By Rita Turner
Translation: Julio Carvalho de Soares
I doubt that the creator of the French toast – whom ever he was – could imagine that such a simple idea would last for so long. Just like many other dishes, it is hard to find its origin. However, we know that the oldest documented appearance comes from ancient Rome (from the “De re coquinaria”, by the gastronomer Marcus Gavius Apicius, 25 B.C. – 37 A.D.).
The invention of the French toast most likely came from the “let’s improvise, not waste” way of thinking. In order to not lose the bread that was already stale and dull, people would dip it in milk (or any other liquid) and then fry it to give it a richer texture and add a few calories. Some would add sugar and why not, a hint of cinnamon, and the old bread would now receive a new life.
Spread throughout the world, the French toast is known through various names. In France, “Pain Perdu” (Lost bread), in Spain, “Torrijas”, in german it becomes “Arme Ritter” (poor knight). Each country has its own vision.
In Hungary, says my mother-in-law, the French toast is a salty food, and not sweet. As you might already know, the Portuguese were the ones who brought French toast – or golden slices, or even slices of pardidos – to Brazilian lands.
French Toast and Christmas: The method of reusing food is millennial and it comes from human nature. It is much more important than sustainability in many cases. In a kitchen that values reutilization, old rice become rice patties, beans become soup, and old bread becomes French toast (among many other goods).
The fact that a dish so simple such as the French toast was able to enter the dinner table during Christmas eve is to me an interesting paradox. In a time in which people dedicated themselves to try hard to buy special ingredients, many times going to the store to buy that special imported berry, or that special wine, there it is – French toast made with bread from the day before.
To be able to understand this phenomenon, maybe we need to observe the French toast through a Christian point of view. The idea of reusing old bread, avoiding waste, is a Christian act, since bread is considered a holy food in the bible.
Millennial French toast: The French toast has many variations. There is light, wholesome, roasted, fried, without lactose, without egg, ethics, hyper local and without cruelty. There is even gluten-free French toast. Gluten-free??? How can this be? After all, we live in a time of constant change. It’s the millennial French toast!
As good Brazilians, we also created French toast with condensed milk, of course. In the end, we have unconditional love for the milk from the can, and we would never miss a chance to add it to our table.
In Brazil, many bakeries sell French toast bread during the holiday season. This is in my opinion nothing more than smart advertising. After all, the French toast has been around for a long time without a special bread. It was created to avoid waste, reusing the old bread in a new way.
The so called “French toast bread” is a buttered bread that was perforated to absorb the ingredients and liquids more efficiently and to avoid dryness. You can do the same at home, all you need to do is to puncture the bread before slicing it with a fork or a stick.
Whichever your preference, French toast is a dish that was made to be served to family members in the holiday season, and the kids can help (carefully with the frying step, obviously), and if accompanied with a story, even better! So, the next time you have some old bread at home taking up space, call the kids over for a French toast afternoon.
Tell them your French toast stories, recent or not, while eating French toast in the kitchen table. By doing this, I hope, you will be creating memories, which will be retold and relived as well!
Simple Recipe: French toast is extremely adaptable, therefore, the following recipe will not be a common one (since the internet is filled with them) but yes, there are different stages on the making and some variations.
• Start off with some old bread, preferably already stale. It can be of any size or shape, as long as it can be sliced in a slice reasonably thick (around 2 cm).
• Dip some slices on the bread in milk, that can either be from a cow or a soy, almond, coconut, even chocolate milk. If you want, you can sweeten the milk with vanilla or use half milk and half condensed milk. This needs to be done quickly, or the slices will start disintegrating.
• Dip the slices in scrambled eggs, and, then, fry it in hot oil until both sides of the slice are yellowish-gold. It’s a good idea to check the oil temperature with one slice prior to adding the others. If its too hot, it will burn. Too cold and they will absorb too much fat and will be filled with oil. The slices should also be roasted, in this case, mix the eggs and milk together, dip the slices in the mixture and put then put them in the oven.
• Dap the slices in sugar and cinnamon and you are done!
Rita Turner writes to various culinary blogs. She is a big fan of chef Alex Atala who frequently saus that food is the biggest social network in the world. She believes in the influence of cuisines on the formation of one’s identity and see it as a essential agent in the preservation of culture.
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