While making French toast the other day, I got to thinking about its origins. Who first came up with the ingenious idea of soaking stale bread in a liquid and then frying it up? When was the first French toast made? Was it created in France as the name suggest? I decided some research was in order.
The first thing I discovered was that the earliest known reference to French toast was in the Apicius, a collection of Latin recipes dating to the 4th or 5th century. In that recipe, stale bread was soaked in milk. Eggs were not mentioned. They called it aliter dulcia “another sweet dish”.
French toast was widely known in medieval Europe. For example, Martino da Como, the first known “superstar” chef, offers a recipe. At that time, it was generally served with game birds and meats. Recipes for French toast also show up in fourteenth-century Germany and fifteenth-century England.
French toast was mentioned in Spain in the early fifteenth-century by composer, poet and playwright Juan del Encina. He sings its praises in his Cancionero, which was published in 1496.
The popularity of French toast continued to grow. Today, you can find a version of it all over the world. In Hong Kong, it’s known as “western toast” and is made by deep-frying sliced bread dipped in beaten egg, served with butter, and topped with golden syrup or sometimes honey.
In Spain it’s known as torrijas and often served for Lent. It’s usually made by soaking stale bread in milk or wine with honey and spices, then dipped in egg and fried in olive oil.
In Morocco, French toast is made by slicing flatbread into long pieces, dusting it with powdered sugar and dipping it into syrup for a sweet finger food. In the Netherlands it’s known as wentelteefjes. This version of French toast is sprinkled simply with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Italians enjoy their French toast in sandwich form, where one slice of bread is spread with ricotta cheese, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with sliced almonds and a bit of cinnamon, then topped off with a second slice of bread.
It’s good to know that no matter where one travels, there’s always a version of French toast available for those mornings when nothing else will do!