Here’s my dirty food blogger secret: every six or seven days, I get grumpy.
Not with blogging. Not with eating. Not even with cooking. With planning. What to make? Do I have the necessary ingredients on hand? How long will it take? Will all diners be present at the time when I plan to serve it? Can I make it and dive into Zadie Smith’s essays or Alice Munroe’s short stories? How much writing time would shelling six pounds of green peas eat up?
Then, every once in a while, my memory banks deliver me a gift: a recipe from long ago, not made in years, resurfaces and demands to be made. The friend I missed but didn’t know I’d lost. Last night, that friend was Almond French Toast Sticks.
I started making these in university. Leftover marzipan, half a loaf of heavy bread, and a desire to dunk things into maple syrup all collided in the perfect, crispy-sweet storm. Marzipan, if you’re not familiar with it, is a naughty, naughty little icing made with ground almonds and sugar. I first had it on trips to England with my family, where it’s wrapped around a sort of sponge cake jam sandwich, and slipped into various desserts. My mother always puts it around her giant, rum-soaked fruit cake (which can indeed be made vegan, and which is nothing like those marscapone-cherry-filled doorstops you find in December around lazy grocery stores).
In place of the eggs in non-vegan french toast, this batter here uses tahini, that sesame paste that’s a key player in hummus and all the best falafel wraps. Depending on which type you get, tahini can be a fair source of calcium, iron, and magnesium. I often like to use it as a thickener or binder. The batter contains no added sugar, so the small amount of sweetened marzipan used, plus any in the almond or soy milk, adds just enough sweetness to get you by until the moment when your french toast finds itself smothered mercilessly in maple syrup. Oh, sweet surrender.
Onto bread. Go heavy. Pick a good, heavy bread for this recipe. No little play-play fluffy loaves here, please. My favourites are the Barley and the Barley Quinoa breads, by Vancouver-based bakers European Breads. They’re gluten-free, taste great, don’t get soggy, and are effective self defense tools, should the need arise.
Almond French Toast Sticks
1/2 cup unsweetenend almond or soy milk
1/4 cup gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
2 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp marzipan
1/4 tsp almond extract
4 thick slices of sturdy bread (3/4″ to 1″)
Oil, for pan-frying
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and tahini.
2. Using a fork, gradually stir in the almond or soy milk. You want a smooth, even batter, so add the milk a little at a time!
3. Crumble very small pieces of marzipan into the mixture.
4. Stir in the almond extract.
5. Preheat a large saucepan over medium heat, adding enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. As always, I favour a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.
6. While the pan heats, cut each piece of bread into four even sticks. Dip each stick lengthways into the batter, both sides.
7. Once the pan is hot, gently fry the sticks until browned, turning once. Make sure your pan is good and hot, or the batter may stick or fall off. The bread should sizzle in delight as you add it to the pan. If it’s more lacklustre than delighted, let your pan heat a little more.
8. Once done, remove and keep warm in the oven while you repeat steps 6 and 7 with all remaining pieces of bread. Serve hot, with your favourite vegan spread, maple syrup, and fresh fruit.