Spiced Chai and Saffron French Toast with Rose Coconut Cream & Pistachios
Rich, fragrant and perfectly-balanced flavours are what make this dish the ultimate recipe to upgrade your brunch game. What's more? It's gluten-free and low in lactose!
As far as brunch goes, this has got to be one of my favourite recipes to date. It takes a spin on traditional French toast by combining Eastern spices and flavours to create a rich, flavoursome and subtly intense dish. It's basically an East meets West fusion and what's not to love about that?
What makes this dish truly delicious though is its use of balanced flavours and textures. The spiciness of the chai, the subtle sweetness of the saffron, the rich aromatic flavour of the rose combined with creaminess of the coconut, and the 'crunch' of the pistachios all come together harmoniously and will leave you wanting more!
I've used gluten-free bread in this recipe but as always, this can be substituted if you're not gluten-free. It can also be made dairy-free by eliminating the butter for frying and replacing it with oil.
Now, there are quite a few different elements involved in the making of this dish but I promise you, the results will be worth it so be patient!
Let's talk ingredients...
Although there are various elements to this dish, the chai spices are perhaps the most important element as they make up its primary flavours. You want the taste of the chai spices to be accentuated as much as possible. That being said, I highly recommend using an authentic chai blend - free of any sugars or thickening agents. If you don't have this at home, you can can mix together some ground cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger - the main chai flavours.
Although the chai masala already contains cardamom and cinnamon, I like to add a little more of these to the custard for extra flavour but this is completely optional.
In regards to the saffron, although its flavour is already subtle, you want it to compliment the chai spices rather than overpower them. Saffron brings a very mild sweetness and almost floral-like dimension to the dish, so adding the right amount is key. To best extract its flavour, we're going to roast the threads for a few seconds and then crush them using a pestle and mortar. They'll then be left to soak in warm milk for 15 minutes. Diffusing it in milk will also release a beautiful aroma and bring a little extra vibrancy to the dish.
Whilst we're on the topic, saffron is an incredible spice that is believed to possess multiple medicinal properties. For instance, it's extremely high in antioxidants and thus can help to protect our cells from oxidative stress. In addition, it can be used to help fight inflammation and reduce blood pressure, as well as promote memory retention. Adding a pinch to glass of warm coconut milk, along with a small amount of cardamom and small spoonful of honey makes a really tasty bedtime drink and is a great way to reap some of its benefits. You could also try adding a pinch to your morning oats!
For any of you here who are not gluten-free, brioche will give you the best results!
If you're here and you are gluten-free, you'll already know that some gluten-free breads are flimsy and easily destructible so make sure you're using a brand you're familiar with. After trying out a bunch of different brands, I highly recommend Warburtons' Tiger Loaf or Sourdough Loaf. They work so well for this dish and you can't even tell they're gluten-free! Another bonus? They're milk free too!
I also suggest you use a loaf of bread and cut it into thick-ish slices (around 1 inch thick) so that it absorbs more of the egg mixture (the custard) and holds itself together without falling apart. Shop bought sliced bread may be a little too thin.
Depending on the intensity of flavour you desire, you can soak your bread in the egg mixture for up to 15 minutes (I strongly recommend this), although I've found that simply soaking it for a few seconds also works fine for a less acute flavour.
Rose coconut cream
In my opinion, this might just be my favourite element of this dish. I absolutely love coconut cream but rose coconut cream just takes it to the next level. The two just pair so perfectly together.
You can either whip the coconut milk (or coconut cream) or leave it runny. If you're whipping it, it's best to use full-fat coconut milk and leave it in the fridge for at least 12 hours, or preferably overnight, as this will help to separate the solids from the liquids. Refrigerating it helps with the process and will lead to a thicker, more creamier consistency.
Tips for cooking the bread
If you own a cast iron pan, this is the time to use it! It will result in a crispier and slightly more caramelised French toast, whilst it will also infuse the toast with a little iron, which is always a plus.
Before cooking your toast, make sure you pre-heat the pan to a medium heat with the butter added to it. It's really important that the pan is set to a medium heat, as the custard contains sugar which can quickly caramelise and burn. Ideally, you should cook your toast for around 4 minutes on each side.
If you're making this for multiple people and plan to delve into it together, preheat your oven to 90°C. As soon as you've cooked each slice of bread on the stove, immediately transfer to baking tray and place in the oven. This will keep the toast warm ready for serving.
Serves: 2 (makes 4 slices)
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
4 slices of brioche or gluten-free bread
For the custard:
1/2 cup coconut milk, or any milk alternative
Pinch of saffron (around 15 strands), crushed
1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp chai masala
2 tsp coconut sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/8 tsp cardamom (optional)
3 tbsp grass-fed butter for frying
For the rose coconut cream:
4 tbsp full-fat coconut milk, chilled
1 1/4 tsp rose syrup
1 small handful pistachios, chopped
Dried edible rose petals
1. Starting with the saffron infused coconut milk, heat up the milk until warm (not hot) and then add the crushed saffron threads. Leave to infuse for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will turn bright yellow.
2. Using a stand mixer or an electric whisk, whisk together the chilled coconut milk and rose syrup until stiff peaks form. Place in the fridge until it's time to serve.
3. Moving onto the custard, whisk together the eggs and then add to a separate bowl along with the rest of the ingredients and saffron infused milk. Whisk until well combined.
4. In single layers, place the bread into a shallow baking dish and pour over the custard. Soak for 6-7 minutes and then turn over and continue to soak for another 6-7 minutes.
5. Pre-heat the pan with 2 tbsp of the butter on a medium heat. Once heated, add the bread and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. Before moving on to your next slices, ensure there's enough butter in the pan. If not, add the remaining amount and repeat method.
6. Top with rose coconut cream, pistachios, dried rose petals and icing sugar.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can can serve with whipped cinnamon butter or browned cinnamon butter - both compliment the toast beautifully.
I hope you love this recipe!