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What is Pain Perdu?

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  • Written By: Liz Scott
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2016
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Pain perdu means “lost bread” in French and is the culinary term used for what is more familiarly known as French toast. Originally meant to be served as a dessert, French toast has become a staple breakfast item around the world. Whether served with butter and maple syrup, fruit preserves or a simple sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar, pain perdu typically is made by dipping bread into a mixture of egg, milk and sugar and then frying it in butter until golden.

Traditional French pain perdu is intended to use up leftover bread, often stale from exposure to the air. Thick slices of French baguettes or boules typically are used, and sometimes flavorings such as cinnamon or vanilla are added to the egg mixture. The staleness of the bread helps keep the slices from becoming soggy in the middle, which can be a problem for French toast that is made from thin, pre-sliced commercial loaves. To replicate classic pain perdu when stale bread is not available, leaving the slices out for several hours or overnight to allow the moisture to dissipate will help to mimic the stale quality.

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The earliest recipe for French toast in the United States dates to 1871, but similar dishes consisting of fried bread are found as far back as the Middle Ages. Depending on the origin of the recipe, different types of bread have been used to make pain perdu. In Jewish cuisine, challah, a traditional sweet egg-based bread, often is used, and Italian cooks might use panettone, a light holiday cake-like bread often dotted with pieces of dried fruit. Variations exist in preparation techniques as well, with methods such as deep frying replacing pan frying in New Orleans, Belgium and the Congo. It also is possible to bake pain perdu on a lightly buttered or oiled baking sheet, which helps to reduce the fat content somewhat.

Pain perdu is not the only other name for French toast. The British refer to it as “eggy bread,” and the Spanish know it as “torrijas.” In Hong Kong, French toast is called “western toast,” and it often is stuffed with fruit or another type of sweet filling before frying. In Germany, it is called “arme ritter” meaning “poor knights,” because it is made from scraps and leftovers, and when wine replaces the milk, it takes the name of “betrunkenen jungfrau,” meaning “drunken virgin.”

Interestingly enough, prior to World War I, people in the United States typically referred to pain perdu as "German toast." Popular sentiments about Germany at the time prompted a change to the more familiar name of "French toast." Similarly, when anti-French sentiment temporarily took hold in 2003, pain perdu became “freedom toast” when served in the White House and in the U.S. Congress.

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anon944812
Post 3

First fight with my husband was over french toast. We still laugh about it today. His mom deep fried it and my mom pan fried it. By the way, I grew up in New Orleans. So did my mother. His mom grew up in New Orleans too but his grandmother grew up in Houma, LA. I still like pan fried better and he still likes deep fried. To each his own! All french toast is delicious. My kids like both but tend to lean more toward the deep fried.

summing
Post 2

I had an amazing brioche pain perdu in Paris and it made American french toast look like a stale Twinkie. It was seriously on a level all to itself.

The bread was amazing, the egg mixture was amazing, the preparation and plating were amazing. It was a truly sophisticated dish. You wouldn't think that a humble piece of fried egg bread could be so tasty but it was.

backdraft
Post 1

My mom has gotten into the habit of making gourmet french toast every Christmas morning. We wake up, open presents and then feast on some of the best french toast I have ever had.

She tries a new recipe every year. This year it was a caramel apple french toast with real maple syrup. last year it was some kind of blueberry french toast. One year there was a strong focus on almonds. All of them have been delicious and I think it is a cool tradition to get into. We are are all older now and the giving of gifts does not mean as much as it used to. It is more meaningful to share a meal together.

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