When my sister visited two weeks ago we were exploring the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, and came upon The Spice House--which we smelled before we even saw. This store could best be described as my Pandora's Box, as I could probably conjure up an excuse to purchase each and every spice in the shop. Fortunately, you provided me with such an excuse for my first purchase!
Following your cinnamon announcement, I headed straight to The Spice House for some cinnamon education and purchasing. I learned that cinnamon sticks and the ground cinnamon we buy at the grocery are made from the bark of the cassia tree. Also available for cooking are the sun-dried buds from the cassia tree. The buds are pictured above, and basically look like whole cloves. However, they taste and smell flowery, sweet, and quite cinnamony. I left the store with four gigantic cinnamon sticks, an ounce of cassia buds, and a big smile.
Once at home, I delicately laid my purchases on the island in my kitchen and admired them all week, dreaming of wonderfully tasty and fragrant uses for them. I bought a bottle of wine to make mulled wine, then I considered apple cider, then I chatted with my friend Tasneem to determine the Indian method of using cinnamon in garam masalas and curries. Nothing felt right.
Then, on Sunday morning I crawled out of bed, bursting with happiness from an evening filled with champagne, Indian food, and my favorite dude. I had bought a loaf of fresh challah bread the day before at the market and, with cinnamon fragrance filling my head (and kitchen), I embarked on an inspired culinary experiment (the best kind). I mixed left over pureed pumpkin with ground cassia buds (cinnamon) and other spices; I whisked five eggs with more ground cinnamon; I sliced the challah in 1.5 inch slices; I carefully cut a hole in the side of each slice; I delicately filled each slice with the pumpkin mixture; I placed each piece in a dish to soak up the egg mixture.
The result: the best breakfast that has ever come out of my kitchen. C sensed the magic that was happening and insisted I use the whole challah loaf. Smart man: for two days, we have been eating the stuffed wonders for nearly every meal.
For a special breakfast, stuff your favorite fluffy bread (brioche would work too) with fall harvest flavors--and some fragrant, magical cinnamon too, of course!
And for next week's ingredient: coconut!
Cinnamon Spiced, Pumpkin Stuffed, Challah French Toast
1 cup soy milk*
3 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp dried ground ginger**
1/4 tsp dried lemon peel**
1/4 tsp nutmeg**
1/4 tsp cloves**
1/4 tsp cardamom**
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp brown sugar
2/3 cups pureed pumpkin (canned is fine)
1. Cut bread into 1.5-inch thick slices.
2. Cut a pocket into the side of each piece and set aside.
3. In a bowl, mix pumpkin with 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 tbsp brown sugar, and the remainder of the dried spices.
4. With a butter knife or your finger, carefully stuff the pumpkin filling inside the pocket in the bread.
5. In a large baking dish, mix the eggs, milk, 2 tbsp cinnamon, 1 tbsp brown sugar, and vanilla.
6. Set each slice of bread into the egg mixture, making sure each side is evenly coated. Turn each slice over so they're covered on both sides and then let sit for at least 5 minutes so the egg starts to soak into the bread.
7. Heat a large frying pan to medium high.
8. Coat the bottom of the pan with a liberal amount of olive oil or butter. Once the butter is hot, place your egg-coated Challah in the pan.
9. Lower the heat to medium or medium low and let the Challah sit for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom side.
10. Flip the Challah pieces and cook until the French toast is browned on both sides.
11. Finish cooking the rest of the egg-dipped Challah (adding more oil/butter between each batch) until finished.
*I always use soy milk in place of dairy milk. Don't hesitate to substitute the soy milk I call for in my recipes for the dairy milk you have in your refrigerator.
**In place of the individual spices, you can use a tbsp or two of "pumpkin pie spice mix," which you can find at Trader Joe's and other groceries.
Place the remaining spiced pumpkin filling in a small sauce pan. Add enough water to thin it out, and add honey or brown sugar. Stir until the consistency is smooth and the mixture is warm. Spoon or pour on top of french toast.