French toast is a common breakfast dish, most commonly served in North America and some European countries. In the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, it is usually called eggy bread due to the fact that it is sometimes made by dipping bread in an eggy mixture and the bread is then fried. It is a common Christmas time dessert in Portugal and Brazil known as 'Rabanada' and a popular Easter dessert in Spain known as 'Torrijas'.
Typical French toast is made with bread and eggs although, milk, sugar and cinnamon are commonly added. French Toast is a very versatile dish and is easy to make and it is often topped with sugar, butter, fruit, syrup, or other food items.
However, does French Toast originate in France? Well the answer is yes and no.
Obviously the process of dipping bread in egg and frying it is a pretty common and obvious solution to making stale bread go further.The French had their own medieval version of French Toast called 'tostees dorees' (or 'golden toast') and this later became 'pain perdu' (or lost bread), a name that has been used for the deluxe versions served in Cajun cooking.
The earliest recorded recipe for French Toast comes from the Roman cook Apicius in the first century AD. In his book 'The art of cooking', he writes that French Toast is 'another sweet dish' and gives the directions to 'Break fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces. Soak them in milk, fry in oil, cover in honey and serve.'
Apicius' recipe is also referenced in early French documents as 'pain a la Romaine' (or Roman bread') This makes French Toast, Italian Toast, though as ever it depends where you are at the time, with records of German Toast, Spanish Toast, American Toast and even Nun's toast being used.
'French Toast' is first recorded in English in 1660 when it appears in 'The Accomplisht Cook' by Robert May. In the same year, Gervase Markham's influential 'The English Huswife' has a rich and spicy version of 'pamperdy' (pain perdu) suggesting that as far as the English were concerned at the time, French Toast was French.
However, the dish was also sometimes referred to as 'Poor Knights of Windsor'. This links to its counterparts in the German (arme Ritter), Danish (arme riddere), Swedish (fattiga riddare) and Finnish (koyhat ritarit) - all of which mean 'poor knights'.
One theory offered in explanation is that the most expensive part of a medieval banquet or feast was dessert, with spices and nuts being costly imports. Contrary to the title, not all knights were rich and so a dessert of fried eggy-bread served with jam or honey would have provided a good dessert, without breaking the bank.