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Pain Perdu – more than just French toast

french country bread

Pain perdu, a great French tradition of using stale bread to make a delicious fried bread snack – sweet or savoury, says top food blogger Jane Etherton who loves to find new ways to use up leftovers…

When summer begins to rear its lovely French head, posters and signs pop up everywhere with notices for foires, fêtes, vide greniers and brocantes. Many of these fairs, fetes, boot and vintage sales harbour gastronomic and otherwise edible treats in addition to their principal wares and are a great way to get into the local foodie groove.

Pesselieres foireWith a mere 30 residents, the little hamlet of Pesselières in the Cher organises the massive Foire de Pesselières  each 1st of June attracting 15 to 20 thousand visitors who stock up on basics as well as treats. Stalls line the streets of the village, running uphill and down, while farm machinery takes its place beside popup restaurants offering local and traditional fare. Here you will find everything from handkerchiefs to black pudding, from wines to olive and nut oils, hats and clothing, live poultry and even the occasional sock mender. For a literal as well as figurative taste of local France, I heartily recommend your visiting anything like this taking place in your area. Chances are you’ll find something to tickle your fancy!

One of the more stunning displays at the crossroads of Pesselières is  that of some fabulous pain de campagne or country-style bread. These large lovely long-lasting loaves will leave you longing for more, even before you finish them. With only two of us in our house we continually face the question of what to do with stale bread. Here are some of the ideas we have come up with over the years:

Pain perdu, or French toast

Pain perduUse a large serrated bread knife to cut thick slices of stale bread and coat them in a mixture of egg and milk before frying in lashings of melted butter and sprinkling with icing sugar or maple syrup. Not great on the waistline or the arteries, but ever so tasty.

Traditional seasonings in the eggy milk include cinnamon and nutmeg for breakfast while lunch and supper versions can be savoury with herbes de provence, rosemary, thyme, oregano and the like. Sprinkle with sautéed lardons, top with some grated cheese and serve with a salade for a wholesome lunch or dinner.

Try adding a good pinch of salt and several turns of freshly ground pepper before frying your pain perdu in sun-dried tomato oil. Top with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and grated or chopped mozzarella, then garnish with fresh basil for an Italianate treat.

How about a dash of curry and a topping of sultanas or dates? Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, anyone? The possibilities are endless…

Chapelure or breadcrumbs

Here again the seasoning possibilities, both sweet and savoury ,are endless, as are the uses. Satisfy a nostalgic longing for fish fingers by making your own. Chicken nuggets for the kids are easy to produce in a jiffy, too. Or how about cauliflower cheese topped with your own seasoned breadcrumbs.

Add some texture to fresh coquilles saint-jacques: grill them lightly in their scallop shells; then top with a mixture of breadcrumbs, minced onion or shallot and a few slurps of pastis. Grill again until the topping is golden. Délicieux !

A gratin de fruits rouges or grilled/broiled summer berries in sabayon is even better with a topping of crunchy breadcrumbs mixed with cinnamon and Demerara or brown sugar.

Bread and Butter Pudding!

What more need I say, except that savoury bread and butter puddings are just as good as the originals. Add the last bits of that blue cheese that’s lurking in the corner of your cheese box and go to town. Waste not, want not!

Stuff that bird

Mix breadcrumbs with finely diced onion or shallot, some chopped herbs, a dash of olive oil and a bit of beaten egg and stuff a pounded chicken breast, pork fillet or fish fillet before rolling in clingfilm/plastic wrap and steaming or cooking in a water bath. A quick trip in a frying pan with butter gives it some colour before serving. Just make sure to remove the cling film first! And save those juices for your sauce or gravy. Next time use ginger, spring onion and soy sauce for an Asian twist, and top with sweet chilli dipping sauce.

And finally, one of our favourite and most frequent uses for stale bread is stuffing for our Sunday Roast chicken. I grew up in America and in my family we made our stuffing with cubes of stale bread. My husband is English and he was taught to use breadcrumbs. Whatever you use, your bird – and you – will benefit from your leftover bread.

Bon appétit!

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