Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! I hope this day brings you lots of happiness and peace, and you celebrate it with your loved ones 🙂
I’m happy to report the school semester is now over and I can go back to cooking – and what better way to celebrate my return to all things foodie-related than with an easy yet super-decadent lemon pastry cream French toast, just in time for Mother’s Day? Truth be told, I had plenty of help to bring this recipe to life – first from my daughter Michelle, and then from Nellie. Nellie is the brown hen mascot behind Nellie’s Free Range Eggs brand, whose reps have recently contacted me to review their products. With May being National Egg Month and with Mother’s Day right around the corner, I thought this was the perfect moment for an “egg-ucation” refresher – so I said yes, and I embraced the challenge 😉
I ate a lot of free range and organic eggs when I was growing up. There was famine in the cities and eggs were scarce, which meant that my family would always arrange for me to spend the summers in the countryside. Local peasants were so poor they just couldn’t afford to buy expensive cages for their hens, which meant the hens were kept outside and only fed natural food – lucky me! I still remember the rich flavor and deep yellow color of those eggs, which made them undeniably better than the eggs my mom would buy from the grocery store from time to time, after spending hours in line to get a carton or two.
Like those countryside hens from my childhood, Nellie’s Free Range Eggs hens are raised on small, family-owned farms, live in “floor barns” (there are no cages or levels) and have plenty of space to perch and to socialize. They are free to roam outside, peck at the ground and dustbathe, and have access to antibiotic free feed and fresh water 24/7. Both Nellie’s Free Range Eggs and its sister brand Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs are also Certified Humane, and as such they adhere to strict standards regarding the health and well-being of the birds.
According to the info posted on their website, Nellie’s Free Range Eggs are packed with 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, and “good” fats and antioxidants. They are also a low-calorie food, at only 72 calories apiece.
I thought a pastry cream-filled French toast would be a great way to showcase the beautiful flavor and color of these eggs, and I chose to make the pastry cream recipe I usually make for éclairs (this is my mother-in-law’s recipe, which I originally posted here). Still, I had to make a few changes to account for the novel use of the cream: first off, I used freshly squeezed lemon juice instead of vanilla extract because I thought the dish needed acidity and a dash of fresh sharpness to make it lighter and well-balanced.
As per the original pastry cream recipe, I started off by mixing the eggs with the sugar.
I then added the flour. Just look at that vibrant yellow color – isn’t it beautiful?
Naturally, Michelle wanted to help at every stage of the process 🙂
I added the milk…
… and put the pan on the stove over a medium heat, stirring continuously. Once the custard started to thicken, I continued to cook for another 1-2 minutes, and then took the pan off the stove.
I was getting so excited about the color of my pastry cream!
Change #2: the original éclair pastry cream recipe called for one full stick of butter, but this time I wanted the pastry cream to be lighter, so I only used half a stick (1/4 cup). I added the butter slowly, mixing well after each added piece.
I added the juice of half a lemon, but upon tasting I thought there was not enough lemon flavor to counterbalance the overall sweetness of the cream, so I added a bit more juice (about 1tbsp more). I advise you to do the same at this point: taste and then add more lemon juice, if desired.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say: creamy, delicately sweet and supremely lemony, this was the pastry cream of my dreams! 🙂
For the French toast I put 3 allspice berries, 3 juniper berries and 3 cloves in a mortar and pestle and ground them to a powder.
I then put the spice mix in a mixing bowl with 1 tbsp Madagascar Vanilla Sugar.
I added 4 eggs and milk, and then watched my daughter as she tried to help me 🙂
In the end, the egg & milk mixture was rendered smooth with the help of a hand mixer.
I dipped 2 slices of chocolate French brioche into the egg mixture…
… and then fried them in melted butter in a pan until golden brown…
… turning them once during cooking.
I filled the slices of French toast with the lemon pastry cream, cut them in half, and served them with blackberries and sliced strawberries (for freshness and color contrast), chopped hazelnuts (for texture) and maple syrup (for amber-colored sweet decadence).
Here it is: the ultimate Mother’s Day recipe, made with quality ingredients one May afternoon, with cherished memories to last a lifetime. Thank you, Michelle – and thank you, Nellie 🙂
*Disclaimer: While I received complimentary products to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.