One the most popular breakfast foods today French toast is a simple, yet elegant addition to any breakfast or brunch, whether at home or on the road. While often regarded as a French food, the actual beginning of French toast is not in France, but in medieval Europe. This guide to the history, styles and different ingredients will teach you everything you need to know.
How “French Toast” Came To Be
Back in medieval times, the need to stretch food was immense. Unlike today where we just run to the store to buy necessary ingredients, back then they we’re much more costly and many people didn’t have the money to guy them. Coupled with the fact that many ingredients, such as eggs, breads and meats, didn’t last as long as they today, finding a way to make what they had last was imperative.
Due to this, finding ways to stretch things, like stale bread, helped to feed the family, decrease the food budget and ensured that there was little waste. The original recipes called for stale, older bread, what we used to call day old bread. In those days, bread was baked fresh and had a relatively short shelf life because there were no preservatives.
Soaked in milk, beaten eggs or a mixture of beaten eggs and milk or cream, it was the one way that increased the shelf life of bread, created something that almost everyone liked and was relatively simple to make. Back then, it was generally fried, not cooked the way we eat it today.
Different Names, The Same Food
The earliest reference to what we call French toast today was seen in a 5th century cookbook by Apicius. In those days, cookbooks were only for the wealthy and were written by them. This particular recipe called for the bread to be soaked in milk, not eggs and had no special name, but was called aliter dulcia (another sweet dish). Some other names include:
- Arme Ritter-German
- Pain ala Romaine-French
- Pain Pardu- (lost bread) French
- Poor Knights of Windsor-England
- Suppe Dorate-Frenh
- Soupys yn dorye- French
- Arme Riddere-Denmark
Although known by these many names throughout the centuries, it first became “French Toast” in 1871 where it appeared in print. Regardless to say, no matter what the name or region, this has long been a way to stretch bread.
French Toast Today
Even today, you can find a wide variety of breakfast breads listed as French toast. From fast food to elegant restaurants, you can find French toast on almost any breakfast menu. Some of the wide variations you can find include:
French Toast Sticks: Generally, this is what is found on most fast food breakfast menus. It is bread that is soaked in the egg-milk mixture and then frozen. Most places deep fry or microwave these and have a crunch unlike those that are homemade, allowing for a quick breakfast when you’re on the go. Inspired by the fast food industry, these French toast sticks are now available in the frozen section, saving time and money. Easily prepared, they can be dipped in to syrup, jelly or any number of toppings
Cinnamon Toast: Another name for French toast, cinnamon toast is also made like French toast and then finished off with a blend of cinnamon and sugar.
Stuffed French Toast: Many restaurants offer something called stuffed French toast. Generally, it is two slices of bread, dipped in the egg/milk mixture, beaten eggs or just milk, then ingredients such as peanut butter and jelly, cheese or even meats are placed between the two slices and then the sides of the bread are pressed together, sealing the ingredients inside. This can then be fried on a griddle or even deep fried.
Breads That Are Used
The nice thing about French toast is that it can be made with almost any bread. Served for breakfast or for a dessert or treat, you can find a recipe for virtually any bread including:
- Challah Bread: This is traditional braided bread that has importance for several cultures, probably the most well known is the Jewish culture. A bread made from traditional ingredients, it is a little sweeter than ordinary bread. When it comes to French toast, this bread already has sugar, so it can easily be eaten without sweetened toppings such as syrup.
- Brioche: This light French pastry is a perfect match for French toast. Made similarly like regular sliced bread, it is the added eggs and butter that make it a pastry. When it comes to French toast, a prerequisite to using brioche is making sure it is day old.
- Croissants: Okay, these are already used in a wide variety of recipes, including breakfast sandwiches. But, when they are day-old (or longer), they are perfect to make this delicious treat
- Bagels: Now this favorite is already fairly stiff, a perfect thing when you’re making French toast.
- Italian Bread: This should be a day old at the very least
- French Bread: Day old or older.
As you can see, French toast can be made using a wide variety of breads. The main thing is they need to be day old, or heading towards stale so that it holds the moisture from the coating mixture without falling apart.
What Can The Batter Be Made Out Of?
French toast batter has a few main ingredients: Eggs, milk, half & half or heavy cream. But from there you can add almost anything you want. Some of the more popular batter ingredients include
- Flavorings such as orange, rum, maple
In this area, other than the eggs and dairy, the sky is the limit. Word of Caution: You don’t want a super sweet batter if you are topping with syrups, jelly or dusting with powdered sugar, so cut down the ingredients that will increase the sugar content. Also, make sure that you don’t overdo it with the milk, otherwise, your toast will end up soggy, not dry with crispy edges.
French toast is one of the most popular breakfast breads throughout the world. This guide to the history and styles give to a starting point to experiment and find which is right for you.