French toast stands the taste of time

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Bill St. John

What we call “French toast” may well be one of the old­est recipes in our cul­ture. A col­lec­tion of recipes called “De Re Co­quinaria” (“The Art of Cook­ing”), dat­ing from the 4th or 5th cen­tury, calls for dip­ping stale bread in milk and fry­ing it.

And we’re off.

A sop, as dipped and cooked bread was called in the Mid­dle Ages, was ex­tremely pop­u­lar. They — and the word — gave us “soup” and “sup­per” and even­tu­ally French onion soup; French “pain perdu” (“lost bread”), a way to re­claim old bread and a prized dessert in France to­day; and, through­out Europe, Bri­tain, its colonies and the New World, all sorts of both sweet and sa­vory turns on bread dipped or soaked in milk and eggs and cooked and served with sugar, honey, fruits and syrup or ba­con, cheese or gravy.

The keys to suc­cess­ful French toast are sturdy bread and thor­ough soak­ing. Broche, chal­lah and baguette bread work well and a long soak­ing makes for a sort of cus­tard or pud­ding at the cen­ter of each cooked slice — the ul­ti­mate aim for the most de­li­cious French toast.

To­day’s recipe comes from that last bas­tion of France in the United States — Louisiana, es­pe­cially its

head­wa­ters of New Or­leans and the Ca­jun coun­try nearby.

Pain Perdu (“Lost Bread”)

Chuck Tag­gart, gum­bopages.com; Serves 4

This is New Or­leans-style French toast, made with stale French bread. Pain perdu got its start as a way of us­ing up left­over bread. We like it so much that we buy ex­tra French bread and set it on the kitchen counter to get stale so we can make pain perdu, or some­times bread pud­ding. If you live out­side New Or­leans and can’t get our lo­cal French bread, sub­sti­tute your own lo­cally avail­able French or Ital­ian bread. Don’t use sour­dough. Let the but­ter and oil get siz­zling hot in the skil­let be­fore adding the soaked slices. Keep the fried slices warm in a 200-de­gree oven while you fin­ish cook­ing the rest. In­gre­di­ents

8 slices stale French bread (cut on

bias, about 1¼ inches thick) 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk 4 large eggs, well-beaten ¼ cup sugar or sim­ple syrup 2 tea­spoons vanilla ex­tract

A few grat­ings of fresh nut­meg, to

taste

4 ta­ble­spoons but­ter

4 ta­ble­spoons vegetable oil 2 tea­spoons pow­dered sugar, mixed

with ½ tea­spoon cinnamon Di­rec­tions

In a large bowl com­bine the hal­fand-half or milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and nut­meg and mix thor­oughly. Soak the slices of stale French bread in the cus­tard mix­ture un­til they’re thor­oughly soaked. Mean­while, melt the but­ter in a heavy skil­let and add the oil. When the but­ter and oil mix­ture is very hot, fry the soaked bread slices one or two at a time on each side, un­til golden brown. Drain on pa­per tow­els and hold in a warm oven un­til all the slices are cooked. To serve, sprin­kle with cinnamon and pow­dered sugar mix­ture just be­fore serv­ing. Serve with Louisiana cane syrup, a strong­lyfla­vored honey or any good syrup of your choice (real maple or fruit syrups are lovely too, but avoid that ar­ti­fi­cially-fla­vored pan­cake syrup).

Andy Cross, Den­ver Post file

The keys to suc­cess­ful French toast are sturdy bread and thor­ough soak­ing.

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