What is French Toast and where did it get its name? I’m sure just about everyone has had French Toast sometime or other, it is after all a popular breakfast food and is featured on many restaurants’ breakfast menus. But I everyone knows its origins or how it got its name.
Some version of this popular breakfast fare has been around for centuries. Yes I said centuries. And why not? All French Toast is bread that’s been soaked in a milk and egg mixture and then fried. We know that milk and eggs have been a food staple through out most of civilization.
According to Apicius a collection of recipes from the 5th. Century AD the dish we know as French Toast was around during the Roman Empire. Their version called Pan Dulcis, was bread soaked in a milk mixture then fried in oil or butter. In the court English of Henry V during the 15th. Century “Pain Perdu” was all the rage. The name which was in French literally means “lost bread” because it calls for soaking hard or stale bread in a milk and egg mixture then frying it. The French still call it Pain Perdu to this day.
So how did it come to be called French Toast in America when clearly it didn’t originate in France? Well legend has it that a New York innkeeper named Joseph French created the dish in 1724 and sold it as French Toast. It’s believed he meant to call it French’s Toast but he was grammatically inept and forgot the apostrophe.
Whatever you call it and whatever its origins French Toast is delicious and actually very simple to make. Of course there are now different versions of this simple dish including IHOP’s Stuffed French Toast and Denny’s Fabulous French Toast. I actually make Creme Brulee French toast on Christmas mornings!
I look at French Toast as a blank canvas. You can have it just with syrup and butter, and that’s delicious! Or you can embellish it with fruit, whipped cream, jam, nutella, or whatever else you can think of. But before you can embellish you’ll need the basic recipe. I prefer to use day old french bread, but really you can use whatever bread you have on hand. But do try to avoid using freshly baked bread as it tends to be too soft and will fall apart when soaked in the liquid mixture. Once you’ve got the basics you can add toppings or even add ingredients to the batter. So here’s the basic recipe!
Basic French Toast
6-8 slices of day old French Bread or whatever bread you have on hand
1/2 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Tsp. Vanilla
Butter for frying and for topping
Fruits, jams, whipped cream, etc. for toppings (optional)
Beat Eggs, Milk, and Sugar together until well combined.
Stir in vanilla.
Melt a pat of batter in a skillet.
Dip both sides of bread slice in egg mixture until soaked.
Lift bread out of liquid and let excess liquid drain off.
Place soaked bread in skillet and cook until first side starts to brown.
Flip over and cook other side until brown.
Place in serving dish and serve immediately.
Serve with butter and syrup or whatever topping you like.