French toast (or Torrijas, in Spain)
Sweet and soft, french toast is a real breakfast treat. Torrijas in Spain, or pain perdu in France, whatever you call them, they are a winner.
- 500 ml milk (unsweetened oat, soy or almond or dairy)
- 1/4 lemon peel
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 thick slices of hardened bread or brioche
- 2 eggs (or chickpea flour + water mixed until you get egg consistency)
- 1 tbsp cinnamon powder
- 3 tbsp sugar
Heat the milk, cinnamon stick and lemon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer for 3-5 mins. Remove from heat and let it cool down slightly. This step is of course optional, but adds another level of deliciousness. Skip if in a hurry – or better, don't be in a hurry! Cooking with time and peace feels so gooood.
Once the milk mixture is warm (but not too hot), soak each slice of bread in it for about 2-5 minutes. The harder the bread you use, the more you can soak them. The softer, the easier they will break. We are aiming for a tender, soft toast, not a crumbled, broken one.
In the meantime, set a pan to medium heat, pour a little (or a lot) mild olive oil.
Beat the eggs in a bowl. Take each slice of bread out of the saucepan, let it drip any excess milk. Dip each slice of bread in the egg and fry in the pan on both sides, until golden brown.
Place the french toasts on a plate, previously lined with kitchen paper. Let it soak and absorb any excess oil.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon powder in a semi-deep plate or bowl. Dip and flour each french toast, until it's covered in magical star dust.
Serve along with your favourite fruit, blueberry jam or apple compote – maple syrup or honey – maybe even some whipped cream and a few mint leaves? Get creative!
So where do french toasts, torrijas or pain perdu come from? What do they mean in the context of the world, culture, ingredients used and their access, and times we would typically eat them?
And what do they mean in our own lives? And most importantly, what are some delicious ways of eating them? If you’re interested in diving deeper into the world of french toast, walk with me (and scroll down).
After doing some research, it seems like this sweet dessert is as old as the Roman Empire – quite literally. The first written record of this dish is found in an old 5st century AD called De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking) and also known as Apicius. In this book, recipes and culinary techniques are explained. The book is made up of different parts, each one covering a different food group (meat, fish, vegetables, legumes, seafood, etc.). In the “homemade desserts” section of this Roman food saga appears a sweet treat called aliter dulcia (another type of sweet), which can be prepared in two ways:
- Take bread without its crust, soak it in milk, bake it in the oven but don’t let them dry. Take them, prick them and brush with honey until wet. Sprinkle pepper and serve.
- Take bread, remove the crust and slice in big pieces. Soak in milk, fry and add honey on top.
The use of eggs and sugar came later. Sugar was actually quite the luxury until the 19th century, when beetroot sugar was popularised. When chefs started incorporating this dish to their menus, they also added flavours like cinnamon.
So it’s pretty old, and therefore also widespread. You can find this recipe in Spain, Portugal (rabanadas or fatias douradas), France (pain perdu), Germany (Arme Ritter), Nordic countries, UK, US, India; each country calling it and preparing it in its own way. Similar to pancakes or crepes, where the use of flour (or bread, in this case) combines with milk, egg and a fat seems to be another thing us humans have in common, it seems. A sweet dish, made with soaked bread, sweetened and fried.
If I look into the history of torrijas here in Spain, there is quite a lot on the topic. It’s a comforting, traditional sweet enjoyed as dessert, typically eaten a lot during Easter. There are regional torrijas, with specific names that were given to them. I won’t go into much detail on this today, but just a fun fact: torrijas were, for a while, closely connected to women as they were about to give birth, they would eat them often before and after becoming mothers, and offered to guests who came to see the newborn baby. They think this could be because of its easy digestion (and probably comforting deliciousness) – you can read more about it in this light-hearted article written by El Comidista.
To me, torrijas are something my granny was very good at making. Every time I eat them, I think of her, and my heart smiles a little. They are real comfort food: crispy on the outside, soft and moist in the inside, sweet and cinnamony. They can brighten a morning and lighten the soul. Using the leftover, stale, forgotten (perdu) bread is just plain awesome, in my opinion. As are so many other food surplus recipes (recetas de aprovechamiento).
There are probably infinite ways of preparing french toast. I’ve chosen the version I’ve always practiced + infusing the milk in cinnamon and lemon, which is something I started doing last year.
The photos in this recipe show strawberries, blackberries, raspberries… In no way should you feel this is what you should top your french toast with. I made these in the Summer, and berries were pretty much everywhere. However, this doesn’t happen all year round, and it shouldn’t mean we don’t eat french toast the rest of the year – that would be ridiculously wrong.
When deciding what toppings to add to your french toast, this is how I would go about it:
- Seasonal fruits – what is available to you (preferably locally) right now?
- If in Spain, Península Ibérica, check out www.soydetemporada.com to learn what is on and out when it comes to “food fashion” (seasonality).
- Jam, mermelade or compote – or any other fruit preserve
- A sweetener of choice (honey, maple syrup, sugar)
- Whipped cream – dairy, coconut
- A nut butter – peanut, almond, hazelnut or homemade nutella
- Seeds – sunflower, sesame, pumpkin… you name it
If I made them right now, I would probably use pear, apple (or apple compote), banana, with some peanut butter, a little maple syrup drizzled and some sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
I would say… get creative, explore, experiment, make mistakes, learn, improve – repeat! And honestly, some days I feel like eating them just as they are, and that’s fine too.
If you try them out, leave a comment in the comment section below or contact me directly. Comments, feedback and suggestions are always welcome!