright © 2022 by Melina Hammer. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Wild Blueberry Compote
4 cups wild blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup granulated sugar
Juice from ½ a lemon
Pinch kosher salt
½ cup full-fat buttermilk
½ cup half-and-half or heavy cream
Finely grated zest from 1 orange, plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed juice (see Note)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch kosher salt
½ cup crème fraîche
½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
Eight ½-inch- thick slices challah, cinnamon or brioche bread
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon salted butter, plus more as needed for pan and to serve
8 to 10 tablespoons Wild Blueberry Compote
1. Make the compote: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and salt to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture is bubbling, mash some of the berries using the tines of a fork or a potato masher and turn the heat down so that the mixture simmers. The berries will express more juices as they cook, but this gives them a head start. Reduce the heat to low as needed to avoid scorching the compote.
2. Simmer, reducing the liquid by a third or until somewhat thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Spoon the compote into three or four half-pint jars and cool to room temperature. Seal and refrigerate for up to three weeks, or use a hot-water canning process for 15 minutes.
3. Make the French toast: In a shallow baking dish, use a fork to whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, half-and-half, orange zest and juice, cinnamon and salt. In a bowl, combine the crème fraîche and yogurt and whip together until silky and uniform. Place in the refrigerator while the French toast cooks.
4. One at a time, dip the bread slices into the egg mixture to coat. Puncture the bread a few times with a fork, turn to the second side and repeat. Transfer the slices to a plate as you work, stacking one on top of the next.
5. Place a wire rack on top of a sheet pan on the top rack of the oven, and preheat it to 180°F.
6. In a large nonstick skillet, heat half the oil over medium heat. Add half the butter. As it foams, dip three bread slices into the egg mixture, piercing each with a fork again and turning once, then carefully transferring to the pan to cook, three slices at a time. Repeat dipping and cooking slices in batches until deeply golden brown on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes total per batch. Add a small additional drizzle of oil or dab of butter if the pan looks dry, tilting the pan to coat as the fats sizzle. Lower the heat as needed so as not to burn the toasts while they cook. Transfer the finished toasts to the oven as you cook the remaining batches.
7. To serve. divide the French toast among the plates. Dollop the crème fraÎche mixture, then swirl the blueberry compote on top.
Note: Zest the citrus before you juice it—it is much easier to hold onto the fruit before its juice has been squeezed.