Caramel Bottom French Toast

For the past week, we’ve had a wave of unseasonable warmth that I refer to as “Fool’s Spring” — it looks like spring, but it isn’t.  Just when you’re about to feel confident in packing away that moldering pile of snowpants and mismatched mittens — BOOM!  Winter strikes back!

Yes, we got about 4 inches of snow on Friday.  Sure, it’s melting away, but what better excuse to make Caramel Bottom French Toast?

This recipe is adapted from Martha W. Murphy’s excellent Bed & Breakfast Cookbook (out of print, but cheap used copies are easily found online).  The recipe is listed as “Skier’s Toast,” but I find that name to be unsatisfyingly bland for this divine concoction — thick-sliced bread sunk into a layer of golden caramel, then doused in egg batter before baking.  The result is crunchy-chewy, with the excess egg cooking into a sweet custard alongside the caramel.

The kids, for the first time ever, asked for seconds. Oh, and I’d like to give credit to my friend Becca for coming up with the new name for this treat.

Caramel Bottom French Toast

Note: this recipe needs to be refrigerated for several hours before baking, so plan ahead.  It’s convenient to prepare it just before bed, then bake it off in the morning.


  • 2 Tbs. corn syrup (you can also substitute Lyle’s Golden Syrup)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 loaf French bread or a baguette, thickly sliced
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

In a small saucepan, combine the syrup, butter and brown sugar; simmer until thick and bubbling.  Pour into the bottom of a 9″x13″ baking pan. 

Place the bread slices in the caramel, wedging them in tight.  You may have some bread left over.

In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, vanilla and salt.  Whisk well, then pour evenly over the bread.  Cover and refrigerate a couple of hours or overnight.

Let the toast sit at room temperature while the oven preheats to 350.  Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  Serve while warm!

Orange Rolls

I hosted a Soup Party at my house this past weekend — everyone who came brought a different kind of soup, and I provided crusty bread and dessert.

For dessert, I decided a nice contrast to soup would be tasty orange rolls.  For some reason, my brain had forgotten that everyone would be filled up with the aforementioned crusty bread, and then we’d be following that up with more bread.

But nobody seemed to care.  In fact, they all requested the recipe, so here it is.  It’s adapted from a (badly written) recipe I clipped out of Cooking Light years ago.  The dough is rich but tender, enriched with a little butter and sour cream, and the glaze is unusual — a orange-flavored sugar syrup that is tempered with more sour cream.  It’s advised that you consume these sticky treats with a fork.

Orange Rolls

For the dough:

  • 1 3/4 tsp. instant yeast*
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream (do not use fat-free)
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting while kneading

For the filling:

  • grated zest from one orange
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbs. butter, melted and cooled (this is for brushing on the dough before sprinkling on the filling)

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • squeezed juice from half of one orange (the one you just zested for the filling)
  • 1/4  cup reduced-fat sour cream (again, do not use fat-free, it tastes like plastic)

To make the dough, combine yeast, water, sugar, sour cream, butter, salt, egg, and ONE cup of the flour in a mixer and beat until smooth.  Add remaining 2 cups of flour and mix until a soft dough forms, about 5 minutes.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding extra flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.  Place dough in a greased bowl and cover, then let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour 15 minutes).  While the dough rises, combine the sugar and orange zest for the filling (do not add the butter!). 

When dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a board (I like to use a clean cutting board coated with cooking spray to prevent sticking).  Spray a 9″x13″ baking pan with cooking spray.

Divide dough in half; roll out one half into a rectangle, approx. 8″x10″ (I actually have no idea what size the dough was, I’m just estimating).  Brush the rectangle with 1 Tbs. of the melted butter, and sprinkle half of the zest/sugar mixture on top.  Beginning at the short end, roll up the dough into a big log, pinching the seam to seal it.  Cut the log into about eight rolls and place spiral-side up into the baking pan.  Repeat with the other half of the dough, using remaining butter and filling.  You may have to cut the second log of dough into only 7 rolls; I’ve never been able to fit more than 15 rolls in a pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for 25 minutes or until doubled in size.  When ready, bake the rolls for 25 minutes or until golden brown. 

While the rolls bake, prepare the glaze: Combine sugar, butter, and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook for 3 minutes, or until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and stir in sour cream.  Drizzle glaze over warm rolls; let cool for 20 minutes before serving.

*Note: You can substitute the instant yeast with 2 1/4 teaspoons dry-active yeast.  Just proof it in the warm water with a pinch of sugar before combining it with the other ingredients.

Apple-Sausage Biscuit Pie


We are drowning in apples.  There are bags and bags of them sitting on the front porch, and even though a significant portion of them are inedible (wormholes) there are many, many more that can be used.  So, we’ve been hauling out any and all apple recipes from our personal stash.  Here’s one of my favorites; it’s been an autumn dinnertime staple for my family since Brian and I were newlyweds. 

Apple-Sausage Biscuit Pie

  • 1 lb. chicken sausage, casings removed
  • small onion, chopped
  • carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 big apple, cored and diced (leave peel on)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock

for the biscuit crust:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Make the biscuit crust: in a bowl, combine dry ingredients, then cut in vegetable shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add milk and mix until just moist and combined.  (Note: doing this is a pain.  I have a food processor now, which makes the biscuit crust very easy to make.  Before the advent of the processor, I scrapped the homemade crust in favor of Bisquick with cheese sprinkled on top.  Because while there are many ways of going crazy-go-nuts in this world, doing so while holding a pastry cutter is not one I endorse.)  Set the biscuit crust aside until ready to use.

Anyway, get out a big ovenproof skillet and cook up the chicken sausage, then remove to a small bowl.  Add onion, carrot, and celery to skillet and cook for about 3 minutes, then add apple and cook for additional 6 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, and thyme and stir well, then add flour and cook for a minute.  Stir in chicken stock and cook for a few minutes more, then add chicken sausage back to skillet.

When everything’s nice and hot, remove skillet from heat and use a spoon to dollop the biscuit crust on top of the sausage mixture, spreading it around to cover everything well.  Sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese on top, then put the skillet in the oven and bake the whole thing for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is a golden brown.

I can’t make any promises that there won’t be certain individuals in your household who will eat the crust and none of the filling.  But you can always take heart that this just means more savory filling for yourself.

Apple Fritters

applesWhen Brian and I moved into Retro Acres, we discovered an apple tree in the backyard and an electric cast-iron skillet in the kitchen.

Although I wasn’t very thrilled by either prospect — our house in Pittsburgh had a crabapple tree that caused us no end of rotten-fruit annoyance, and the skillet seemed like just one more appliance to clutter the kitchen — my mother convinced me otherwise.

Come October, she said, the hard green bumps in the tree would morph into sweet deep-red lumps of awesome, and the skillet is an excellent device for deep frying foods — no splatters, constant temperature.

What better circumstances for cooking apple fritters?  They’re golden brown nuggets of sugary goodness, they are.  I’ve had a couple of friends request that I post good recipes on this blog, so here’s my first. 

My recipe is adapted from Martha W. Murphy’s excellent The Bed & Breakfast Cookbook, which I highly recommend picking up.

Apple Fritters

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups peeled, cored apples, chopped fine (about two big apples)
  • cinnamon and sugar, for rolling

In a big bowl, mix together flour, powder, salt, and sugar.  Measure the milk in a big liquid measuring cup or small bowl, add the eggs, and whisk together.  Gradually pour liquid ingredients into dry, mixing well to prevent lumps.  Use a rubber spatula to stir in the apples.

In a skillet, heat up 1″ of oil to approximately 340 degrees F.  Drop a little bit of batter in the oil while it preheats — when it begins to bubble, puff up, and brown, then the oil is ready for cooking.

Have a paper-towel-lined plate and a shallow bowl of cinnamon sugar ready.  Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes per side.  When cooked, they should be about 4-5″ across, and a deep golden-brown.  You may have to experiment to get them right; I find that making them on the small side prevents a doughy center.  If made correctly, the outside should be brown and crisp, and the inside soft, fluffy, and studded with apples.

Drain the fritters on the paper towels for a moment, then roll in the cinnamon sugar.  This makes roughly 1 1/2 dozen hot ‘n’ tasty fritters.  Mmmm.

Eleanor says that I am “the best mom ever ever ever” (pounding fist on the table for each “ever”) “who makes fritters.”  Brian calls apple fritters “the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack of champions.”  William screamed when we thought he was finished and tried to take his plate away.  Jeffrey didn’t say anything, but has learned to snatch up fritters with cat-like reflexes.  I think my diet’s ruined, but that’s nothing new (I am down 12 pounds, if I do say so myself.