I was browsing Le Viandier de Taillevent, a French recipe collection originally written around the year 1300, and came across a simple recipe called Tostees dorees. I had never heard of this recipe but the directions seemed eerily familiar. Toasted bread dipped in egg yolks and fried in grease? That’s French toast!
I read somewhere that French toast originated in the 18th century and was probably named after a non-French innkeeper with the last name of “French.” Having dabbled in ancient Roman recipes I knew this legend masquerading online as fact wasn’t true and that bread soaked in milk and egg and fried in butter has been around for nearly 2,000 years. Fourth-century Roman chef Apicius called it aliter dulcia (literally “another sweet dish” / #296 in De re Coquinaria Book VII).
Variations on this dish show up in medieval and Renaissance Europe under a few names but most notably the French name pain perdu (“lost bread”). Its popularity spread throughout England during the 16th and 17th centuries and ultimately made its way to America and elsewhere around the globe. At some indeterminate point along the way it became known as “French” toast, but depending on where you live it might be called German toast, Arme Riddere (Norway), Torrija, Bombay Toast, or any number of other names. Apparently we can now add Tostees Dorees (Glazed toast) to the list!
198. Tostees dorees
Pour faire Tostees dorees, prenez du pain blanc dur et le trenchiez par tostees quarrees et les rostir ung pou sur le grail; et avoir moyeulx d’oeufz batuz et les envelopez tres bien dedans sur le feu tant qu’elles soient belles et bien dorees et puis les oster de dedans la paelle et mettez es platz, et du succre dessus.
198. Tostees dorees
To make Glazed Toast, slice hard white bread into squares for toast, and roast them lightly on the grill, and coat them completely with beaten egg yolks; get good hot grease and glaze the in it on the fire until they are properly glazed; then take them out of the pan and put them on plates, with sugar over top. – Translation by Terence Scully
- White bread (see note)
- 4 egg yolks
- Butter or lard for frying
- Sugar for sprinkling
Note: The bread should not be too thin or it won’t be sturdy enough to hold its shape after being coated with egg. But not too thick either! Ideally around an inch thick at most. Medieval chefs liked to use stale bread, hence the French name lost bread, because it would have been too hard to eat without soaking it first. Waste was frowned upon so stale bread was either made edible somehow or carved into a trencher. You don’t need to use stale bread, but maybe use something homemade or look for brioche, pullman loaf or french bread.
Step ONE: The Bread
To make Glazed Toast, slice hard white bread into squares for toast, and roast them lightly on the grill,
Toast your bread either on the grill or in the toaster. Depending on the size of your bread this recipe could make around 2-4 pieces of glazed toast.
Step TWO: The Glaze
Coat them completely with beaten egg yolks;
Separate the egg whites from the yolks and beat the yolks in a bowl wide enough to fit your bread. Use more egg yolks if you need more glaze! This is easy to do, since there are no additional ingredients needed here.
Coat your toast in the yolks and cover the best you can. Soak them for a few minutes if you’d like.
Step THREE: Frying
Get good hot grease and glaze the in it on the fire until they are properly glazed;
Pre-heat your pan and add the grease. In 13th and 14th century France they typically preferred pork fat or lard, but they did also use oil and occasionally butter. At the time they would make fun of the Flemish/Dutch people for their heavy use of butter, even going so far as to call them “butter balls!” This recipe doesn’t specify the type of grease so you could use butter or lard, or even mix in a little bit of oil to keep the butter from burning.
Cook your bread over medium heat for a couple minutes on each side or until it looks nice and glazed. Careful your heat isn’t too hot or the egg might not cook all the way through and you’ll have a crispy almost-burnt surface with a layer of eggy bread underneath.
Step FOUR: Sweeten and Serve
Then take them out of the pan and put them on plates, with sugar over top.
Plate your glazed toast and sprinkle sugar on top. For authenticity’s sake I would probably say use white sugar, but if you’re not so concerned about that you could use powdered sugar. Honey is also an acceptable period topping. If historical accuracy is of no value to you whatsoever, top your toast with anything your heart desires!
There you have it! French glazed toast circa 1300 AD.
- The Viandier of Taillevent. edited and translated by Terence Scully. Ottawa [Ont.]: University of Ottawa Press. 1988. Print.
- Walsh, Danielle. The Seven Most Common French Toast Cooking Mistakes. Bon Appetit Magazine. March 29, 2013. Accessed Jan 21, 2019.
- Weiss-Adamson, Melitta. Food in the Middle Ages. Greenwood Press, CT. USA. 2004. Print. p. 141.