French toast stands the taste of time
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
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).
The keys to successful French toast are sturdy bread and thorough soaking.