French toast can surely be found on the breakfast menu of virtually every restaurant and coffee shop across the country. The delicious delicacy can be dressed up in a number of different ways, or eaten simply with butter and syrup. French toast is often a beginner’s dish that many of us learned how to cook under the supervision of our parents on a Sunday morning.
Like so many other dishes throughout history, French toast was created as a way to utilize everything and eliminate waste. Somewhere along the line, someone realized you could soak hard stale bread in liquid, cook it up, and serve it as a new dish. The earliest known reference to French toast is in the Apicius, a collection of recipes in Latin that dates to the 4th and 5th century AD. It is referred to as Aliter Dulcia, another sweet dish, and calls for soaking bread in milk and eggs, frying it and serving it covered with honey.
According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, the dish of soaked, fried bread was first referred to as French Toast in print in 1871. The French actually call this dish pain perdu, or “lost bread,” which means the bread is lost to staleness but can be revived with moisture and cooking. To this day, pain perdu is a popular New Orleans breakfast dish. The dish maintained its original French name of “pain perdu.” However, in English-speaking areas of the North American colonies, the dish became known as French toast as it was popularized by French immigrants.
In 1887, a recipe for American Toast appeared in the White House Cookbook. It called for soaking and cooking bread in the same manner as French toast. The Spanish have been making their own version of French toast, called Torrijas, for centuries. It is typically served during Lent and is made from bread soaked in milk or wine, dipped in egg, and then fried and covered with spiced honey.
In Germany, they make Arme Ritter, or poor knights, with cinnamon and sugar, sometimes serving it with plum jam or a vanilla sauce. In India, their version of French toast is a savory dish made with green chili and onion. In Hong Kong, they stack two slices of bread with a sweet filling in the middle, dip it in batter and deep fry it, then it is served with butter and syrup or honey.