For this recipe, I decided to focus on an orange-chocolate flavor combination, replacing the usual vanilla extract with orange extract. I added cream because it was in the fridge, and seemed like a good idea. I thought I could amp up the orange flavor with a citrusy cornstarch-based custard. I found a lemon cake filling in Joy of Cooking, 25th printing, 1981 but wanted the focus on orange. I reduced the cornstarch from the original--a lucky error--used the juice of a freshly-squeezed orange, added some Meyer lemon juice and zest and a squirt of regular lemon to add some contrast and cut the sweetness. I reduced the sugar and kicked in orange extract. The result, spooned over the toast, was just plain yummy. —creamtea
For the Custard
granulated sugar, organic if desired
fine sea salt
freshly-squeezed orange juice (from one large navel orange), strained
In the top part of a double-boiler, combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt. Mix thoroughly, scraping the bottom, to break up the clumps of cornstarch. The dry ingredients should be thoroughly combined.
Slowly add the juices, and zest, stirring gently until combined.
Fill the base of the double-boiler with a couple of inches of hot water--not too much-- and bring to a simmer. Insert top of double-boiler onto the base. Add the tablespoon of butter. The water should not touch the top part or the sauce will scorch. Place over medium-low flame and cook, stirring constantly, adjusting flame to low as necessary, about five minutes. Mixture will be slightly thickened. If you can't tell the difference, carry on with the rest of the recipe anyway: cover, reduce heat to low, and cook undisturbed 10 minutes longer.
Remove the double-boiler from the flame and remove the cover. Stir to combine the mixture so that it is uniform (some may have thickened against the bottom of the pan--that's o.k.). Carefully separate the parts of the double-boiler, leaving the water in the lower pan. Allow the top pan to cool slightly, about 30-45 seconds,stirring. Add the orange extract, stir, then slowly pour in the eggs while stirring rapidly.
Re-assemble the double-boiler and place it on a medium-low flame. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes longer. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir before serving.
For the Toast
Slice challah into thick (1" to 1-1/2") slices and cut slices in half from braided top edge to flat bottom edge. Put end-pieces aside for another use if desired.
Insert the blade of a long, thin, sharp knife into the center of the narrow cut edge to pierce a slit suitable for inserting a small piece of chocolate. Be careful not to break through the surface of the bread. Jiggle the point slightly to enlarge the slit.
Chop or break chocolate into 1/2 to 1" dice; triangle shapes work well for inserting. Insert one piece of chocolate into the slit of each slice of challah and pinch the opening slightly to seal.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy. Add milk, cream, orange extract, sugar, if using, and salt, and beat until thoroughly combined.
Pour one-half of egg mixture into the bottom of an 11" x 15" Pyrex pan. Add the challah slices in one layer and allow to absorb some of the egg mixture, then flip them over to absorb more. Pour remaining egg mixture evenly over challah slices. Let rest about 10 minutes. (This might be a good time to get some coffee going).
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, drop in about a tablespoon of unsalted butter.
When butter foams, swirl it in the pan to distribute, then place the pieces of challah in one layer in the bottom of the pan. Do not crowd; you may have to cook in batches, depending on size of your pan. Cook about 5 minutes, more or less, until nicely browned, then flip to brown the other side. The second side will cook more quickly. If desired, you can keep the first batch warm, loosely covered with foil, in a rimmed baking sheet in a 150º to 200º oven while you prepare the rest.
Continue until all challah is cooked. Serve hot with citrus custard and/or warmed maple syrup.