Weekend breakfasts growing up were long, sunny affairs full of possibilities. Mama always made the table pretty, set with flowers, marbles in glass bowls, shells from beach walks, linens, any of our treasures, and always a glass of bright orange juice in the middle of our breakfast plates. The first taste of morning.
We would listen to the radio or put on a favorite morning cd (like above) and my mother and I would putter around in our robes bemoaning my father's unwillingness to stay in his nightclothes all morning. We would open books, contemplate recipes. Sometimes I would be the first one awake and I would choose something special and bake it as quietly as I could, smiling to myself about what a surprise it would be. (I am using the past tense, here, but the truth is that present day visits home are blissfully not at all different from these memories.)
And we had our classics. The books that held our favorite recipes, the books that felt like weekend mornings just having them out. They are some of the dearest additions to my collection of cookbooks as my parents give me my own copies through the years.
One of our very favorite morning visits was this book: The Breakfast Book by (the extraordinary) Marion Cunningham. So many of our classics came from this book and when I received it as a gift from my parents, I read it almost cover to cover for the first time. It is full of wisdom and delicious things but always in the voice of a good friend and mentor who has just poured you a cup of tea or sent you a letter. It's not fussy, it's not grand. It is simple and comforting and, for that, beautiful.
Throughout the book she shares, what I imagine are, her favorite little bits and pieces about breakfast:
Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast table. - Nathaniel Hawthorne
As well as her own wisdom:
(from her Breakfast Table Civility and Deportment rules)
7. Because everyone is defenseless at breakfast, there should be no contentiousness or crossness.
13. And don't answer questions in a saucy manner.
Indeed, as the Frenchman would say.
So when I heard last month that she had passed away, I went back once again to her breakfast book. Flipping to the back, she arranged a delightful collection of breakfast menus by season and by event such as "Thanksgiving Breakfast", "A Day in Bed", and "A Special Day". I had contemplated going back to our all-time favorites for a breakfast in her honor, but when I came to the last menu, I know there was no other choice:
A VERY, VERY SPECIAL BREAKFAST
Fresh Orange Juice Ice
Chocolate Walnut Butter Bread French Toast
So I baked the bread and we devoured the rich French Toast and raised our orange juice glasses to Marion. For her recipes, her work to bring appreciation to real home cooking, and her delightful book on breakfast. How lucky we were to have her at our table weekend mornings.
Chocolate Nut Butter Bread
adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham
(one medium loaf)
I used whatever nuts I had on hand (hazelnuts and walnuts) but I suspect that any nut or combination of nuts would be just as lovely. Marion advices, since the bread is so rich, dipping the slics only briefly in egg for French Toast so they don't absorb very much. I made the toast twice and the second time let it soak which I liked even better because, to me, the egg helped balance the richness.
1/4 c warm water (105 - 115°F)
1/2 package dry yeast
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs, room temp
6 tbsp (87g) butter, softened
1/2 c chopped nuts (large pieces)
3 oz (85g) semisweet chocolate, chopped into large pieces
Stir the yeast into the water and left dissolve and foam for 5 minutes.
In a big bowl, beat yeast mixture, flour, sugar, salt, and eggs until well blended. Add the butter in pieces and beat until batter is smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Gently punch down the dough and fold in the nuts and chocolate pieces until evenly dispersed. Spoon the batter into a 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 3-inch loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes. Wait 5 minutes before turning the loaf out onto a cooling rack and remember, there will be melted chocolate so don't be wearing you white cocktail dress.
To make French Toast, cut loaf into 3/4-inch thick slices. In a soup plate or baking dish, combine 4 eggs and a splash of milk. Soak each side of the slices in the egg until they are moist but not falling apart. Griddle, and devour.
P.S. go easy on the syrup.