French Toast History
An Easy Base Recipe For Banana French Toast Or Your Favorite Variations
History: A Sweet Bread Dish
The dish known in America as French toast has roots at least as far back as ancient Rome, where it was a sweet dish. In fact, pain perdu (or lost bread), the current French name for the dish, was once called pain à la romaine, or Roman bread.
While the story evolved that French toast was a food of the poor trying to scrape together a meal from stale bread, recipes from ancient and medieval times were food for wealthy people.
- Recipes used white bread, a luxury, with the crusts cut off. Poor people ate brown bread, which was cheaper because the wheat endosperm did not have to be milled and sifted through screens to create white flour).
- Costly ingredients such as spices (cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg and sugar), and almond milk are found in numerous recipes.
- The cooked bread was topped with costly honey or sugar.
- And cookbooks themselves were the province of the wealthy: Only wealthy people and clergy learned to read.
Savory French Toast
More recently, French toast has evolved into a savory sandwich, the Monte Cristo. It is an evolution of the croque-monsieur, a crustless sandwich of ham and Gruyère cheese, buttered and lightly browned on both sides in a skillet or under a broiler. The croque-monsieur was invented in Paris in 1910. A variation with a baked egg on top is a croque-madame. Neither sandwich was battered, like French toast.
The Monte Cristo sandwich was invented in the Coronado Hotel in San Diego, according to the L.A. Times. The first recipe in print is in the Brown Derby Cookbook, published in 1949. It’s a triple-decker sandwich, battered and pan-fried.
In Fort Worth, Texas, Chef Point Café dusts a savory Monte Cristo sandwich with powdered sugar and adds Cheddar; but that’s not part of the original recipe. Photo by Amy Gillis courtesy Chef Point Café.
Monte Cristo Sandwich Recipe
- Whisk an egg into 1/3 cup milk to make an egg batter (depending on the size and thickness of the bread.
- Use three slices of white bread per sandwich. Butter the first slice and cover with sliced ham.
- Butter the middle slice on both sides, place atop ham layer and cover with thinly sliced chicken and Swiss cheese (Emmenthaler or Gruyère). If you wish, you can also add a slice of cheese to the first slice of bread.
- Butter the third slice and place, butter down, over the cheese.
- Trim crusts; cut sandwich in two or four quarters, as shown in the photo above. Secure with toothpicks. Dip in a milk-and-egg batter.
- Fry in butter on all sides until golden brown. Remove toothpicks and serve with a ramekin of cranberry sauce or preserves (we like Dalmatia fig preserves, traditional or with orange). Serve immediately.
French Toast Recipes
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