French toast might not require a formal recipe when we're just talking about getting a weekday breakfast on the table. But an occasion like Mother's Day calls for a French toast that's a bit more elaborate and a method that takes simple custard-soaked-bread from ordinary to spectacular.
To that end, we're making stuffed French toast. Inspiration begins with the stuffed French toast in Denny's commercials that I would covet growing up and detours to Hong Kong for a style that's spread with peanut butter, stacked double tall. For this recipe, I layer thick-cut bread with a game-changing, chewy coconut filling. The sandwiches are then bathed in a custard that's delicately scented with rosewater, almond, and cardamom before frying up to a proper tan. Finally, they're met on the plate with a generous spoonful of rhubarb and raspberry compote and a flurry of garnishes-ground pistachios, coconut whip and flakes, maple syrup, rose petals, and sprinkles. Yes, sprinkles, because a day celebrating those who have mothered us seems the time for every flourish.
All together, the toast is a sweet-sharp balance of bright berry and rhubarb, mellowed by coconut and cream. There is a tumble of textures; the crisp edge of the bread against the plush filling, then the contrast of the supple sauce atop and a subtle crunch of nuts to finish.
With any French toast, your choice of bread is crucial. For this toast, it can only be a sandwich loaf (think Pullman, shokupan, or pain de mie). It should be a slab, a quadrilateral monolith, tightly crumbed and consistent throughout. Nothing too open, or the filling seeps out. Sandwich bread fries up into a golden dream.
The method for the filling is a treasure hidden in plain sight; I found it in the instructions for Dorie Greenspan's Florida Pie-which is absolutely a recipe you should bookmark for sunny days ahead. Greenspan simmers shredded coconut in heavy cream until thickened and fragrant. Here, we up the coconut proportion to 1:1, and cook the combination until dense and spoonable. The result, which shouldn't be confused with the actual coconut jam called kaya, is a creamy spread akin to the filling of a Mounds bar, sticky and jammy yet never cloying. Using unsweetened shredded coconut allows control of the sweetness; if you don't have any, though, sweetened can step in its place, with the added granulated sugar stepping out.
For this Mother's Day French toast, we want the bread to take a prolonged swim in the custard. (Hopefully while Mom is taking some similar time off.) Too often the bread gets a mere dunking, a strangers-in-the-night introduction at best. Allowing the bread to leisurely loll in the liquid gives the custard the opportunity to thoroughly permeate the slices. In the frying pan, that means the center transforms to a texture verging upon pudding. Set, not sloppy, melding seamlessly into that coconut filling and made that much more special through the association.
I designed this recipe with my mother in mind. I associate her with innumerable things, including but not limited to cardamom-laced elaichi chai, the rhubarb she tends in the garden, anything coconut (she loves macaroons, and snacks upon raw half-moon slices, too, shaved thin and verging on translucent), and Rooh Afza-a fuschia drink concentrate, heady with rosewater and kewra (panpandus flower, the leaves of which are pandan). Mum loves the stuff, and I wanted to feature her favorite flavors to full effect.
That said, the value add of this recipe is that it can, and should, be tailored to suit whoever it's for. Consider their preferences and adjust for a dish that is undeniably them. Instead of the coconut cream, perhaps cover the slices with lemon curd, dulce de leche, hazelnut-chocolate spread or nut butter, jam or marmalade; reach for nutmeg or cinnamon instead of cardamom, or grate on sunshine flecks of citrus zest. Roast strawberries or stone fruit in place of the rhubarb; caramelize bananas and pineapple until fully lacquered. Mother's Day isn't just any day, after all. Start it with the breakfast of your mum's dreams.