An Attempt at San Francisco Stuffed French Toast


Back in June we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at Starling Diner in Long Beach.  They serve this amazing dish called San Francisco Stuffed French Toast, which is a baguette filled with mascarpone cheese, dipped in creme anglaise, and broiled – not fried! – until golden and crisp.  (Full entry about that meal here.)  Ever since that visit, I’ve been curious to try making that dish, just to see if I can understand its mechanics.

Finding myself with an extra half of a baguette last week, I turned to the internet for potential recipes.  While there wasn’t an exact recipe, I was able to piece together a few recipes to guide me.  I had to resolve three key issues: make a creme anglaise, create a tasty mascarpone cheese filling, and then figure out how to construct and cook the baguette so it came out with a crispy exterior and moist but cooked interior. 


The ingredients were pretty simple: a slightly stale baguette, mascarpone cheese, milk, cream, egg yolks, and vanilla, and some fruit to serve on the side.

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A creme anglaise is basically a custard sauce.  In and of itself, it isn’t terribly complicated, although I suspect that my technique would improve if I had more experience making it.  I whisked three tablespoons of sugar into three egg yolks until pale yellow.  Ideally, you would use ultra-fine sugar rather than regular granulated sugar, to make it easier for the sugar to dissolve.

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Next, you heat a mixture of half cream and half milk until it is not quite to the point of boiling.  Then, pour the milk into the egg mixture slowly, whisking constantly so the eggs do not scramble.  The mixture is then returned to the stove and cooked gently (stirring constantly) until it reaches 160 F. It can then be strained through a wire mesh to remove any clumped bits of egg and then allowed to cool.


While the creme anglaise cooled, I whipped the mascarpone cheese with a little sugar, a tablespoon of juice from some canned peaches, and a pinch of salt.  Something about that caused it to coagulate a bit, so next time maybe I’ll just stick with a splash of honey and leave the salt out. 

The big challenge was figuring out how to stuff the baguette.  Slicing it open seemed problematic as the cheese would easily ooze out while cooking.  I tried sticking a serrated knife into one end of the bread, cutting a small pocket.  Then, I piped the mascarpone mixture into the bread.  All in all, this worked fairly well although it makes the dish a little more complex and dirties a few more kitchen implements.  


Next, I let the stuffed baguette rest in the creme anglaise, turning about once a minute, for a total of about four minutes.  I then place the baguette pieces on a parchment lined baking tray and put under the oven’s broiler, turning once, for a total of about eight minutes or until crispy and golden. 


While the bread broiled, I whipped a little cream to use as a condiment.  You could also prepare any fresh fruit – berries, bananas, peaches, etc. – to go with the dish.  I opted for canned peaches as I had a jar open in the refrigerator.


The finished product.  The mascarpone filling melted, which I recall being the case with the original, and gave the interior a rich sweetness.  The outside was crispy, although I’m not sure the baguette was really stale enough to get the right texture; it was still a little soft when I started this process and not as dry as would probably be best.  All in all, I think it turned out nicely and would be worth playing around with a bit more.  However, it definitely takes more effort than other versions of French toast I’ve had!


Food in Long Beach: Starling Diner


Near the end of our trip to Los Angeles last month, while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to visit Janet for tea, we stopped for brunch at the Starling Diner.  Located on East Third Street in Long Beach, the look and feel of the Starling Diner is that of an old-time neighborhood institution.  The food is comforting, the service friendly, and the fellow diners are, well, neighborly.

Starling Diner is all this despite having been around for less than five years.  It is no surprise then to learn that owner Joan Samson made a very conscious effort to create a space that had that neighborhood institution feel.  From their website:

In times past, neighborhoods were Communities where everyone casually knew each other and the gathering places were icons such as the front porch, the corner store and the neighborhood diner. It has always been our personal mission to create gathering spots that provide a sense of place along side the highest quality food and drinks. We live in and love Long Beach. We just made a place where we would like to meet our friends and connect.

My cousins had first brought me here in 2009 and I was eager to share the cute restaurant and tasty dining experience with Tawn.  He wasn’t disappointed.


This pale green cruiser parked outside seems to exemplify the Starling Diner.  Located amidst houses on a quiet street, this is the type of place you would hop on your bicycle and ride three blocks to meet some friends for breakfast at.


The tables are crowded with little tin tubs of all the condiments you might need.  Interestingly, they serve water in these biodegradable corn-based plastic cups in order to save the environment.  As I pointed out to the server (in a friendly, non-complaining sort of way), they would do more to save the environment to serve their cream, jellies, sugars, etc. in bulk containers rather than individual sachets and packages. 

The fact that our server took that suggestion with a thoughtful smile and remained friendly and welcoming is a good example of the type of consistent service I’ve enjoyed during both my visits.


The highlight of the menu is the San Francisco stuffed French toast.  Unlike most French toast, this is broiled not fried, and is made from baguette, not square loaf bread.


It does not disappoint!  The result is something that is light and crispy rather than heavy and soggy like most French toast.  This is a recipe I would like to learn to recreate at home.


Tawn had the crab cakes sandwich, which had these wonderful, large lump crab meat and tons of fresh greens.  This was really tasty, too.

All in all, the only disappointment at the Starling Diner was that there were just the two of us and, as such, we were only able to try two items on the menu.  Mark this on the list of places to come back to on a future visit!


Cooking – Attempting the Truffled Egg Toast

On our last two visits to New York City, Tawn and I have fallen in love with a small panini shop and wine bar in Greenwich Village called ‘ino.  The ambience is fantastic, the service is friendly, and most importantly the food is good.  After buying their cookbook on my last visit, I’ve eagerly awaited the opportunity to try and recreate their most perfect menu item: the truffled egg toast.


Perfect for breakfast, perfect for lunch, perfect for dinner, the truffled egg toast (original pictured above) is a thick slick of white bread, lightly toasted, with a pair of egg yolks gently baked in a well in the center of the toast while Fontina cheese melts along the edges.  Afterwards, it is drizzled with truffle oil and generously salted and peppered.  Lightly grilled asparagus provide the perfect condiment.

It is hard for me to convey in words just how wonderful the combination of flavors is: Truffle, egg, cheese, and asparagus just go together really well.


The big problem I faced here in Thailand was finding a loaf of bread that isn’t sliced.  I could bake it myself, but the ideal bread for this is a white sandwich bread, not something rustic like my homemade bread turns out.  Finally, Tawn spoke with a manager of a bakery and they said we could order unsliced loaves a day in advance.  Once we got the bread home, I realized it was a little too airy, sweet, and eggy – kind of like Portuguese sweet bread – to be ideal.  But I decided to press ahead with the experiment.


After toasting the bread lightly in the oven, I used a serrated knife to cut a 2-inch square in the middle of each slice, cutting about halfway into the 1-inch thick bread.  Then, using the handle of the knife, I tamped the bread down, forming a well.


The next step was to line the edges of the toast with Fontina cheese.  Except, in cheese-unfriendly Thailand, I couldn’t find Fontina so substituted Gouda.  Cheese is very expensive here and the types you find are very inconsistent.  A few months ago, I saw Fontina.  But when I went to the store this time, there was none.

In the middle of the well I put the yolks of two eggs.  When I first attempted this recipe after our first visit to ‘ino (before we bought the cookbook), I didn’t realize they only used the yolks so when I put a whole egg into the well, it just spilled over the top of the toast.  This seems to illustrate the saying, “If all else fails, read the directions.”


Not following directions, I broiled the toast rather than baking it, so the egg set a little firmer than was ideal.  That said, upon pulling the toast out of the oven, I stirred the egg with the tip of my knife and it turned out to be plenty runny.

The biggest problem was my truffle oil.  This oil has a limited shelf life and the oil we have is over a year old.  The strength of the truffle aroma is nearly gone, so we weren’t getting a healthy dose of that heady earthiness that makes truffles so wonderful.  Thankfully, we had a jar of black truffle salt on hand, so I liberally sprinkled that on top of the toast.

The conclusion?  Well, I don’t think I’m going to put ‘ino to shame anytime soon.  But with a little practice, a better choice of bread, cheese, and oil, and more attention to the directions, I think I’ll have a truffle toast worth serving to guests.  And considering that the real deal is 9,000 miles away, I think Tawn and I will be able to live with second-best until our next visit to New York!