Today: What happens when the minds behind Mission Chinese cross creme brûlée, French toast, and tres leches cake? An indulgent, 5-ingredient treat -- maybe the best pick-me-up we've ever had.
If the holidays are starting to unnerve you; if you're feeling in need of comfort and strength, what you need is a celebration. What you need is French Toast Crunch.
Milk toast has been knotted up with connotations so profoundly bland (I blame this guy) that we're starting to forget what it actually is -- which is simply toast soaked in buttered milk. In An Alphabet For Gourmets, M. F. K. Fisher calls it "a warm, mild, soothing thing, full of innocent strength" in a recipe titled, appropriately, Milk Toast (for the Ill, Weak, Old, Very Young, or Weary).
So milk toast's milquetoasty reputation could use a little flash. And where better to get it than Mission Street Food, from the team that gave us thrice-cooked bacon and kung pao pastrami? In the book, they include a chart of 13 twists, from Matcha to Baklava Toast Crunch, and you can vary it endlessly -- but this is comfort food, so you can also just keep it simple.
More: Want Mission Chinese Food's Szechuan Lamb Dumplings recipe? Peter Meehan shares it with us, sort of.
Myint explained to me over email that this is a dish born out of resourcefulness and novelty, when Mission Street Food was still a twice-weekly pop-up restaurant. They had to think fast for a new menu each night. "Oatmeal cookies and a chamomile milk shake would have been lovely but would have taken a few more hours than my week was shaping up to allow," Myint said. No wonder it's perfect for whipping up at home, whenever the need strikes.
Here's how to make it at home: Warm up some half-and-half, steep some chamomile (or Earl Grey or soothing spices) in it if you like. Then stir in just a little sweetened condensed milk.
Slice the best sandwich bread you can find -- pain de mie, or brioche -- really thick (about an inch).
Butter one side heavily (Myint says two tablespoons, and -- yep -- that's fantastic, but you can eyeball it.)
Toast it on both sides till just golden -- under the broiler is easiest. You don't want to put your toaster through this.
Dip the buttery side in sugar, then broil again.
Don't look away. You can use a torch for this part if you're that fancy. As Myint told me, "There's a little known section in the owner's manual when you buy a torch where you have to take an oath to brûlée whenever possible/plausible."
You can't eat this and not be happy. A bite into broiled, sugared toast -- loud, unflinching -- is matched only by the life-affirming crack of a spoon breaking through the glassy top of a creme brûlée. And when you set it in a warm milky puddle, good airy toast drinks up milk like a happy tres leches cake, while that toasty butter candy top hovers above it, keeping its crunch pristine.
When would you serve it, besides a quiet moment alone? A weeknight dinner party. A brunch party. An afternoon snack for your children, if you don't want your children to ever eat plain toast again. Christmas morning. Valentine's Day. A birthday breakfast.
Yes, even breakfast. A sticky bun isn't the healthiest way to start the day either, but we do it. And as far as fancy bakery-level treats go, this is the only one you can have 15 minutes from now.
Adapted slightly from Mission Street Food (McSweeney's, 2011)
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 ounce chamomile tea (about 1/4 cup whole chamomile buds or 2 to 3 tea bags, optional)
1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk, or to taste
6 to 8 tablespoons butter, softened
Four 1-inch-thick slices of best quality bakery white bread, like pain de mie or brioche
Photos by Ryan Dausch, except Anthony Myint & Karen Leibowitz, courtesy of McSweeney's via Eater.
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Elana Carlson for this one!