Pain perdu

Forget maple syrup, bring on the powdered sugar. French toast, French style, is mainly served as a dessert or an afternoon snack. Known as pain perdu (‘lost bread’), it was a poor man’s dish until, according to lore, it was discovered by the nobility in the 16th century, becoming a favorite of King Henri IV. From the king’s table, French toast made its way abroad, and the rest is history.

Pain perdu / French toast, French style

Unlike the American variety, the French version of French toast is dipped into an egg-milk mixture that has been sweetened and flavored with vanilla, or possibly cinnamon. It can be made with any type of bread, from baguette to the currently trendier pain brioché, which is similar to egg bread or challah. (Brioche also had it’s moment in history, when Marie-Antoinette allegedly said, ‘Let them eat cake’ — Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.)

French toast had a moment in my family’s history during our first trip to Paris back in 1967. At our first café lunch, my perenially amusing 14-year-old brother got that look in his eye. We were in France? He wanted French toast. With two years of high school French, I was the only French speaker in the family. ‘Le French toast?’ I tried. The waitress stared at me blankly. I listed the ingredients – bread, milk and egg. ‘Ah, du pain perdu!’

Lost bread? That seemed illogical even then. The idea of using stale bread to create a confection surely meant that the bread was saved, not lost… For the record, my brother continued his quest to unravel the mysteries of French cuisine by ordering French fries (frites) and French dressing (an equivalent doesn’t exist). Meanwhile, I was trying French onion soup (gratinée) and loving every minute of it.

These days French toast is rarely seen on bistro menus. It is most commonly served in French homes for the afternoon goûter (snack), a national institution for French schoolchildren to tide them over until French dinnertime, around 8 p.m. But this can also be a sophisticated dish. Serve it at your next brunch, with fruit and/or bacon, and prepare for applause.

Happy cooking.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Pain perdu

  1. Ben says:

    Don’t get me started on German pancakes with Russian dressing

    • Meg says:

      Right! During my nearly five years in Moscow I never saw anything remotely resembling what is known in the states as Russian dressing…

  2. Kristin Louise Duncombe says:

    YUM! This sounds fabulous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.