March 13, 2014

Crispy Coconut French Toast with Sour Cherries and Dark Chocolate

It seems as though every moment of my day, (when I'm not in the kitchen, skiing, or sipping on a delicious sour beer at my local pub) for the last few months, has been consumed with trying to find a house. I told myself that I was going to have a laid-back approach to the next chapter in my life, that I was going to give it time, not stress out, let things happen in a natural fashion. But, who are we kidding, I have gone into this with full force. Last weekend I lined up 5 open-houses. Brent was happy to partake in my adventures that day, and the sun was shining, and we both felt optimistic and happy about everything. We started out with a house that had a lot of potential, but then as we approached the for-sale sign, we realized that it, and the neighboring house that was also for sale, was too close to the busy 23rd street (which seems to be a theme here in the city). We took a peek anyways, just in case there was some sort of weird immediate connection, but the chipped paint, raggedy patio backing onto the busy street, and maze-like nature of the house, immediately turned us off of the whole thing. The neighbors house was in a similar state. A no-go.

We got into our car and decided to drive to Fremont, on the other side of the city. The sun was shining, and the air was warm for the first time in months. We had our windows rolled all the way down while we listened to KEXP (our local radio station) at full volume. It was playing something soulful, and I was really getting into it. We were feeling good. We stopped by another house on the way. It was on a busy street (again), but this time it included a run-in with a smarmy real estate agent wearing tightly fitted plaid golf pants, yammering on about things that did not interest me. We left uninterested, and continued our drive to Fremont. We pulled up to the house in Fremont, and it was pleasantly appealing. A hot tub with a view of the Olympic mountains, a great patio, a beautiful kitchen, but again, in between two busy streets. So, it's probably obvious by now that a big criteria for me is being away from a busy street. I have come to the conclusion that this may take a while.

After visiting the house in Fremont, we decided to ditch the last one on the list, because the day was beautiful, and we were becoming less motivated. Our bellies were grumbling, and we were now on a quest for some delicious food. We stopped at the Portage Bay Cafe in Ballard for brunch. We had previously been to the one in University District and we were really not that pleased, but the Ballard location is their landmark, and we were willing to give it a second chance. We were also starving and the options at the time were limited. We had a 30 minute wait, which is pretty typical for brunch on a Sunday. We stood in line, hunched over our coffee, skimming all of the delicious options on the menu. I had settled on something sweet, French toast, and Brent went with savory, as he always does. We finally got a seat at the counter, which was perfect for people watching. There were a few sweet options on the menu, but I went with the oatmeal cobbler French toast with house made challah, cinnamon custard, oatmeal-crumb crust, caramelized apples, and a vanilla créme anglaise. It was the most delicious French toast that I have had, in a while. I couldn't eat it all, so I boxed it up and ate the leftovers the next day. They were still as delicious. I was truly inspired, and set out on a quest to make my own challah, and a unique French toast recipe.

I have been using a lot of coconut-related products lately in my cooking - coconut oil, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Just last night, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of the silkiest yellow curry with tofu and fresh vegetables. I think my coconut obsession might have something to do with the seemingly long winter months and my desire for a well needed tropical-type vacation. So, clearly I was going to incorporate coconut into this French toast in some fashion. I decided to mix some coconut milk with eggs, for the French toast batter. I then dipped the slices of bread into some fresh shredded coconut. I choose a sweetened coconut, because that's what you do when you have a sweet tooth like mine.  I love how the coconut crisped in the sizzling butter, and how the middle of the toast stayed tender and delicate. The taste of coconut isn't over powering, just subtle and delicious. The day before I pulled this recipe together, I made a loaf of challah for the French toast. If I knew where to buy a good loaf of challah here in Seattle, I might have choose that option due to sheer laziness. I bought a bag of sour cherries last week, and I've been eating them on my yogurt in the mornings with a little sprinkle of homemade granola. I figured that I might as well continue this tradition, so I made a simple and sweet cherry compote for topping. I finished it all off with some shaved dark chocolate, because whenever there is an opportunity, I always add some dark chocolate.  And I topped mine with some maple syrup, because that's what I do.

makes 6 pieces of French toast
notes: If you are making your own challah from scratch, it would be ideal to make it the day before and then let it sit overnight. French toast is best when made using stale bread. I have included a recipe below for challah from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It is the only recipe that I've ever used, but feel free to use your favorite, or use store bought challah or brioche. Also, for convenience, make the cherry compote ahead of time. It will take around 25 minutes to simmer, and then additional time to let cool.

French Toast:
6 (1" thick) slices of challah bread
3 eggs
 1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups (1/4 cup per slice) shredded coconut
butter for frying

Cherry Compote:
2 cups (frozen or fresh) pitted sour cherries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar

dark chocolate, shredded
powdered sugar
maple syrup
whipped cream
To make the cherry compote, add 2 cups of pitted cherries, frozen or fresh (I prefer sour cherries for the taste, but you can use any cherry variety), 1/2 cup of orange juice, and 1/4 cup of white granulated sugar to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium heat, and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the cherries are soft. Strain the cherries from the saucepan, and continue to simmer the juices until thick, 15 - 20 minutes. Pour the juice over the cherries and then let cool.

In a large bowl, add the eggs, coconut milk, and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

Heat a frying pan on medium with enough butter to coat the pan.

Add a 1/4 cup of the shredded coconut, at a time, to a plate. Place a slice of bread into the egg and coconut mixture. Let it soak for a few minutes on each side. Remove from the egg mixture and then coat each side with a 1/4 cup of shredded coconut. (Once you have removed the bread from the egg mixture, add the next slice of bread to begin soaking). Place the slice of bread into the frying pan, and fry until golden brown, 2 - 3 minutes on each side. You can also fry 2 - 3 slices of bread at a time if you have a large enough frying pan. Add some more butter before you fry each slice. It helps with the browning.

Serve immediately with cherries and shredded chocolate, or keep the French toast warm in the oven at 200ºF until ready to serve.

makes 1 large loaf
recipe adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 tbsp (1 ounce) granulated sugar
1 tsp (.25 ounce) salt
1 1/3 tsp (.15 ounce) instant yeast
2 tbsp (1 ounce) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks + 2 egg whites
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp water, room temp
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Add the paddle attachment and combine on low speed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, 2 large eggs, 2 yolks (saving 2 egg whites in a separate bowl), and 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp room temperature water. Add the egg mixture to the flour and combine with the paddle attachment on low speed until the ingredients come together and start to stick on the paddle.

Attach the dough hook, and knead on med-low for 6 minutes until you get a soft, supple dough. You may need to sprinkle in some flour if the dough is too sticky to touch.

Flour a work surface. Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a boule. Place into a large greased bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm draft free area and let rise for 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl and then knead for 1 minute to degas. Shape into a ball and place into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another hour, until the dough is 1 1/2 times its original size.

Remove the dough from the bowl, and divide into 3 equally sized pieces (use a scale for precise accuracy). Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Roll each piece of dough into 3 long stands, each the same length (approximately 15 inches),slightly larger in the middle. Lay the three pieces in front of you vertically, and perpendicular. Braid the three pieces similar to how you would braid hair. Diagram. Pinch the ends together, and place the challah onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites until foamy. Brush the challah with the egg whites, and then cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 60 - 75 minutes, or until it is 1 1/2 times its original size. Cover the egg whites and place into the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Brush the challah with the egg whites for a second time. Place the bread into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until the challah has reached a rich golden brown color and registers 190ºF in the center.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before slicing.


  1. I believe we are living the same life, just as you said a few weeks ago on Instagram. Minus the part about finding a house. But we did just do that 6 months ago and it was sort of excruciating, haha. Sour beers? Check! [for whatever reason I can drink beer, but bread and gluten-grains are a no-go] Skiing? [Okay, snowboarding] Check! In the kitchen? Triple check. And, challah [although, I haven't had it for yearrrrs now] makes THEE best french toast and you just 1 upped the whole situation with crispy coconut. Holy moly. Outstanding! Wishing you the best of luck with the house hunt!! xo

  2. Spectacular! Anything cherry is a hit with me. Lovely photos too.

  3. Homemade challah AND a fabulous French toast. So fabulous!

  4. Replies
    1. Love anything with cherries, and the toppings, yum!

  5. I'm the biggest sucker ever for French Toast! It's one of my absolute favorite things. Yours looks incredible - love the coconut idea!

  6. I'm a huge sucker for French Toast - one of my absolute favorite things! Yours looks awesome, and I love the coconut idea.

  7. Whoa that is an epic stack of french toast! I've been eating a lot of coconut products lately too - this breakfast might be next on my list!

  8. Breakfast is *always* preferable to wasting days looking at houses that you know you're not going to buy. Especially when it's an epic stack of french toast. This looks totally insanely good.

  9. I don't even like French toast that much but this is a must try!

  10. This looks positively delicious. I love sour cherries and often enjoy them as a jam with toast. Brilliant to use them on French toast. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I love Portage Bay Cafe. There lemon ricotta pancakes are great. But yes, always a long wait there. Good luck with house hunting. This French Toast look wonderful!

  12. mm..that challah is the keeper. Gorgeous French toast too.

  13. I love the coconut treatment to this gorgeous French toast! I must try it. Your challah is super legit -- beautiful loaf! I wish you well on your house hunt. We found the roller-coaster of emotions involved absolutely exhausting, but also additive? We ended up not settling on a house at all yet and are still renting... I look forward to the day that we do purchase :)

  14. Cherry and chocolate are such a great combo... love this for breakfast

  15. I have a major obsession with coconut so I know all too well the desire to throw it in every chance you get. This looks and sounds divine! I'm hoping I stumble across some sour cherries this season-- I've seen some pretty stellar recipes containing it and I'm very eager to cook with it. I used to actually loathe french toast but until recently I've adopted a very fond love for it. Strange how your tastes change isn't it? Best of luck finding your dream home. You'll know when you see it. :)

  16. This is genius. Thank you.

  17. Now, this is my sort of cake! Perfect with a big pot of tea. x