Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How to Make Christmas Pain Perdu (Italian Style) by Cleo Coyle

A popular breakfast in New Orleans, pain perdu literally means lost or wasted bread. Traditionally it's made with thick slices from a crusty French loaf that's gone stale, which tells you where the name originated. If not used this way, the bread would be wasted, lost to crumbs or bird feed.

There are two reasons I chose this recipe for Christmas day. The first is a gift to my readers, many of whom just finished Holiday Buzz. In the book, my amateur sleuth (Clare Cosi) talks about her special plan to cook up this dish on Christmas morning. Although I mentioned the recipe, I didn't publish directions for it.

The second reason I'm sharing this with you today is much more practical. Fruit cake is a customary gift for this Season, so many of you may have it on hand, and pain perdu is a very tasty use for those leftover pieces that might be going stale.

The Italian version of fruit cake is a rich, sweet bread lightly laced with dried fruit called panettone. If you've never had panettone, look for it in boxes like the one in my photo below. Boxed panettone can keep for months but once it's out of its wrappings, this delicious bread goes stale fairly quickly. When that happens, simply follow these directions for a festive French toast.

Merry Christmas, everyone...
Eat with joy to the world!
~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle's
Panettone Pain Perdu
Fruit Cake French Toast

For every 4 slices of bread, fruitcake or panettone quarters...


2 large eggs
¼ cup whole milk, light cream, or half-and-half
(optional) 1-2 tablespoons Amaretto 
½ teaspoon vanilla (if not using any liqueur flavoring, double this amount)
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 one-inch thick round of panettone, quartered (or 4 slices of fruitcake)
For frying: 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil +
For frying: 1 tablespoon butter
To finish: confectioners' sugar

Note: This is a versatile recipe so feel free to substitute orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier) for the amaretto. A bit of nutmeg and cinnamon to taste are also optional additions, along with some orange zest. I prefer mine with just the amaretto and vanilla, but to each her own! I sometimes turn this into a lovely dessert by scooping ice cream over a warm piece, and sprinkling chopped, toasted almonds over the top with a drizzle of amaretto and a puff of whipped cream. Enjoy!

Avoid disaster: If you're a French toast expert, you don't need these tips, but if you haven't made it in some time, note that fruit cake, panettone, and any soft bread will be quite fragile and tear on you easily. To avoid that, note my underlined comments in the recipe, and you should end up with a very pretty plate of (non-torn) pain perdu!


Step 1—Prep bread: If using fruit cake, slice 4 one-inch pieces. If using panettone bread, slice a 1-inch thick round layer (see my photo). The thickness is important to avoid tearing. 

Allow the cake or bread to sit out and become dry for a few hours or overnight. When ready to cook, preheat your oven to 250 degrees F. Slice the thick round into 4 quarters and set aside.

Step 2—Mix egg custard: In a bowl, combine the eggs, milk, liqueur and/or vanilla, sugar, and salt. Place the egg mixture into a pie or cake pan and soak the slices of bread for about 3 minutes on one side, then avoid tearing by using two forks to carefully turn the fragile pieces and soak them for another 3 on the other. At this point most of the liquid should be absorbed. 

Step 3—Fry and bake: Into a skillet or sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 of butter. When the butter is melted and butter/oil mixture is hotuse a clean hand to carefully transfer the fragile slices of fruit cake or panettone quarters into the pan. Pour any remaining custard over the top of the slices in the hot pan. 

Turn the heat down to medium and begin to time the cooking. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown (do not overcook). If cooking more batches, be sure to wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and add fresh oil and butter for each new batch. 

Use a spatula to carefully transfer the fried quarters to a parchment lined baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes. After that time, either serve the pain perdu or turn off the oven to "hold" the pieces for 20 to 30 minutes.

Step 4—Serve : Eat the pain perdu warm with a traditional New Orleans’ dusting of powdered sugar and/or serve with butter and pure maple or cane syrup and/or fruit toppings (strawberries, blueberries, etc). Add a scoop of ice cream and/or whipped cream, maybe some chopped nuts, and you have an incredible dessert. As for me and my husband, Marc, this is what we'll be eating Christmas morning...



Merry Christmas, everyone,
from Cleo and all of us at
Mystery Lovers' Kitchen!


  1. Merry Christmas everyone! Cleo, I wish I was with you having that marvelous French toast for breakfast! xoxo Lucy

    1. Merry Christmas to you, too, Lucy.
      Sending you a virtual slice!

      ~ Cleo

    2. The virtual slice has the advantage of zero calories (well, and zero taste-but we have great imaginations, right?).

      The very best of the season(s) to you all.

  2. What a great idea, Cleo. I'll have to remember this! Beautiful photos again.

    Enjoy your Christmas!

    ~ Krista

    1. Thank you, Krista, I hope you enjoy your Christmas, too, and I'm very much looking forward to a delicious New Year with you and everyone in the Kitchen!

      ~ Cleo

  3. Cleo, yum, yum, yum. Can't wait to try this. (I'll have to try GF of course but what fun to try!)

    Merry merry. Enjoy the feast or friends or the quietude. :)


    Daryl / Avery

    1. Thank you, Daryl, and enjoy your holiday, as well. See you tomorrow in the Kitchen!

      ~ Cleo

  4. Merry Christmas, Cleo! Thanks for sharing . I enjoy the pictures and history of the recipes you share almost as much as as the recipes themselves. Wishing you a joyful holiday!

    1. Thank you, Laine, always a pleasure to hear from you. Wishing the same to you and may your New Year be bright!

      ~ Cleo