As I was packing my bag for a weekend work trip last month, I scanned the shelves for a new book or magazine to pass the time on the plane.
My destination was Vermont. The purpose was a farm tour. Stonyfield, a company perhaps best known for making yogurt, had extended the invitation.
Some time ago, Stonyfield had given me a book of recipes submitted by, fittingly, yogurt lovers. The book reads like a community cookbook, a style I enjoy because it feels so personal. In this compilation, however, a common ingredient rather than a shared hometown links the recipes. It seemed like the right reading material for my trip.
My time in Vermont began with dinner at Kimball Brook Farm, an organic dairy farm in North Ferrisburgh. The owners host bi-weekly summer suppers as a means of bringing the rural community together amidst an evening of homegrown food and live music. The following days included tours of a small dairy farm as well as a large operation newly outfitted with robotic milkers. There was candid lunch conversation with Stonyfield co-founder Gary Hirshberg, an elegant farm-to-table dinner, and a bonus trip to the Ben & Jerry’s factory where ice cream flavors with crazy names like Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia rule the day.
The part of the weekend that stuck with me the most was my time spent at Green Wind Farm, owned and operated by Julie Wolcott and her family in Enosburg, Vermont. Julie has a small herd of Jersey cows, and her love of those cows and the surrounding land was palpable. After touring Julie’s operation, she and her multi-generational farming family treated us to a farm breakfast that lacked for nothing. Platters brimming with French toast, fluffy pancakes, scrambled eggs with sautéed greens, wild blueberries, spicy kimchi, homemade applesauce, and creamy yogurt mingled with saucers of freshly churned butter and jugs of their own maple syrup, sour cherry juice, and piping-hot coffee.
A small detail that caught my eye was how Julie’s young grandchildren topped their own pancakes with heaping spoonfuls of yogurt instead of the sweeter, more predictable choice of maple syrup. It reminded me of an overnight French toast recipe from the yogurt cookbook that I had brought as my weekend reading material.
Upon arriving home, I made the recipe several times, varying the ingredients here and there, and testing with various types of bread. Though the finished product may certainly be topped with yogurt, as was done in Vermont, this recipe takes a step back and uses the protein-rich ingredient in the custard-like soaking liquid. The final result is a creamy-in-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside alternative to the typical French toast.
Ultimately, my time in Vermont illustrated the many ways Stonyfield employees work with family farmers who wish to farm organically. Stonyfield aims to support these farmers and give them the tools to be economically viable over the long haul in what is a demanding, sometimes thankless job that lies at the mercy of Mother Nature and a host of economic variables.
The mindset at Stonyfield is that the best food starts with ingredients that are grown with care, and that knowing the growers makes a difference. As a lifelong resident of a major farming community, this is something I could truly appreciate.
Leftovers are delicious over several days when reheated in the toaster oven.
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk of choice*
- 2 cups (16 ounces) 2% flavored yogurt of choice (non-Greek works best)**
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 (16-ounce) loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch thick slices***
- Oil/butter for cooking
- For serving: additional yogurt, fresh fruit, and/or maple syrup
- In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk, yogurt, and vanilla, and stir until incorporated. Pour the mixture evenly between two 9x13-inch pans.
- Place the bread in the yogurt mixture, flipping and making sure that both sides are thoroughly coated. Cover the pans with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Carefully, turn the slices once or twice during this time to make sure they absorb plenty of the custardy yogurt mixture.
- The next morning, prepare a hot nonstick griddle or frying pan with oil or butter. (If you prefer the flavor of butter, mixing in a little oil will help prevent the butter from burning.)
- Lightly brown each side of the bread, cooking slowly over low heat. I start the bread on medium heat to get a nice golden brown color and then reduce the heat and wait patiently. This will ensure the insides are thoroughly and evenly cooked and the outsides are a little crispy.
- Top the cooked bread with additional yogurt, fresh fruit, and/or maple syrup.
- *You can use anything from nonfat milk to cream, canned coconut milk to carton almond milk. The level of richness/end result will vary only slightly. I enjoy a hint of coconut flavor, and have used the canned variety as well as Silk’s unsweetened almond-coconut milk, which is sold in a refrigerated carton.
- **My family enjoys a vanilla-berry version made with equal parts strawberry and French vanilla yogurt as well as an all-French vanilla variety. For a peach-melba option, use equal parts peach and red raspberry yogurt. Feel free to experiment with your favorite yogurt flavors. (Again, Greek yogurt is a bit too thick. If this is what you have and prefer to use, I recommend experimenting with a little less yogurt and a little more milk. The mixture should be thick yet pourable.) I think plain yogurt flavored with maple syrup would be delicious, too. For added sweetness with any variety of yogurt, you may add maple syrup, to taste, to the soaking mixture.
- ***Sturdy white bread will work best in this recipe. French is my favorite, although sourdough, ciabatta, or a similar loaf may be used. I have used Udi’s white bread, which is sturdier than typical sandwich bread, for a very good gluten-free option. In this case, look for the 24-ounce sandwich loaf using roughly two-thirds of it. The slices of bread are cut thicker than those in the 12-ounce loaf (of which you’d need part of a second loaf) and stand up better to an overnight soak. Beyond this gluten-free option, sandwich bread can be tricky. I have tried the recipe with Pepperidge Farm white bread, and though the taste was very good once cooked, the bread was harder to handle after the extended soak. Whole wheat sandwich bread is not recommended as it will likely become too mushy to handle.
- Stovetop cooking will create a perfect result, but a big batch of French toast does require a little patience. For a speedier oven option, I have used the following option with good success: Place the soaked bread on one or two well-greased baking sheets and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for approximately 25 minutes, flipping after 12-13 minutes, or until the insides are cooked through and the outsides are golden and slightly crusty.
A sturdy baguette holds up especially well to an overnight soak. See the recipe notes for other options, including an excellent gluten-free alternative.Farmer Julie Wolcott and her family in Enosburg, Vermont……and the long barn table they set for our farm breakfast.The meal lacked for nothing…eggs, greens, pancakes, French toast, applesauce, kimchi and so much more.Julie’s grandchildren topped their pancakes with yogurt instead of syrup…and the cream could not have been fresher! I made a friend. 🙂
Currently, dairy represents 70% of the agricultural economy in Vermont, yet many young farmers in the region are bypassing dairy in favor of vegetable farming. The former is expensive to start, requires lots of pasture land, twice-a-day milking, and tacks animal health onto the already broad skill set required of a farmer. Mt trip to Vermont demonstrated how, on a small scale, Stonyfield is giving people in farming communities a leg up. On a larger scale, the company’s goal is the long-term sustainability of the region. It’s a little something extra to feel good about when you’re eating your yogurt!