On Saturday mornings, as the blinds are cracked open, flooding the kitchen with warm slats of sunlight, a certain peace descends over our apartment. I think we can all agree there’s a certain charm to weekend mornings. Whether you’re up early with your morning devos and cup of coffee or basking in those precious extra hours of sleep, it’s comforting to know that, for the moment, there are no classes, no schedules. You can breathe. And, you can take your time making and enjoying breakfast. The grab-and-go granola bars of the weekdays are behind you. Now is the time for eggs, banana bread, pancakes and that delicious fluffy, buttery, cinnamon-y, delight we know as French toast.
Despite popular belief, French toast was not actually invented in France. In fact, Apicus (our Roman friend who, as you may remember from my last article, gave us some insights into the dawn of the meatloaf) records a French-toast-like dish widely enjoyed in Rome in the 5th century A.D. The dish, known as “aliter dulcia” or “another sweet dish,” was prepared by dipping bread in milk and egg, frying it in oil and butter, and serving with honey.
A version of French toast was also quite popular in Medieval Europe. In the 15th century, “lost bread” was embraced as a yummy and economic solution to prolonging the life of stale bread. The old, hard bread was “lost” as it was dipped in egg, fried and transformed into a sweet pastry-like treat. Today, the French still refer to French toast as “lost bread” or “pain perdu” and serve it as a dessert. Other countries around the world refer to the dish as “Spanish toast,” “German toast,” “nun’s toast” or even just “eggy bread.”
So, why do we insist on calling French toast “French” if it isn’t from France? No one really knows for sure. The name “French toast” first appeared in a 17th century English book entitled The Accomplisht Cook. Some speculate that “French” doesn’t refer to the country but rather to the Old Irish verb “to french,” meaning “to slice.” Thus, “French toast” is actually “sliced toast.” Proponents of this explanation claim that the name and recipe was later brought to America by early settlers. Another legend has it that Joseph French, living in Albany, New York in the 18th century, was the true inventor of the famed breakfast food. However, poor Joe had an unfortunate proclivity for bad grammar, and, when naming his masterpiece, accidentally forgot the apostrophe “s.” Instead of “French’s toast,” the dish went down in history as “French toast.” Still others speculate that Americans just decided to slap the name “French” on the dish because it makes it seem fancier and allows chefs to charge more for the meal.
While we cannot know for certain the exact origin story of French toast, we can still be grateful for its heartening presence at American breakfast tables today. The dish goes perfectly with syrup and any combination of fresh fruit including blueberries, kiwis, bananas, strawberries, and mango. And, if you want to make the dish a bit more fancy, you can even top it off with a dusting of powdered sugar. While French toast may seem like a pretty basic recipe, my version is especially sweet and fluffy because of the bread we use: Trader Joe’s Sliced French Brioche Bread (this recipe is for all of you Trader Joe’s fans out there). The brioche bread is thick, soft, and lightly sweetened. As you place this egg-laden bread into a pan to sizzle amidst the butter, the added mixture of sugar, vanilla, cream, and cinnamon will fill your home with a fragrant, inviting aroma. The recipe below is for eight slices of toast, so you can easily share this meal with your roommates. Refrigerate any leftovers, which can be reheated or toasted and enjoyed later in the week!
French Toast Recipe:
Eight slices of Trader Joe’s Sliced French Brioche Bread
¼ cup half and half (alternatively you can use milk, but I prefer the richness of cream)
½ tsp vanilla extract (I use a splash more)
1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
2 TBSP granulated sugar
4 – 6 TBSP butter
Maple syrup to serve
In a shallow square dish or a pie plate, whisk together the eggs, half and half and vanilla.
Add the cinnamon and sugar and whisk again until well blended.
In a 10- or 12-inch skillet, melt 2-3 TBSP of butter over medium heat.
Dip bread in egg mixture – flip and dip other side.
Fry slices until golden brown, then flip to cook the other side.
Add additional butter to skillet as needed.
Serve with maple syrup.