French toast is a very flexible recipe. There are hundreds of different variations and it can be:
- Fried or baked
- Prepared and served immediately, or prepared in advance and stored overnight
- Depending on the ingredients (e.g. savory or sweet), it is suitable for breakfast, a main meal or dessert
This article provides an overview of the different recipes and describes how to make French toast. It also discusses the history of this recipe and interesting trivia. Although there are many different recipes, the basic steps and ingredients are:
- Slices of bread (preferably slightly stale bread)
- A mixture of egg and milk, in which the bread is soaked. Some of the richer recipes will use cream as well.
- Sugar and/or spices. Depending on the recipe, these may be added during preparation or may be added after cooking. Maple syrup is a popular substitute for sugar, especially in Canada and the USA. Common spices include nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon.
- Fry or bake the soaked bread, depending on the recipe.
The origin of French toast is uncertain but recipes dating back to the sixteenth century are documented. The recipe is European in origin, but not necessarily French as variations are found in many European countries but it is now unknown which country was originally the creator. In fact, given the basic and common nature of the ingredients, along with the simplicity of the preparation, it is very possible that it was independently developed in a number of different countries. Nor is the name a clue to its origin, as it goes by different names in different countries. In English-speaking countries, it is known as “French toast”, reputedly the name given to it during the hundred-years war by English soldiers serving in France, who frequently had little else to eat (although this explanation is not definitively proven). Prior to the hundred-years war, it was known in England as “Poor Knight’s Pudding” or “Poor Knight’s of Windsor”, perhaps because it would have been a basic but affordable dish for a Knight with little money. In other countries, this recipe goes by different names. In France, it was called “pain perdu” (lost bread), as it was a way of using bread that had gone stale and would otherwise perhaps be thrown away (in other words, lost bread). A similar pattern is to be found in Finland, where the basic recipe was called “köyhät ritarit” (poor knight’s) but if sugar and jam were added (relatively expensive ingredients at the time) it was called “rikkaat ritarit” (rich knight’s).
In America there were a number of names for the recipe, but it was perhaps most commonly known as “German Toast” prior to World War I. However, anti-German sentiment at that time resulted in it being renamed to “French Toast”. Since 2003 the anti-French sentiment in parts of the USA resulting from opposing positions over the Iraq war has resulted in it being renamed to “Freedom Toast” in the White House, US Congress and some restaurants. At about the same time these institutions also renamed “French Fries” to “Freedom Fries”.
Several different recipes and further information on French toast is provided at How to Make French Toast. Following is a typical recipe:
Ingredients (for 4 people):
- 12 slices of bread (thick cut). Slightly stale bread is better as it will absorb the batter mixture better. If you don’t have stale bread, you can leave sliced fresh bread out for a while to allow it to dry a bit.
- 6 eggs
- 3/4 cup of milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Beat the eggs
- Add the milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Mix with the beaten eggs.
- Soak the bread slices in the mixture.
- Fry the soaked bread on one side until golden brown, then turn and fry until the other side is golden brown. Either use a non-stick pan, or add butter to an ordinary fry pan, to avoid the French toast sticking to the pan.
- Serve. Depending on individual tastes, one can sprinkle sugar or add maple syrup on top.
One can easily change the above recipe by using different spices (e.g. nutmeg) during preparation or providing different toppings (e.g. jam) which the diners can add. It can be made richer by using some cream, or more suited for a main meal by providing non-sweet toppings. Finally, there are a number of versions of this recipe which are based on baking rather than frying.