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KITCHEN SHRINK: French Toast, s’il vous plaît for Mother’s Day

Catharine L. Kaufman
Catharine L. Kaufman

On Sunday, May 10 mothers across the land — biological, adoptive, foster or step — will be honored, pampered and treasured in appreciation for their years of eternal love, caring, devotion, assorted zookeeping duties and worrying. French toast, the quintessential Mother’s Day dish for breakfast in bed or brunch, is universally enjoyed by moms of all ages, cultures and nationalities. Although French toast is not exactly French (having started in Rome), it is a sophisticated and divine treat reminiscent of Paris in the spring.

One of the earliest recorded recipes comes out of a 5th century Roman cookbook by Apicius for “Pan Dulcis.” The simple method starts with cutting the crust off white bread and breaking the bread into large chunks, which are then soaked in a mixture of beaten eggs and milk, fried in oil or butter, and drizzled with honey.

As most culinary interchanges so common among European nations, French toast recipes filtered through the borders over the years from ancient Rome to Spain, Germany, and even the court of Henry V. And yes, the French adapted a version that salvaged stale bread called pain perdu (lost or wasted bread) that would otherwise be thrown out. Quel dommage! Eventually, the recipe crossed the ocean and appeared on Mother’s Day menus in the United States.

An 18th century innkeeper in Albany, New York, having inherited the fortuitous last name of “French,” thought the fried egg toast might be an ornamental addition to his menu. Joseph French intended to call it “French’s toast,” but having forgotten to add the apostrophe “s,” he unwittingly unleashed French toast upon the American public. This might be an apocryphal story, but it’s a fun one anyway.

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Today, countries around the world have rejiggered the sweet, simple recipe to incorporate regional tastes, culinary customs and ingredients.

In Britain, “Eggy Bread,” “Gypsy Toast” or “Poor Knights of Windsor” is served crisp for brekkie with a side of grilled tomatoes or fresh berries.

The Scotch sandwich sausages between two pieces of French toast.

In Italy, mozzarella cheese is melted between two slices of the egg-dipped toast and dredged in tomato sauce with more cheese sprinkled on top, called Mozzarella in Carrozza.

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India also has a savory version fried with chopped onions and green chilis served with a drizzle of ketchup.

Spain offers Torrijas for an Easter dessert, soaking thick slices of bread in wine, dipping in beaten egg, then frying in butter and topping with honey and cinnamon.

The Sri Lankans and Burmese whip up Bombay Toast sandwiches, filling two crispy slices of French toast with a concoction of mashed potatoes and spicy-green chutney.

Our neighbors to the north slather the dish in pure Canadian maple syrup, eh, while the French still whip up pain perdu, but now bake it with a rich, custardy egg and cream base, a splash of Grand Marnier and sprinkle of orange zest for a type of puffy crème brulee bread pudding extravaganza.

ALOND BUTTER AND JELLY FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients:

8 slices of thick-cut egg bread (challah) or brioche

4 large eggs

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3/4 cup of almond milk

1/4 teaspoon of almond or vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

1/2 cup of smooth or crunchy organic almond butter

1/2 cup of organic fruit preserves (Your choice: apricot, strawberry or raspberry)

1/2 cup of toasted sliced almonds

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter

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Confectioner’s sugar

Method:

In a shallow mixing bowl, whisk eggs, milk, extract, cinnamon and nutmeg until well blended.

Spread almond butter and jam or preserves on four slices of bread and top with the other slice, making four sandwiches. Soak the sandwiches in the egg mixture.

Heat a griddle or fry pan on low, and melt the butter. Place the sandwiches on the griddle surface and cook until golden on both sides. Garnish with toasted almonds and powdered sugar. Enjoy immediately. Serves 4.