The Brilliance of French Toast
Last night I had dinner at 9:45PM and French Toast was the only reasonable item on the menu.
I know it isn’t healthy to eat so late at night, but I’d had no dinner and just a salad for lunch, so I was going to eat something and my choices were Haagen-Dazs or French Toast.
My son-in-law, Tom, thought it was just weird to eat a breakfast food for any meal other than breakfast. That was almost 20 years ago when he first joined our family.
Now that he knows and loves me, he has given my “default” dinner its own name, Brenner.
I know he’s mocking me, but he does it with charm and a warm smile.
Breakfast is my favorite meal. My Mom fed her kids a fried egg and buttered toast every morning before school.
We now affectionately refer it as The Heart Attack Breakfast.
Fortunately we also ate oatmeal which conquers cholesterol, so it all evened out at the cellular level.
In her defense, she also made us play outside ALL OF THE TIME and her idea of a snack was an apple.
Other mothers made cookies, but our Mom was a stickler about fruit and daytime television.
She was in favor of the former and wouldn’t allow the latter.
My abiding love of breakfast foods is probably responsible for my nighttime addiction to Brenner. I’d have to go through years of expensive Freudian Psychoanalysis to confirm this, but I’d rather spend the money on eggs, bread, and powdered sugar.
This morning when I woke up around 5:30AM my first thought was about The Brilliance of French Toast as a recipe.
I didn’t have anything on my calendar at 5:30AM so I googled the history of French Toast.
Like all roads, it leads to Rome where it was called, you guessed it, Roman Bread.
It was, however, a French invention. That explains its enduring appeal and stylish suitability for daytime or evening.
The French called it Pain Perdu meaning Lost Bread because egg batter could rescue stale bread and frying it in animal fat or butter elevated it to dessert status.
In England it is called ‘the poor knights of Windsor’ and other European countries have a similar name relating it to Knights.
Craig Claiborne shares an old ‘Chef’s tale’ that might explain the name:
One theory about how the latter name came about goes as follows: In olden times, one of the symbols of distinction between the gentry and the common herd was that the former were expected to serve dessert at dinner. Knights, of course, were gentry. But not all of them were rich. Those who were not, in order to maintain their status, made do with armer ritter’, often served with jam.”
—Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, Craig Claiborne
So history is on my side in the debate over the appropriateness of French Toast for dinner, excuse me, dessert.
It must be my European roots that make me crave it at night.
Or maybe I am suppose to be a Knight.
Just like Pot Roast, Spaghetti, or Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, your Mom’s French Toast becomes the Gold Standard by which you measure all other French Toasts.
My Mom made it with white bread. Challah being the only reasonable exception to this rule.
We aren’t Jewish so I’ve never had it with Challah, but I did make it with Hawaiian bread rolls with the top crust cut off.
The jam topping is where things get sticky. We are powdered sugar people. And it floats atop a sea of melted butter.
Don’t talk to me about syrup. This is French Toast, not pancakes.
About three years ago I had a life changing experience at The Tower Cafe in Sacramento.
I had to ask for extra butter AND a small side of powdered sugar, but the custard and berries took me to another dimension of French Toast experiences.
But, at 9:45PM when I am tired and starving I want fast and familiar.
2 slices of Oroweat Buttermilk bread
2 beaten eggs with a dash of Kosher salt
Enough Wesson oil to cover my large Calphalon (non-tephlon) frying pan
Let bread soak in batter for about 1 minute while frying pan heats up.
Cook until golden brown and flip.
When second side is golden brown remove from pan and put on a warm plate.
Smother with butter and sprinkle on generous amounts of powdered sugar.
Forget the Haagen-Dazs ‘cuz you just had breakfast, dinner, and dessert all with just six ingredients and one pan.