There’s something I discovered about The Hubs’ family last year: they really love bourbon. And really, they have a point: there is something extremely compelling about the scent alone that evokes all sorts of warm and woodsy mental images.
So, last summer, there was a family reunion out at one of his relative’s houses in Kentucky, just on the outskirts of bourbon country. We took some time to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery, which was the point at which I discovered The Hubs’ and his dad’s mania for good bourbon. I kind of fell in love with the stuff myself: I could pitch a tent in the aging room with all the barrels and live there quite happily for years, methinks. I wouldn’t need food or water or anything else in particular, really: I could just live off that aroma.
So here’s where my dirty little secret about bourbon comes in. I don’t particularly like to drink the stuff. I really, really wish it tasted as good as it smells, but for me it’s just like Scotch in that I’ll happy sniff up that aroma all day but wouldn’t think about, say, drinking it straight. The lone exception is the time my parents and I found ourselves in the midst of a twenty-car pile-up on the freeway between Phoenix and Tucson in the middle of a giant you-can’t-see-six-inches-in-front-of-your-face dust-storm known as a haboob, narrowly escaped death and/or serious injury three separate times, and somehow managed to get out of that version of hell without a scratch. Once we got home, you bet your ass I poured myself a generous helping of Maker’s straight-up. But I digress.
You may be wondering how I am able to enjoy the scent so much when you can burn your nasal passages pretty well when you go in for a sniff. I learned this trick at the Maker’s distillery: put your nose in the glass and then inhale through your mouth, not your nose. This has allowed me to enjoy that amazing aroma to my heart’s content and has been especially helpful during my pregnancy, since it’s not really cool to drink massive quantities of bourbon when one has a bun in the oven.
Cooking with bourbon is ideal for someone like me: it burns off that ouch-burning alcohol but leaves the warm, vanilla-y, woodsy flavor behind in whatever you add it to. So when I discovered at the end of August that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and that someone had compiled a list of recipes that used bourbon, I got really excited. I wasted no time planning out the first of our forays into a bourbon-soaked menu, and this amazingly delicious breakfast was the result. We’ll see how long we’re able to keep this up, since the end of my pregnancy is going to mean the end of cooking for a while, but hopefully we can get another couple of recipes made before that happy event!
Kentucky bourbon French toast with bourbon-triple-berry coulis and bourbon whipped cream
Adapted from The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook and the May/June 2003 issue of Cook’s Illustrated
This coulis recipe will give you one that has a taste of bourbon at the finish which prevents the coulis from being too fruity and cloying. You may want to make the coulis more bourbon-y than I did; if you opt to add more bourbon, reduce the water by a corresponding amount.
Feel free to play around with the whipped cream recipe as well. I eye-balled it when I made it this morning and loved it: it was less-sweet and more bourbon-y, but The Hubs would have preferred a more-sweet, less bourbon-y whipped cream. Make the cream to suit your personal taste. A little bit of bourbon goes a very long way, so err on the side of too-little when you’re initially adding it.
If you’re so inclined, make your own challah. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
has an excellent recipe that makes the best French toast I’ve ever had. For a commercial bakery, challah is a relatively-expensive bread to make (and thus they have to cut a few flavor-corners), so making your own is almost always better. You don’t have to do the fancy braid if you don’t want to, either: I promise that the Bread Police will not come knock down your door if you don’t have the time or inclination to shape the bread in the traditional manner.
For the coulis:
6 ounces fresh or frozen mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries), thawed with juices
3 tablespoons sugar
1.5 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon water
Pinch of table salt
For the French toast:
Several pats of butter, or cooking spray
5 whole eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup Kentucky bourbon
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 thick slices (3/4″ to 1″) of day-old egg-bread, like challah
For the whipped cream:
1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (or amount that suits your taste)
About 1-2 tablespoons bourbon (to taste)
Make the coulis: In a small saucepan, combine the berries, sugar, bourbon, water, and salt. Bring to a bare simmer and let cook until the berries are warmed through and the liquid is just slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Scrape the berry mixture into a food processor and puree very well until no chunks (other than seeds) remain, about 30 seconds. Empty the puree into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and press the puree with a spatula to force it through the sieve. Extract as much liquid from the seeds as possible, then put the strained coulis in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. The coulis can be made up to four days ahead of time.
Make the French toast: Prepare your skillet or griddle by heating it to 350F. Pre-heat your oven to 200F and place an oven-save plate inside. In a pie pan or baking dish, beat together the 5 eggs. Whisk in the flour, and once well-mixed, beat in the milk, bourbon, sugar, and cinnamon. When your batter is ready, grease your griddle/skillet with the butter or cooking spray.
Using tongs and working in batches, dip the challah in the batter and flip it over. Let it soak for a couple of seconds for extra-custardy goodness. Put it on the griddle and let it cook until beautifully golden-brown, then use the tongs to flip it and continue cooking until the second side is also browned. Place the cooked French toast on the plate in the oven until ready to serve, and continue with your next batch until the bread is gone.
Make the whipped cream: While the French toast is cooking (or once you’re done with the French toast, if you’re not comfortable multi-tasking), put the powdered sugar in a bowl that is a lot bigger than you think it should be for such a small amount of whipped cream (or in the bowl of a stand-mixer). If needed, use the back of a spoon to break up any powdered-sugar-clumps. Pour in the cream and the bourbon (and remember that a little bit goes a very long way) and beat on medium speed with a hand- or stand-mixer. Beat until you have whipped cream, but stop before the cream breaks and you have butter. Taste and adjust the sugar and/or bourbon levels.
Serve the French toast with the coulis and whipped cream. Enjoy!