French Toast with Berry-Maple Sauce
During the 4 years I lived in Vermont, I developed a hunger for maple syrup and cool, crisp fall days. Come September, I always experience a deep longing for New England, and couldn’t resist an invitation to visit Nova Scotia in northeastern Canada last week. The weather there satisfied my yearnings, the crenellated coast line was dramatic, and the maple trees were just starting to turn red, purple, and gold. Lobster, mussels, and scallops were abundant, as were just picked blueberries.
We visited a maple factory where I learned that northeast North America is the only region in the world that produces maple syrup. Canada is responsible for 85% of that syrup, and Nova Scotia is one of only four Canadian provinces that are rich in maples. Maple syrup is graded according to its color. Canada, the US, and Vermont each use their own rating system, which can be confusing. For details of the classifications, click on this link and then scroll down to "grades", or for ease keep in mind that the lighter the color the milder in taste, the darker the more intense. One more tidbit I found interesting, the color of the syrup darkens as the harvest progresses, the lightest syrup being the first collected, the darkest coming at the end of the season.
I brought home a bottle of syrup and a flavor wheel that catalogues the aromas and tastes found in maple products. Using the wheel as a guide, I compared the dark, grade B syrup I keep in the refrigerator, which I have always liked for its robustness, and the medium syrup I carried back from Canada. The grade B was strong with burnt sugar, molasses, singed camp fire roasted marshmallows, and very dark coffee essences- excellent for cooking. In the medium syrup, caramelized sugar, butter, vanilla, light coffee, hazelnuts, and a hint of banana were detectable- ideal for pouring over pancakes or vanilla ice cream.
The next step was to create a dish that offered a memory of the trip. The end of summer berries at the Santa Monica Farmers’ market reminded me of the French toast with berry compote served on my last morning in Nova Scotia. I was staying at a small hotel, overlooking Mahone Bay, with views of so many tiny islands and a coast line so twisted, it was impossible to tell what was island and what was mainland. Images and tastes to revisit.
I simmered blueberries and raspberries in syrup just until they burst, producing a vibrant berry-maple sauce. Sunday morning, we ladled it over thick slices of creamy French toast. The next night, dinner with friends ended on a festive note with scoops of vanilla frozen yogurt festooned with the berry mixture, and Steve mixed the last traces into plain yogurt for one more breakfast treat.
French Toast with Berry-Maple Sauce
I liked the French toast equally well topped with a dollop of plain yogurt in addition to the bright, slightly sweet sauce.
Makes 2 servings, plus leftover sauce
½ cup milk, soy milk, or almond milk
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 ¾-inch thick slices country French bread (about 6” x 3”)
¾ cup pure maple syrup
2 cups (2 6-ounce containers) blueberries
1 cup (1 6-ounce container) raspberries
For the French toast: Place the eggs in a medium glass baking dish and beat with a fork to break up. Add the milk, syrup, vanilla, and nutmeg, and beat with a fork to blend. Add the bread and soak at least 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Combine the syrup and berries in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the berries begin to soften and release some juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat.
Warm a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Melt enough butter on the griddle to coat, and then add the soaked bread. Cook until golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the toast to warmed plates. Spoon the sauce and berries over and serve right away.
The berry-maple sauce is also delicious served with pancakes or plain yogurt for breakfast. For dessert, spoon the sauce over frozen vanilla yogurt or vanilla ice cream. It is good cold, room temperature, or warm.