To make poor Knights

I was first intrigued by the title of this recipe, then delighted when I recognized it for what it is:

Medieval French Toast.

In the UK, strips of toast are called “soldiers”, and I can only assume that there is some etymological connection between the two. 

In Sweden, this dish is still known by the medieval name, or “fattiga riddare”, with similar meanings in other Scandinavian countries, and in Germany as “arme ritter”. The German version may be dated back to Ein Buch von Guter Spise in the 14th century. The Germans also have a version made with wine instead of milk that roughly translates to “drunken virgin”. Clearly, our German housemate has been keeping things from us.

The ancient Romans were the first to make this dish, although Apicius just called it, “another sweet dish”. Modern Italians have a savory version that involves slices of mozarella sandwiched between bread, the whole of which is then dipped and fried. Must. Try.

In some countries, it is a savory dish. In others, it is served for dessert. Whatever the case, this fantastic food is one of my favorites, and one I will have to keep exploring. 

 At this rate, I might have to do a whole french toast book…

If you have a favorite regional or international recipe for French Toast, I’d love to read it!

Thoughts:

I actually really loved this breakfast. I’m normally a die-hard maple syrup fan, to the point that I won’t order French Toast unless I know I can get real syrup with it. But somehow, with the rustic, seedy bread and primitive plate, I genuinely preferred the rose syrup.

As a general rule, I tend to dislike anything floral flavored. I prefer the nutty varieties of Turkish Delight to the Rose version, and really don’t care for flowery anything in my own kitchen. However, the vibrant punch of this rosewater syrup actually better compliments the french toast than does the maple syrup. I tried it both ways, just to be sure. ;)

The recipe will vary with the type of bread you use. I opted for a loaf of multi-grain seedy bread, which lent the toasts some interesting texture and depth. Try it out this weekend, and see for yourselves whether you prefer the rose or maple syrups!

French Toast from 1655

Cut two penny loaves in round slices, dip them in half a pint of Cream, or fair water, then lay them abroad in a dish, and beat three Eggs and grated Nutmegs and sugar, beat them with the Cream, then melt some Butter in a Frying-pan, and wet the sides of the Toasts and lay them in on the wet side, then pour in the rest upon them, and so fry them, serve them in with Rose water, sugar and butter. -The Complete Cook, 1655

Prep: 5 minutes          Cooking: 15 minutes          Syrup: 10 minutes

Serves: 8

Cook’s Note: Unless you are feeding a small army, you probably won’t need to make the full batch. I cut mine in half, and used 2 eggs. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 loaves bread (about 1 lb. each), the more rustic the better
  • 2 cups cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • butter enough for frying (several Tbs.)

Rosewater syrup

  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup rosewater

Make the Rosewater Syrup first: Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the sugar and rosewater. Bring to a boil, then turn down slightly and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling wildly and has thickened. Pour into a serving vessel and keep warm. 

For the French Toast, whisk together all the ingredients. Melt a little butter in a frying pan. Dip the sliced bread into the mixture, wetting both sides, then place in the pan. Cook until each slice of toast is golden brown on each side. Place on a plate and cover to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the toasts. 

 Serve everything warm, with extra butter if desired, and the syrup over top. You may also indulge in a bit of powdered sugar. 

*Fun Fact: A “Penny Loaf” was a loaf of bread of a standardized size. The Assize of Bread in the 13th century mandated that all bread in the UK be standardized. In 1757, a penny loaf could weigh between six to nine and a half ounces, depending on the quality of the wheat. I’d wager that a penny bought more bread 100 years before, and would hazard a wild guess that it would be about a 1 lb. loaf. 

6 thoughts on “To make poor Knights

  1. I’ve only just discovered your blog, and I want to congratulate you for it! It’s inspiring, unique and full of tasty possibilities! <3

    Apart from that, I'd just like to share (what I believe is) a variant of French toast. It's a Romanian recipe, much simplified. We used to have the toast prepared like this either for breakfast or dessert. The quantities, of course, vary according to how much toast you want to prepare.

    Ingredients:

    - 1 loaf of bread or less (this very much depends on the size of the loaf)
    - 2-3 eggs
    - pinch of salt
    - 1-2 tbsp milk (optional)
    - (granulated) sugar

    Whisk together the egg yolks and the salt (and, if you want, milk) to combine. Cut the bread into medium-thin slices and soak the slices into the mixture, one by one. Fry the slices in a pan, on both sides alternately, until golden-brown. Serve with (granulated) sugar sprinkled on top, to taste.

    It's by no means a difficult recipe, and I can guarantee it is absolutely tasty. :)

    • Thanks for the recipe! I got so caught up with all the international and historical versions of French Toast when I was researching for this post that I would happily make a whole French Toast cookbook! :D

  2. Don’t blame your poor housemate…I’m German and am quite familiar with Poor Knights but had never heard of Drunken Virgins (well at least I thought so…for some reason I knew that the ‘rough translation’ would be Beschwipste Jungfern and just googled it. It sounds really yummie…but I’m now really confused why I knew it XD)

  3. Ah, a Classic. I’m kinda suprised though, in Sweden your recipe is the one we (well I) have for “rika riddare” (rich knights).

    The recipe I have for poor Knights is simple (calculate 2 slices per person):

    Slices of stale bread. Not rock hard, but to the level of you don’t really want to eat it.
    Milk
    Cinnamon
    Sugar
    Margarine or butter

    Dip one bread slice in the milk so that it is covered, not soaked but some milk should sink in.
    Put in a frying pan on medium to high heat with margarine or butter (not oil) and sprinkle a good amount of cinnamon (more than you think) and sugar on the side of the slice that is on top.
    Wait until bottom has some colour, that will take a few minutes, and flip. Sprinkle more sugar and cinnamon on top. After a few more minutes flip again to so that the sugar “melts”. Serve warm with milk.

    Love this as a treat as it is very sweet. I prefer to use white stale bread, which makes this even more unhealthy. ;-P

  4. OMG! I was going to wait till tomorrow to make this, but I am glad I tried today! My personal french toast recipe is similar, but the rosewater syrup was unique and great! I used turbinado sugar so it had a deep brown color. Thanks for this blog and Inn at the Crossroads. Love them!

Leave a Reply