Friday, April 29, 2011

Parlez Vous Toastae?

Hey Speaking of the French, is French Toast really French?


Dipping day-old bread in batter has been going on long before there was a France or for that matter toast.

The English have called the concoction poor knight’s pudding or poor knights of Windsor. That was for the Anglo, onto the Saxon: the German name for a similar dish is arme Ritter or poor knights/soldiers. The invocation of knights is a clue to just how long this preparation has been around.

In early America, toast hadn’t quite adopted its Franco identity. It was also known as Mennonite bread, especially when it was deep-fried, because you know what is more indulgent than a French Papist, other than a Mennonite. 

The batter hasn’t been a consistent recipe over the centuries. Dipped bread hasn’t always been this egg rich, spice infused coating. For instance, milk toast, a dish consisting of hot buttered bread dipped in milk or buttermilk existed. If butter and milk weren’t available frying hard bread in a skillet with suet or lard and topping with powdered sugar or jam would have fallen under the rubric of French toast. Soaking bread in wine or dipping it in either honeyed water or orange blossom water – the vanilla extract of the medieval ages, would have counted, as would have brioche sautéed with butter and cinnamon.

How the dish came to be designated as en Français is a bit of a mystery. They don’t call the dish ‘Our toast’, instead call batter-dipped day old bread, pain perdu – or lost bread: either because day old bread is considered lost or because the bread is lost in a batter and spices. Here the word choice is a bit of a mystery, pain isn’t just bread but is a usage that invokes companion or one who shares bread. Perdu isn’t an exact translation of lost as much as it is loss, as in perdition. So what does that say about the dish? If it were Italian Toast, Dante might warned all those who eat to abandon hope, especially when served with maple syrup and a side of bacon.

I like my French Toast topped with lemon curd which isn’t all that French. Or topped with fresh fruit quickly warmed with butter. That is when I eat breakfast, long time readers know I am rather unconvinced of breakfast’s boast that it is the most important meal of the day. First of all what does breakfast’s purported significance say about lunch and secondly, I am all for carbloading and sweets but sausage, egg and potato sounds like such a better way to fuel up for a morning of work.

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