The concept of pain perdu (literally lost bread) has been around for centuries. Different European countries have their own take on this thrifty dessert come breakfast treat. The French coat slices of brioche in egg then fry it gently in clarified butter before dusting it with sugar. The Spanish first soak the bread in milk before dipping in egg and frying in butter and serving with honey or syrup (also known as torrijas). In seventeenth century Britain pain perdu evolved into a richer dessert called poor knights of Windsor. Slices of bread were dipped in cream followed by a further dunking in a mixture of eggs, cream, sugar and nutmeg before frying in butter. My version takes on aspects of all three variations and is a great way to use up any hot cross buns left over from Good Friday.
- 450ml boiling water
- 6 Earl Grey tea bags
- 300g golden caster sugar
- Juice from ½ – 1 lemon (according to taste)
- 4 sticks of rhubarb (about 400g) cut into 10cm pieces
- 150ml single cream
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 50g unsalted butter
- 4 hot cross buns cut in half
- Icing sugar for dusting
- To make the syrup: place the tea bags in a heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags squeezing all of the liquid out of them. Put the tea and caster sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally to ensure the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly until it has reduced by half and you have a thickish syrup. Add some lemon juice according to taste.
- To poach the rhubarb: pour they tea syrup into a large shallow saucepan or frying pan. Bring the syrup back up to boiling point then reduce the heat so that the syrup is barely simmering. Lower the pieces of rhubarb into the pan (ideally in a single layer) and gently poach for 5-10 minutes turning occasionally. You want the rhubarb to only just be cooked through – it shouldn’t be mushy – so keep a close eye on it. Once it is cooked remove the rhubarb from the syrup and place on a plate until required (this will prevent it from cooking further). You can serve the rhubarb warm or cold. Reserve the syrup for serving with the rhubarb and pain perdu later. Both they syrup and rhubarb can be prepared in advance.
- To make the pain perdu: Gently whisk the cream, vanilla extract and icing sugar together in a shallow dish. In another dish gentle beat the eggs. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a non stick frying pan. Dip each half of hot cross bun into the cream mix first followed by the egg. Fry in the butter until golden on each side. You will need to do this in batches but you can keep the pain perdu warm in a low oven (say around 50-100°C).
- To serve: Place two halves of pain perdu on a plate. Place 2-3 pieces of poached rhubarb next to it drizzled with some of the tea syrup. As a dessert, serve with ice cream or chantilly cream if desired.