When I was growing up in Toronto we used to be members at a place called The Granite Club. It was every bit as stuffy as the name implies, but for our athletically inclined family it was our home away from home.
The Granite Club sits on the edge of a ravine, and offers a smattering of waspy sports – lawn bowling, squash, badminton, and the like. And of course, that curious cult-like Canadian sport: curling. Although I never curled regularly, I did try it a few times, and can tell you convincingly that it’s not my thing. Sweeping floors seems more like a chore, not a sport. I hope I haven’t offended anyone.
Although I dabbled in skating and swimming, my favorite activity was tennis, where I took lessons each week with my coach Gary.
Gary was an affable guy with furry legs and tight white shorts that fell within the club’s 10% color regulation. I’m still prudishly judgmental when I see Serena Williams take to the courts wearing black and neon pink. This type of violation would have been punishable by law at The Granite Club. Security guards would have whisked you away like some kind of White Collar criminal.
Maybe The Granite Club was too clean cut for my image because I fought back with some early stage rebellion. On my 10th birthday I begged my mom for a short haircut and a triple piercing in each ear.
She gave in. I appreciate the fact that she was so supportive of my personal style choices, however misguided. The problem arose when I asked my hairdresser to leave a rat tail in the back. “Keep it short, but please leave a long stringy tail” I suggested to Gerald as the manly haircut took shape.
The end result wasn’t pretty. Rating lower than a mullet on the Hairstyle Attractiveness Index, it was the kind of cut that would have gotten me laughed straight out of middle school.
Which is why Gary saved my life. Hours after the cut, I arrived for my lesson and was greeted by a blank stare. “Wow, that’s a horrible haircut.”
I was crushed. I liked Gary; I respected his opinion. We were usually all business on the tennis court. I was there to improve my game and beat my nemesis, who was lazy but precise. Style wasn’t ever a topic of conversation, nor did I want it to be. Here I was with a foolish haircut that was distracting both of us from the job at hand. It was like playing a game of Chess with whipped cream on the end of my nose.
I had to put a stop to my self-inflicted mortification. As soon as I got home, I snipped the tail.
Tennis was the name of the game at our next session. I still had the short hair that would take me a nearly a year to re-grow, but my other, more serious transgression had been eliminated.
Also back to normal was my after-tennis routine, which involved heading upstairs to the cafeteria for some cinnamon toast and a Peach Snapple chaser.
For a club full of women in knee-length plaid skirts and muted locker room conversations, the cafeteria packed some heat. Greasy burgers, sloppy grilled cheese, and of course the cinnamon toast, which was two pieces of Wonder bread, toasted and slathered in a chocolate-colored cinnamon spread.
I hadn’t eaten this cinnamon toast for 20+ years, and last week had the sudden urge to make it .The kids will be at day camp this summer and tennis is on the agenda. In a reverse Proustian moment, Lauren’s Junior-sized tennis racquet triggered a flood of Granite Club food memories.
Why hadn’t I made this in over 20 years? I’m still berating myself.
It’s so easy a caveman could do it! If they weren’t so busy buying GEICO insurance, they’d be making cinnamon butter all day long.
And hide those thoughts of buttered bread with a delicate sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.
This is Texas-style cinnamon butter. To be honest, I don’t know if they make it in Texas, but I’m pretty sure that if I asked Tim Love to make me some cinnamon toast it would look just like this:
Pure Granite Club decadence, updated with some 21st Century pretentiousness.
Starting with Ceylon cinnamon (fair warning: many brands of cinnamon are actually Cassia, an inferior substitute, so do what you can to find real Ceylon cinnamon.)
Next, I softened a stick of European-style salted butter from the Vermont Creamery.
Last, I swapped out the Wonder bread for something a little more satisfying – some Pain de Mie (French-style Pullman) from Amy’s in Chelsea Market.
I’ll stop here because I’m starting to annoy myself. Back in the day, it was perfectly good with Wonder Bread and a stick of Land O’ Lakes, so feel free to make it like that, I won’t judge.
And here’s the kicker – with a bowlful of leftover cinnamon butter, I made some marbled baked French toast. Cinnabon had better stay out of the French toast business or this recipe will be worthless to you.
Just spread the cinnamon butter on a few pieces of bread, chill overnight (or a day or two before, suit yourself) and tear into chunks.
Bake in the oven with a mixture of egg & half ‘n half, and suddenly you’ve got this on your hands:
This dish is great for lazy weekend mornings when you’re in the mood for brunch and don’t want to go anywhere near the kitchen.
Or for school mornings just because.
Which is how we ate it because if you’ve made it the night before, it takes about the same time to reheat as an EGGO waffle.
And by the way, it’s pretty darn good with a scoop of vanilla creme fraiche too.
So many choices. I leave it up to you. Just do me a favor, steer clear of the bad haircuts. That’s never a healthy choice.
- 1 stick (4 oz) of good quality salted butter (if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt)
- ¼ cup good quality cinnamon
- ¼ superfine sugar
- 4 thick slices of a good quality country white bread, Pullman, or Pain de Mie
- 5 eggs
- 1.5 cups half ‘n half
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Maple syrup and/or crème fraiche
- Soften butter for a few hours or overnight.
- In a medium bowl, mix the butter with the cinnamon and the sugar.
- Spread 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon butter on each of the 4 slices of bread and lay them in a medium casserole dish- doesn’t matter how as you’ll be breaking them up and re-inserting them at a later point.
- You’ll have leftover butter at this point, which will keep in your fridge for a few weeks and is great for making cinnamon toast (just remember to soften beforehand).
- Chill the dish for a few hours, overnight, even for up to a few days. Stale bread is the key for this recipe.
- Once the bread has chilled, remove and set to the side while you butter the inside of the casserole dish.
- Once buttered, break up the chunks of bread and lay them inside the dish.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, half ‘n half and vanilla.
- Pour over the bread chunks, and with a large piece of Saran Wrap, cover and compress it a little with your hands.
- To help with the absorption, put something heavy on top of the Saran Wrap – I used a smaller casserole dish but you could also use soup cans.
- Let the mixture absorb into the bread for 20 -30 mins.
- While the mixture is absorbing, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Remove the weights, and the Saran Wrap, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the aluminum foil and bake for another 30 mins or until custard has set.
- Remove the French Toast from the oven, scoop onto individual plates and top with maple syrup and/or crème fraiche. (Vermont Creamery makes a vanilla crème fraiche that’s perfect here).
- Although this may look like a long and complicated process, the active time is short and can be spread out over multiple days making it a cinch to pull together.
- French toast can be baked ahead of time, covered and reheated the next day to save time in the morning.