A Toast to Toast

It all started with French toast. Or rather, it all started with chocolate orange lava cakes, two dozen eggs, and a prepping mix up that resulted in a two to one egg white to egg yolk mixturewith powdered sugar thrown in! That led to experimental French toast (which turned out deliciously), which then resulted in a lot of leftover bread. The original plan for last Friday’s tea time was crepes. Last year’s crepe day was a huge hit and I’ve gotten requests for another round. But in the spirit of trying to use up leftover ingredients, I decided the bread had to go.

With a trip to NYC coming up, I’ve been dreaming of teahouses. One of my very favorite teahouse snack is thick toast, which comes in a variety of forms, can often be found in East Asian tea and snackhouses, and can be sweet or savory. It can be a single slice of thickly sliced toast slathered with any number of spreadscondensed milk and kaya (a custardy coconut jam) are two of my favorites. I’ve also had larger chunks of bread, several slices thick, topped with scrumptious arrangements. The smoked salmon toast at Cha-an comes to mind…. (Okay, I admit that I’ve also been thinking that I need to get my hands on that when I’m back home again.) Whatever form the bread takes, it is gently crispy on the outside giving way to yielding softness on the inside.

Suffice to say, when I wondered what to do with the leftover bread sliced thickly for French toast, a lot ran through my mind. Another name for this style of toast is “brick toast,” a nod to the fact that you are literally using a block of bread as a foundation. Search “brick toast” on Google and you’ll get many images and links featuring Shibuya honey toast. Named for the district in Tokyo where it originated, Shibuya honey toast is essentially a toasted bread box buttered and filled with the carved out blocks of bread (diced, buttered, and toasted) and whatever other goodies you desire. Fruit, ice cream, and drizzled sauce and honey are common toppings. It is incredibly photogenic and to add to its appeal, quick and easy to put together. Bonus points because anytime the mentors get to be the architects of their desserts, they have a lot of fun. I sensed another tea time hit in the making and eagerly jumped into planning the pieces of it.

Since I had originally been planning for crepes and some classic fillings, I was, at this point, mentally salivating over Nutella in anticipation. Berries and bananas are always wonderful staples when making the kind of dessert where assembly is involved and variety a must so the matter of which fruit was quickly settled. And if bananas, strawberries, and blackberries just so happen to pair awfully well with Nutella? Well that’s just a happy accident, isn’t it?

The only thing left to figure out was the ice cream. Although the last week of February saw the return of frigid temperatures and a chill in the air, I felt ice cream was a must. A good vanilla ice cream would have been a wonderful complement to all these toppings. But… we do have an ice cream maker in the office that is just languishing from disuse. And Nutella ice cream would also be an excellent and not too rich complement to those toppings. There was no arguing with that line of reasoning so off I went in search of a recipe.

I ended up using Erin’s recipe for Salted Nutella Ice Cream. It’s as easy as an ice cream recipe can get: all it called for was mixing milk, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and Nutella together until well-combined and then straight into the ice cream maker for the churning process. I decided to add some chopped up hazelnuts to the mix and these, along with the kosher salt would be added to the ice cream mid-churn. The two times I’ve used my ice cream maker at home, I ended up with ice cream of soft-serve consistency at the end of the churn. A few hours in the freezer hardened them up nicely and resulted in a nicely chilled, creamy ice cream. All in all, this should have been a straightforward and simple process.

Now this is where things get interesting. Because there was so much ice cream base, I churned it in two batches with the ice cream maker bowl spending a night in the freezer in between churns. I let the ice cream maker run for about 45 minutes for the first batch and about an hour and a half for the second batch, but in both cases, the ice cream never made it past the ice cream soup consistency. On the bright side, the chopped hazelnuts did remain suspended in the mixture! The salt ended up disappearing into the liquid though, probably because it never quite thickened enough.

Since I churned the first batch at the end of my workday, I had to just leave it in the freezer overnight. This resulted in an ice cream that, while tasty, was icy. With the second batch, I was able to give it a good stir every hour for the first three hours or so before just letting it sit in the freezer for the weekend. We dug into it on Monday. The results were much bettercreamier and considerably less icy, although the hint of icy flakes was still there.

I”m not really sure what went wrong with the ice cream maker part of the process. This is the first ice cream I’ve made without egg yolks, and I would guess that this explains the icier texture of this ice cream compared to others I’ve made. As for why for the ice cream base didn’t actually churn into ice cream… We were working with the Cuisinart ICE-20. Although an older and discontinued model, it’s gotten pretty good reviews on Amazon so it seems that it should be able to properly and quickly churn ice cream. I suspect our problem was the freezer bowl. When I took it out of the freezer for the first churn, it had been sitting in there for the last few months, so it should have been frozen solid. However, there was definitely some sort of liquid sloshing around inside the walls of the bowl so although although the bowl was very chilled, I don’t think it was as frozen as it should have been. The motor base turned the bowl just fine, so our problem was likely that the bowl wasn’t cold enough to actually freeze the ice cream base as it was churned. There was a bit of freezing action on the bowl’s walls but nothing substantial. Despite these technical difficulties, we ended up with pretty good ice cream. The Nutella flavor definitely carried though, but we lost the salt flavor. There certainly were no complaints from the mentors though!

Luckily, making the brick toast itself went much more smoothly. We used The Fork Bite’s recipe as a guide, but the wonderful thing about Shibuya honey toast is that there is endless room for creativity. Since we couldn’t get our hands on any unsliced bread loaves, we stacked two slices of French toast bread together for each bread “box.” This also made them less intimidating in size and much more manageable as a one person dessert!

First step was to create the “box” itself. We carved out the insides and cut them up into cubes to be used as a topping. We then slathered a vanilla-butter-sugar mixture onto the inside walls of the “box” and dipped the cubes into a melted version of this mixture.

A few minutes in the oven and we had nice, toasty bread ready for all the fixings!

Our selection of toppings included sliced bananas, sliced strawberries, blackberries, the toasted bread cubes, Nutella, chopped hazelnuts, honey, and of course, the salted Nutella ice cream. I tried to convince the mentors that condensed milk would be a delicious addition, but alas, got an unenthusiastic response, so I decided not to open a can.

With the variety of colors and bite-sized treats, it didn’t take much effort to craft an aesthetically pleasing dessert. All the flavors came together wonderfully and there were many happy murmurs around the table which made for a happy Sylvia.

So did we solve our leftover bread problem? Not exactly…. we had to buy more bread and we used a good amount of it, but we still had a whole loaf and then some leftover. This time around I think we’ll just throw it in the freezer!

– Sylvia

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