Torrejas in Mexico are made like French toast but don’t show up at breakfast. They’re a dessert, typically, which makes sense when you recognize that French toast has basically the same ingredients as bread pudding, just in a different form. For this one I’ve gone out on a limb, though. I’ve made the soaking custard out of eggs and horchata, that cinnamony rice (and sometimes almond) drink that’s popular among the street vendors and taquerias, which makes it great for those who can’t have dairy. But it works well, too, with regular milk replacing the almond milk I’ve called for. However you make it, this is a luscious, special-occasion breakfast.
Our Xoco version of torrejas is made with day-old artisanal Mexican bolillos that are sturdy enough to soak overnight but light enough to cook in our wood-burning oven to a custardy succulence. Most of the commercial bolillos that I’ve tried from Mexican bakeries are too spongy and fluffy to work here, so I’ve suggested a good baguette or ciabatta as an alternative to an artisan bolillo.
- 1 good-quality French baguette (about 15 inches long by 4 inches wide), preferably day-old
- 8 to 12 tablespoons (4 to 6 ounces) butter, divided
- 1 1/2 cups almond milk
- 3 tablespoons uncooked white rice
- A 2-inch piece of cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican canela, broken up, OR 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Mexican
- Toasted slivered almonds (optional)
- About 1 cup Piloncillo syrup (recipe below) or maple syrup, for serving
- 2 cups (8 ounces) chopped piloncillo (Mexican raw sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Mexican
For the french toast
If using a baguette, slice off and discard the end pieces. Holding your bread knife at a 45-degree angle to the loaf, cut off one 1-inch-thick slice (it should be roughly 4 inches long). Repeat until you have 8 similar slices. If you’re using ciabatta, no need to slice on the diagonal; simply discard the end pieces and cut eight 1-inch slices. If the bread is very fresh, arrange the slices on a baking sheet and place in a 300-degree oven until they feel slightly hard and stale, about 30 minutes.
Place 4 tablespoons of the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and melt it in the microwave at 50% power for 30 seconds. Combine the almond milk, rice and cinnamon in a blender and process for several minutes, until the rice no longer feels very gritty when the liquid is rubbed between your fingers. Add the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, melted butter and ½ teaspoon salt to the rice mixture and blend again, covered, until everything is well combined. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a 9x13-inch baking pan. Lay in the bread and let it soak until the bottom of the bread feels heavy with liquid but isn’t disintegrating, 10 to 15 minutes. Flip the bread and soak the other side. (If it’s more convenient, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.)
Heat a very large (12-inch) heavy skillet (cast iron is perfect for this) over medium. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and swirl it around the pan a few times until it has completely melted and the foaming has subsided. Use a spatula to transfer 3 slices of bread to the hot skillet. When they are richly browned underneath (about 5 minutes), flip the slices and cook until browned and crispy but custardy on the inside (about another 5 minutes). Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in a low oven. Add more butter to the pan (you’ll usually need another 2 tablespoons per batch) and cook the remaining slices the same way. Top your French toast with slivered almonds if you like, and serve right away with warm syrup.
For the Piloncillo syrup
In a medium saucepan, combine the piloncillo and 1 cup water over medium heat. Cook, stirring regularly, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture has thickened to the consistency of real maple syrup, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool to room temperature, then stir in the vanilla. Serve warm.