Pain perdu, french for "lost bread", is akin to what you might know as french toast. So, what's the diff? While I have no qualms with regular ole' french toast, pain perdu is more custard like in texture, almost like bread pudding. The exterior is lightly crisp from pan-frying in butter, and the inside is silky and luxurious. I used brioche: a beautiful, rich and eggy bread that soaks up the custard perfectly and still holds its shape. Challah is great here, too.
Let's be real, though. The pain perdu, while delicious, serves as more of our canvas here, than the star. This is a celebration of the arrival of rhubarb! Yay, Spring! Tart, tangy, and bright, rhubarb is one of the shining gems of the season. The perfectly balanced tart and sweet rhubarb and strawberry compote is so good with the rich french toast and the hit of heady vanilla just makes the whole thing over the top.
PAIN PERDU WITH VANILLA-SCENTED RHUBARB + STRAWBERRY COMPOTE
makes 8 pieces
for the custard:
1 loaf brioche or challah, sliced in about 1 " slices
1 1/2 c half and half
1/3 c brown sugar
2 t vanilla
1 T bourbon (optional but delicious)
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
butter, for greasing pan
for the compote:
1 1/2 c pure maple syrup
2 c rhubarb, roughly chopped
1 c strawberries, roughly chopped
1 T lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped + pod reserved
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
options for serving:
fresh whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Arrange bread slices in a large baking dish so that each slice is laying flat. In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the custard (except the butter) and pour over the bread slices, being sure each is fully submerged. Allow to soak for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for the compote including the vanilla bean pod, in a saucepan over medium-high heat and allow to bubble for about 15 minutes, until the fruit has softened and the syrup has slightly reduced. Set aside while you make the pain perdu. Heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt a knob of butter in the skillet and fry the pain perdu on each side until golden brown. As each piece is finished, keep warm on a baking tray in the oven until you're ready to serve.
Top the pain perdu with butter, the rhubarb and strawberry compote and syrup, and whipped cream if desired.