Pain perdu: to cook or not to cook?

Pain perdu: to cook or not to cook?


Some families have recipes which are handed down through the ages like family history. In my family, being able to cook in any weather, in good times and bad times, is critical to survival. The name of the dish is almost irrelevant.

Learning of favourite family dishes for nourishment is something taught at a Mother’s knee. Like many teenagers, I wasn’t interested in the name of the dishes.  I was always keen to taste test something in the mixing bowl on offer – should my Mother have decided that I’d earned a place in her kitchen that day.

I loved the chocolate cake mixtures and annual fruit cakes she made. To keep me out of the kitchen during baking days, I was told to never touch her compiled Recipe book. To play with it was akin to meddling with the family bible or the kitchen money which she kept in a small box on the top of the fridge.

I used to comb the Women’s Weekly magazine for exotic recipes with curry powder or chilli powder. In particular, I was inspired by which spices I could prize out of the MasterFood’s jars in the pantry to improve the taste of family recipes.

Taking over my Mother’s kitchen occasionally for a few hours had a liberating impact on my willingness to experiment with culinary pursuits.

When I had friends over for afternoon tea after sport on Saturday, I was allowed into the kitchen to make pain perdu. This is a French recipe known in English as ‘lost’ bread as it uses up the week’s stale bread.

In some households, the name for this dish is ‘French toast’. But what’s in a name? It’s a delicious snack meant to cheer and quickly feed hungry appetites. Pain perdu (French toast) is a simple, quick and healthy snack!

My family used to improvise on this basic dish depending on what types of sugars, jams, and condiments were in the pantry. Unfortunately, I do not have my Mother’s recipe book which lists her version of the dish.

However, I have searched for a suitable recipe to use and recently found one listed in ‘The Food of France: a regional celebration’ by Sarah Woodward, 2006. *

As Sarah Woodward writes, “…it is an old-fashioned dish for the selfless mother, who stays at the stove while the youngest and oldest of the family enjoy this simple treat, which must be served really hot.”  The recipe comes from Northern France and serves up to four people.

Pantry items:
Eight (8) slices of slightly stale white baguette bread
Whole milk
Five (5) tablespoons of unsalted butter
Two (2) large eggs, lightly beaten
Golden brown sugar
Cinnamon spice.

Kitchen items:
One bowl
One egg whisk
One spatula
One waterproof bib apron
One oven mitt or glove
One heavy skillet.

Cooking instructions:
Wear the bib apron in the kitchen. Place the slices of baguette in a dish and pour over just enough milk to moisten by not turn the bread soggy. The exact quantity will depend upon the bread itself.

Wearing the oven mitt, heat half the butter in a heavy skillet. Dip each of the four slices of baguette into the beaten egg mixture and transfer immediately to the sizzling butter. Cook quickly, turning once, until lightly browned, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and serve. Discard the first lot of cooking butter and repeat the process for the remaining four slices. Voile!

Text copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2020 and acknowledged sources.
*Recipe text copyright Sarah Woodward, ‘The Food of France: a regional celebration’, Kyle Books, Lanham MD, U.S.A., 2006,
p. 47.
Photograph copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2020.
Uploaded 03 July 2020.

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