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After my visit to Arkansas in October, my curiosity about Southern living and cuisine was substantially piqued. It helps that I get frequent reports from the front, from my sister Kate who’s teaching in Lake Village Arkansas, and whose weekend activities seem to involve food at every stage: curing pork, picking pecans, and baking cakes.
From her reports, and perhaps also from a piece we wrote for Southern Flourish magazine, about cooking a Pan-Southern meal (coming soon!), my mind was clearly on flavors south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Kate has made a habit of coming home to NYC from Arkansas with gifts for me and the rest of the family. Every morning, I eat my cereal with a couple of Arkansas pecans crumbled on top. I used them to make this fantastic Chocolate-Pecan Tart, my mom spiced them as Christmas gifts, and we made Thanksgiving place cards out of jars filled with them–not to mention a pecan pie. On her most recent trip home, Kate brought me a new gift: an oversized bottle of sorghum syrup, which I’d admired at a small shop when I was there.
I first tried sorghum on the recommendation of a Southern-born chef. He had pulled the most exquisite buttermilk corn muffins out of the oven, and he’d dripped sorghum on top of a saucer of good softened butter. We were instructed to scoop our corn muffins through the mixture, and I did, gathering up equal parts butter and sorghum. It was rich and flavorful–and the richness was not only from the honey. Sorghum is a grass that’s processed, like sugar, into a sweetener, but it’s got far more flavor than regular white, or even brown, sugar. The syrup is not as sweet as honey, but it’s also not as aggressively earthy as molasses. It really does seem most akin to maple syrup.
Not long after Kate gave me this gift, I made myself French toast as a weekday lunch. Not only had I been looking for an appropriate way to try my sorghum, but BGSK had also been craving a French toast recipe to incorporate into brunch and breakfast menus; we’ve developed a great one for the book, but we’ve been saving it for pub date. For this recipe, I added the buttermilk to the milk-egg mixture and the cornmeal as a coating all in a nod to the sorghum’s Southern derivation. After lunch, I was satisfied with the mix of flavors, and now I’m satisfied that the blog has a French toast recipe to call its own.
From my kitchen, drenching breakfast in sorghum, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Cornmeal-Crusted French Toast with Sorghum Molasses
Naturally, you can replace the sorghum with good old Northern maple syrup.
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon bourbon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 1 ½-inch slices challah (from 1 loaf)
¼ cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter
Combine the eggs, buttermilk, milk, bourbon, 2 tablespoons of sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt in a large, shallow bowl. Layer in the challah slices, flipping to coat each one. Let sit for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, the cornmeal, and a pinch of salt on a plate. Stir to combine.
Take each slice and let any excess milk mixture drip off, then place it in the cornmeal. Flip to coat both sides.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. In batches, fry the French toast until golden and cooked through, flipping once. It should take 3-4 minutes per side. Repeat with the remaining slices, adding more butter to the pan as needed. You can also double team and get two pans going at once.
Top the French toast with a generous smear of softened butter and a substantial drizzle of sorghum syrup.