The origins of French Toast are very unclear. The English sometimes refer to French Toast as Eggy Bread, unless it’s the slightly more medieval reincarnation called Poor Knights of Windsor*, the French call it Pain Perdu, “lost bread” more because the bread has become stale and you’ve lost the chance to eat it fresh rather than you’ve misplaced it! The Spanish know them as Torijas, cinnamon French Toast soaked in syrup. Was it a French chef who came up with the idea or a person called Chef French who in 1724 created this for the first time? To further add to the mystery, over the years there has also been some confusion as to Gypsy Bread and Gypsy Egg, where one should not be confused with the other; the former refers to eggy bread, french-toast style and the latter to Huevos A La Flamenca!
*Poor Knights of Windsor is a dish very similar to French Toast. However, unlike French Toast, it is sugar and sherry that are stirred into a shallow dish of milk before dipped on both sides in egg yolk and then frying in butter. These “Poor Knights” are then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with jam.
Personally, French Toast makes for the perfect weekend breakfast.
Just: soak your bread, get your coffee ready, steam your milk, fry your bread and you’re pretty much good to go.
It’s slightly more difficult than a slice of toast or a bowl of cereals but something quite easy to make at a leisurely pace. Nothing too strenuous nor stressful and very manageable to put together whilst still wearing your pyjamas.
I’m not quite sure I’d like to wake up to a boozy version of this, hence why the poor knights might never make it to my breakfast table.
Of paramount importance. The bread you choose is pretty much what makes this. Now is not the time for granary, wholemeal, spelt flour varieties – the flavour would interfere too much with the final outcome. Pale, light, plastic bread, slightly stale, is probably going to be your best soaking vehicle that won’t disintegrate into a porridgy-crumb but for me it has to be the sweet enriched dough of challah bread – a braided Jewish bread made with eggs – that to me always comes courtesy of Idan Greenberg at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar. Sliced challah holds its shape perfectly after soaking in the eggy mixture, maintaining its shape and firm crust as it fries.
Challah bread making at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar.
There are several different variations of the eggy mixture – some people use cream instead of milk in the mixture, others will add spices such as cinnamon and flavours like vanilla, lemon & orange zest, others will use caster sugar in the mixture rather than sprinkling it over at the end, others will make a sugar syrup to dunk the French Toast (torijas) in after they come out of the frying pan.
Personally, I think one egg per person, splosh of milk, cinnamon, icing sugar as this dissolves in the milk and vanilla are your essential ingredients and anything straying from there will depend on what you’re going to eat drizzled or spooned over your French Toast.
Nothing is wrong and everything is right.
Soaking the mixture varies on the type of bread used, how stale it is and the thickness which you’ve cut the slice. You can soak it from anything from 30 secs a side to 20 mins; some wait for all the liquid to be absorbed. I go with my eye as I don’t want the bread to disintegrate on touch! I usually tend to go for around 5mins a side and if there is too much liquid left I’ll give it an extra few mins for good measure, as you do want the eggy mixture to permeate through as much of the bread as possible to almost soufflé the bread as it cooks.
Only two options – put it in the oven or fry it – but to be totally honest, oven baked eggy bread sounds as if it might end up dry and leathery. So for me, it’s frying all the way.
Frying must be in butter but by the time you’ve turned the toast around to fry the other side, the butter has turned brown (noisette) and adds an unpleasant taste to your French Toast and an odd smell to the kitchen! Adding sunflower/vegetable oil will help stop the butter burning but this is not a guarantee as butter no matter what its mixed with will still burn. However, a clever alternative is using clarified butter.
Cinnamon & Vanilla flavoured French Toast is great as it is but I always like mine topped with some fruit compote or even a drizzle of maple syrup or if I’m being particularly greedy, both.
To make the fruit compote is very easy: put some fresh/frozen berries in a pan with some water and sugar. Boil it down until the liquid has reduced and the fruit mixture syrupy. On this occasion I even added some luscious strawberry jam given to me as a food gift.
Remember to get your Challah on Friday and surprise someone this Weekend!