It is an American favorite, ironically enough. What the French call pain perdu, we Americans call French toast and it graces our breakfast plates on a regular basis. But understanding the true concept of pain perdu is the key to crafting the ultimate French toast. And it’s all about losing…
The direct translationis “lost bread” – pain means bread and perdu means lost, or waste. For as long as bakeries or boulangeries have existed in France there has been pain perdu, or bread that was too old to sell or serve. This doesn’t mean it can’t be put to good use (French cooks waste nothing), it is simply no longer appropriate for direct, unadulterated consumption. But add a splash of milk, eggs, a little sugar and a lot of cinnamon, and you’ve wasted not, and entered into the delightful world of pain perdu. Especially if it’s dripping with a fresh fruit and maple compote (recipe below).
Side Note. Statistics show that each year in the U.S. 96 billion pounds of food is wasted. On average, that’s 225 pounds per person. Factor in the fossil fuels needed to produce the food that is wasted, and then to burn it as trash, and you’ve got one scary statistic. The most alarming part is that the food that is wasted worldwide could easily feed the hungry.
So the first “must” to exceptional toast is yes, you guessed it, losing the bread but keeping it around (to be noted, once you go brioche or Challah you don’t go back). Any day or two old bread will do – just cut it into nice thick 1-inch pieces and let it sit out overnight. It will absorb the batter even better, and cook up golden brown and delicious on the outside, and moist on the inside.
Side Note #2. The lost bread theory also applies to bread pudding, and the scrumptious, broth-soaked crusty bread found hiding inside a bowl of classic French onion soup.
The only other essential to lost bread (in my book) is cinnamon – no measuring required, just heap it into the batter until it is a sea of cinnamon. Go ahead, get lost in a spicy moment with your old, but new again bread. It will be anything but a waste of time.
- 4 slices Brioche or Challah bread, sliced 1-inch thick, dried overnight
- 2 eggs, any size
- ½ cup half and half, heavy cream or milk
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Cinnamon, lots!
- Fruit Compote
- 2 Tbs butter, unsalted
- 1-2 cups seasonal fruit, washed, peeled and sliced if necessary
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 1 each lemon, 1 teaspoon of zest, and then freshly squeezed
- Melt butter over medium heat in a small sauce pot and add fruit and lemon juice. Cook until fruit begins to soften slightly. Add maple syrup and heat until bubbly and slightly thickened. Keep warm on low heat until ready to serve.
- Heat a large non-stick pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Combine milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and whisk until smooth. Dip slices of bread in batter until completely saturated (about 10 seconds), and cook on both sides until well browned, around 5 minutes per side. Toast can be held warm in a low heat oven until all are cooked.
- Serve with fruit compote and a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar. Remaining compote can be refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for several months, along with extra bread.