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!
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
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.
- 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.)
- 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.