It’s hard to please a teenager.
Required are: patience, a nonchalance to match his/hers, and an easy readiness to serve up a tasty breakfast at the first hint of willingness – and ample time – to eat it before the inevitable slam of the front door bids a wordless farewell.
I seldom possess all of the above (rarer still, all at the same time), but occasionally serendipity intervenes.
Monday morning: I open the fridge to find a bit of ageing bread, one egg, some milk, cream and butter, and think of the supine young man upstairs with no inclination to do anything but sleep. It’s getting late.
French Toast. Haven’t made it in years. Could work.
I wake the teenager (again) asking if he fancies some eggy fried bread.
Silence. Slowly, I repeat:
Eggy. Fried. Bread. French Toast.
He raises himself up on one elbow and opens one eye.
French Toast – eggy fried bread. It’s delicious, hot, and sweet. Coffee?
Yeah ….. please.
He slumps, shifts his weight to face the wall, and his breathing re-finds its sleepy deep rhythm.
French Toast is nothing new. Nor is it French. It’s been nourishing generations for well over a thousand years – an early version (4th or 5th centuries A.D.) is described in a collection of recipes named after a Roman food lover called Marcus Gavius Apicius.
Aliter dulcis (another sweet dish) was made by soaking bread in milk (no egg), then frying in oil and drizzling with honey.
Throughout the centuries, it has assumed names suggesting something foreign and interesting: Bombay Toast, German Toast, Spanish Toast, Gypsy Toast, Western Toast (in Hong Kong), Torrijas (Spain).
But the medieval French name of Payn Purdyeu (pain perdu) refers to the using up of stale bread which would otherwise be lost or wasted. And it’s day-old bread that works best at absorbing the batter without breaking up into soggy pieces.
Just as well, because all I have are week-old crusts. I use cream (instead of milk) because I’m feeling generous. A splash of vanilla extract and a cinnamon sprinkle go in too. A quick dip in the batter and a flip to the other side. Then all it takes is a couple of minutes in a skillet.
The aromas rise upwards, carrying the promise of something sweet and good, and the teenager eventually appears. A slug of strong coffee as he watches me douse his French Toast stack in honey. And within thirty seconds it’s all gone, with his empty dish crashing into the sink.
What you add is up to you, but maple syrup and berries are good. Some folk go savoury with bacon and ketchup.
All I know is that this week, French Toast is easy and lazy, and it works. Next week might be different – teenagers have a tendency to keep things interesting.
More on French Toast’s history and diversity here.