I recently stayed at a wonderful place called El Pequeño Gecko Verde, in Playa Samara on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is a collection of five gorgeous bungalows with open-air showers (no need to be bashful, only the mosquitoes to see you here) set in a verdant garden within a tropical rainforest. There is a path through the trees to a secret beach; exotically coloured butterflies and hummingbirds flicker amidst the leaves, and howler monkeys act as your alarm clock in the morning. I spent languorous days lazing round the turquoise pool or sleeping in a hammock in the shade.
The French owners, Nathalie and Pierre, were incredibly welcoming, and the food was sensational. I asked Nathalie if she was a trained chef, but she said she simply had a passion for food. The breakfast menu was full of enticing choices – traditional Costa Rican dishes with a chic spin and hearty classics all beautifully presented; my favourite was the pain perdu.
Pain perdu is the French version of the English eggy bread or the Americans’ French toast (confused?). It translates as ‘lost bread’, which makes sense as it is a very effective method of reviving slightly stale bread. It can be served with chopped tropical fruit that has been cooked in a warm chocolate glaze à la Gecko Verde (pictured above), or with crispy bacon and maple syrup, or, if you are feeling really decadent – and it’s a summer morning – with a scoop of ice cream and some homemade caramel sauce.
Coconut Pain Perdu, adapted from www.taste.com.au
270ml coconut milk
0.25 cup caster sugar
0.25 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 x 1.5cm-thick slices of rustic-style bread or brioche
40g butter, chopped
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Whisk the coconut milk, sugar, eggs and cinnamon until combined and pour into a shallow dish. Add half the bread slices, turn over to coat them with the mixture, and then leave to stand in it for one minute.
Melt half the butter in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat until foamy, being careful not to let it burn. Cook the soaked bread for about a minute and a half each side, or until it is golden. Transfer to an oven tray. Repeat the process with the remaining bread, egg mixture and butter and then put the tray in the oven for 10 minutes.
Divide the pain perdu, which should be nicely crisp on the outside and like a soft fluffy cloud within, between plates and add your accompaniment of choice.
If you can get someone to serve this to you as breakfast in bed, so much the better.