The title is a mouthful, I know. For someone that’s most comfortable cooking intuitively and without any measurements, writing recipes with precise instructions is hard enough. But over the years I’ve managed to maneuver my cooking style to fit that in. What I find harder, is writing recipe titles: I want it to be descriptive enough to tell the reader what it is without having to scan the recipe, while at the same time concise enough to not have it run into pages. Clearly not my forte (yet. I’m holding out hope).
While we’re on the topic of titles – this is a French toast ‘bake’. Casserole style and baked in the oven. Not cooked in the pan like a regular French toast. You have the standard milk-egg-sugar base, but spiked with orange zest and juice. Because cranberries and oranges? Best pairing. The bread should be sturdy and crusty preferably. Since the bread doesn’t just get dunked into the egg mixture but sits and soaks in it, a sturdier loaf would hold up better. It won’t disintegrate and fall apart. (A sodden sandwich loaf might not be ideal but it’ll still work. It might look like a sloppy mess after soaking, but it’ll cook up okay.)
The soaking part is crucial though. If you were just dunking one slice of bread in the egg mixture and frying it like a regular French toast, it’s easy to get it to stay moist within. Here the bread is layered one on top of the other and cooked together. The only way you’d get a moist, custard-y interior is if the bread slices held on to enough liquid. Light dunking won’t do; the bread needs to be soaked for at least 20 minutes. (You could do this up to 8 hours in advance. Just assemble it the previous night and keep refrigerated. The next morning pop it into the oven and bam, breakfast sorted.)
The upside down part is this: we layer on cranberry compote at the bottom of the baking dish. The soaked bread goes on top and gets baked until golden and crunchy. To serve, you cut a nice big wodge and upturn it onto your plate to reveal the glorious jammy cranberries on top. The compote couldn’t be simpler: cook down cranberries with honey just until they start to burst open and thicken. Cranberries are naturally high in pectin—the natural fiber present in fruit that’s responsible for giving jams their ‘set’—which means you don’t need to cook the heck out of the berries to thicken them. Shorter cooking time = fresher tasting compote.
In my quest to think up as many variations of French toast as I possibly can, I thought – if you can top cooked fruit with pastry, bake it and then upturn to serve (Tarte Tatin), why not do the same thing with bread?! I contemplated cooking this in a cast iron pan and upturning the entire thing onto a plate, but realized this was so much easier. (Fine, I chickened out.) Looks deceptively hard but it’s as simple as making regular French toast and a compote. And you don’t even have to stand around the stove frying it one by one.
UPSIDE DOWN CRANBERRY-ORANGE FRENCH TOAST
- 200 grams fresh/frozen cranberries (see notes)
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 30 grams unsalted butter
- Honey/maple syrup, to serve
- 6 slices of bread (see notes)
- 1 orange
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- First soak the bread: zest and juice the orange. Add to a large bowl and whisk in the eggs, milk and sugar. Cut up the bread into large chunks and add to the bowl. Toss the bread through the egg mixture using your hands. It’s fine if some pieces fall apart while you do this. Set aside while you make the cranberry compote.
- If using fresh cranberries use as is. If using frozen: add to a bowl of water and rinse. Squeeze out and add to a pot. No thawing necessary.
- Add honey to the cranberries and cook over a medium heat. You want the berries to start breaking down, get jammy and thicken slightly. Stir a few times to make sure they don’t catch at the bottom. This took me 7-10 mins. (note: take off the heat when the berries start to burst open)
- Butter the bottom and sides of your baking dish. Spread the compote at the bottom of your dish. Top with the soaked bread. Pour over any remaining egg mixture from the bowl.
- Pinch tiny knobs of butter with your fingers. Dot them around the top of the bread layer. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 15 mins. Bake uncovered for a further 25-30 mins. Oven temps may vary so bake until the top layer gets golden and crunchy.
- To serve, cut a piece and upturn for the cranberry layer to be on top. Drizzle over more honey/maple syrup. Serve immediately.