What is French Toast?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

French toast is a food made by soaking bread in egg and milk and then frying it. There are many variations on this basic recipe, both sweet and savory, and the dish is very popular in many parts of the world. Typically, French toast is eaten at breakfast. Many people make French toast at home, although the food is also offered at restaurants which specialize in breakfast food.

Bacon is often served with French toast.
Bacon is often served with French toast.

The roots of of the dish can probably be found in a desire to use up stale bread. Sopping stale bread in milk is a tradition which dates back to at least the Middle Ages, and adding egg would make it much more rich and flavorful. Recipes date back to at least the 1800s, and the food may be much older. Certainly many foods involve soaking bread in milk and cooking it, as is the case with bread pudding.

Many people add a touch of nutmeg to their French toast.
Many people add a touch of nutmeg to their French toast.

To make French toast, the cook whisks eggs and milk together and soaks bread in the mixture before frying it on a griddle, usually with a pat of butter. Ingredients such as nutmeg and cinnamon may be added to the egg and milk mixture to make the French toast more spicy. Depending on personal taste, the toast may be made sweet with the addition of syrup, or it may be savory with a dressing of salt, pepper, or hot sauce. It may also be served with things like sausage or bacon, and it is best when served warm.

The food may be called “French” toast because French breads often go stale quickly. French specialty breads like brioche are usually designed to be eaten on the day they are made, and they tend to get dry and tasteless if they sit too long. Classic French breads such as sourdoughs and baguettes also stale quickly, which can be frustrating. Technically, any sort of bread can be used, ranging from a whole wheat loaf to a sweet bread like Stollen.

Many people think of French toast as comfort food, and some associate it with childhood as well. A number of different terms are used to describe French toast around the world. In Britain, it is “eggy bread,” and it is usually served as a savory breakfast food. The French call it pain perdu, “lost bread,” perhaps a reference to the fact that the bread is lost in the egg and milk batter. The food is by no means restricted to the West, either; it is very popular in several Asian countries as well.

A whisk may be helpful in making French toast.
A whisk may be helpful in making French toast.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon925985

I remember the French toast recipe my mother used called for sugar in the batter as well as the egg and milk. We would even drink the leftover batter like egg nog milk. I'm sure the raw eggs should have killed us three times over. She'd also add cinnamon or allspice or nutmeg to the batter. One thing we noticed was that ordinary sliced bread was usually too thin to be useful, although we managed to do it with the help of a nonstick skilled and a ton of margarine. I'd strongly suggest using a thicker sliced bread if you're making a presentation-worthy French toast. There are usually loaves of bread meant for Texas or garlic toast on grocery store shelves. Hawaiian sweet bread is also interesting.

sputnik

Sometimes I make French toast and children in particular like it, must admit I like it too. It is simple to make and it tastes very good. It is a special treat for a weekend breakfast.

It helps to bake the slices of bread in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes, at a low temperature before using them for French toast. Also adding some flour to the egg and milk mixture will produce crispier toast.

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