The Origin of French Toast
It’s breakfast time, so you go into the kitchen and all there is in the fridge is two eggs, some milk, and some bread, and maybe some cold pizza from last Saturday night. Hold on, all is not lost, for as you already know you have the makings for one of history’s most international and well-loved sweet dishes, French toast. So where does French toast originate? Let’s explore more about the history of this savory bread recipe.
French Toast Origins
This dish is a sweet relative to bread pudding and it has been used as a dessert and breakfast food for at least 1500 years. The Romans often referred to it as “aliter dulcia” (“another sweet dish”) in the 4th century, and the French actually call it “pain perdu” or lost bread, in which stale bread is used in such a way that is similar to how we cook it here in the Americas. Roman recipes called for stale white bread so that it could soak up the maximum amounts of an egg without breaking up.
The name “French toast” was first used in 17th-century England. The recipe and name were brought to America by early settlers.
Once in America, French toast was often used and popularized in early 20th-century rail travel and has been used in New Orleans’ kitchens for the last century as a breakfast item made with egg batter, certain spirits, and topped with fruit syrups and powdered sugar. Both the French & Cajun continue to refer to French toast as “pain perdu.”
French Toast Variations
In certain cultures, French toast may be made with or without milk, regional berries, maple syrup, jams, yogurt, or other sweet toppings. Some recipes also call for vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, or other spices, while other versions are just simply used with honey. A salty and savory version of French toast can be topped with bacon, cheese, gravy, or ketchup.
People often use a variety of different types of breads to make French toast. In the western and southwestern United States, many cooks prefer sourdough bread. Within some Jewish-American communities, people will use leftover challah bread from the Sabbath dinner for a delicious French toast on Sunday mornings.
So, whether you call it eggy bread, gypsy bread, or French toast, this sweet dish is found in almost every western culture on Earth.