Alternative names and variants include Spanish toast, German toast, nun’s toast, eggy bread, torrija, poor knights of Windsor, Bombay toast and many others.
The origins of French toast are not entirely clear, but long before this sweet snack was called “French toast,” similar recipes were being whipped up all around the world.
One of the earliest versions of French toast has been traced back to the Roman Empire.
The earliest known reference to French toast is in the Apicius, a collection of Latin recipes dating to the 4th or 5th century, where it is described as simply aliter dulcia (“another sweet dish”). The recipe says to “slice fine white bread, remove the crust, and break it into large pieces. Soak these pieces in milk and beaten egg, fry in oil, and cover with honey before serving.
The actual term for French toast goes back to at least 17th century England. Early settlers brought the term and the recipe with them to America where it continued to spread in popularity.
The phrase “French Toast” first appeared in print in the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink in 1871.
In 1887, a recipe for American Toast appeared in the White House Cookbook. It called for soaking and cooking bread in the same manner as French toast.
In France, the dish is called “pain perdu,” meaning “lost bread.” Why lost bread? Originally, people made French toast from stale bread in order to make use of bread that would otherwise have been thrown away.
In the United States, restaurants usually serve French toast with butter, maple syrup and powdered sugar, but the possibilities are endless. French toast can be topped with just about anything.
In Italy, French toast is made by taking two slices of bread and embedded mozzarella in between them, then dipping the sandwich in whipped egg and frying in the typical French toast fashion. This version of French toast is then often topped with tomato sauce and cheese.
Hong Kong-style French toast is typically prepared by combining multiple slices of bread with peanut butter or jam filling, then dipping in beaten egg and deep frying. It is served with butter, and topped with golden syrup or honey.
Torrija is a similar recipe traditionally prepared in Spain for Lent and Holy Week. It is usually made by soaking stale bread in milk or wine with honey and spices. It is dipped in beaten egg and fried with olive oil.
Each year on November 28, people across the United States observe National French Toast Day.