Chef Penny's babka French toast with maple-soaked bananas.

Chef Penny's Babka French Toast

Turn the eggy bread pro with Epicurious' four levels video.

Epicurious' four levels video series pits an amateur, home cook and ICE chef against each other with their version of a comfort food, followed by an evaluation from a food scientist. In this episode, Chef Penny Stankiewicz puts her touch on a beloved breakfast treat.

The keys to customizing French toast are bread choice, soaking technique and curation of toppings. After 15 years in the industry, Chef Penny knows to use day-old bread to best soak up her egg mixture or custard. She chooses babka, which combines the rich, eggy and fatty elements of brioche dough with a melted chocolate filling. More of a dipper than a soaker when it comes to coating the babka with custard, she doesn't want her bread too eggy and says it should look set, not wet, when done cooking.

Chef Penny's creativity comes out when she plates the toast with roasted bananas and maple syrup, whipped creme fraiche, a crunchy crumb topping and orange zest. Watch the video for a step-by-step guide alongside other versions, and get the complete recipe below.

Recipe

Babka French Toast with Maple-Roasted Bananas

Yields two 8-inch loaves

Ingredients

For the sponge:

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 52 grams sugar
  • 70 grams all-purpose flour

For the dough:

  • 330 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 174 grams unsalted butter, VERY soft
  • 1 zest of lemon

For the filling:

  • 50 grams confectioners sugar
  • 30 grams cocoa powder
  • 30 grams melted dark chocolate
  • 120 grams unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 100 grams finely chopped pecans

For the crumble topping:

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces light brown sugar
  • 4 ounces white sugar
  • 12 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the maple-roasted bananas:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 6 fluid ounces maple syrup or enough to cover
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 pinch salt

For the French toast:

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 ounces whole milk
  • 8 ounces of creme fraiche, whipped lightly by hand
  • Zest of 2 oranges, separated

Directions

For the sponge:

  1. Mix yeast, milk, sugar and all-purpose flour until combined.
  2. Allow sponge to sit for 30 minutes and up to overnight.

For the dough:

  1. In the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the sponge, next portion of all-purpose flour, salt, lemon zest and eggs. Beat until just combined.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead on the mixer for 5 minutes at second speed.
  3. Add the softened butter one piece at a time, waiting for it to fully incorporate.
  4. Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, cover lightly with plastic wrap sprayed with pan release (non-stick spray). Allow to proof for at least 90 minutes, up to 2 hours. At this point, transfer to the refrigerator and chill overnight.

For the filling and babka:

  1. Combine powdered sugar, cocoa powder, melted chocolate, cinnamon, melted butter and a pinch of salt. Mix to make a paste.
  2. After chilling dough overnight, take the dough and roll it to a rectangle with 1/4-inch thickness.
  3. Spread the filling over the dough leaving the edge closest to you empty for about 3/4 of an inch. Sprinkle the top with the finely chopped pecans.
  4. Starting from the long edge away from you, roll the dough into a spiral log, with the clean edge towards you as the seam. Roll the dough onto the seam.
  5. Cut the log in half and treat each as a separate loaf. Cut each log in half longways, leaving the final 1-2 inches attached. Turn the middle up to reveal the filling up towards you, and overlap the dough in a kind of braid all the way down. Tuck the ends over and fit into a 9-inch loaf pan lined with parchment paper.
  6. Allow this to rise in the pan for about an hour or until about double in size.
  7. Bake in a 350 F preheated oven until the center springs back when touched, about 25-30 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool.

For the crumble topping:

  1. Melt butter, incorporate all other ingredients. Using hands, bring it together into lumps.
  2. Let rest before using: chill or freeze.
  3. Separate lumps of crumb onto a lined baking sheet and put into a 350 F preheated oven.
  4. Bake for 12-16 minutes, until crumble is crunchy.

For the maple-roasted bananas:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Slice two bananas on a bias about 3/4-inch thick.
  3. Place banana slices on a quarter sheet tray.
  4. Mix syrup with scraped vanilla seeds and pinch of salt.
  5. Pour syrup over bananas and roast in the oven until softened and browned a bit, but not mushy, basting occasionally.
  6. If not browning enough, you can put them under the broiler for 1-2 minutes.

For the French toast:

  1. Beat two eggs with 1/2 cup whole milk and the zest of 1 orange until fully combined and no thick strands of egg remain, in a wide, shallow bowl.
  2. Slice babka into slices that are 3/4 inch thick.
  3. Heat a shallow pan over medium high. When the pan is hot, briefly dip the babka carefully into the egg mixture.
  4. Transfer carefully to the pan and cook on each side until it's toasty brown and set.
  5. Transfer to a warm oven to keep while making the rest of the French toast.
  6. Serve with the maple-roasted bananas, a heaping tablespoon of the whipped creme fraiche, some of the crumble topping and an extra sprinkling of the orange zest.

Learn more pro pastry tricks from Chef Penny in Pastry & Baking Arts at ICE.

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