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Monday, November 28, 2011

It's National French Toast Day!

Contrary to popular belief and technically speaking that is, French Toast isn't toast at all. As a matter of fact, it wasn't even created in France. In it's simplest form, French Toast is day-old bread dipped in a batter of egg and milk, and sauteed in butter. According to Mr. Breakfast, French Toast was introduced in 1724 by a man who owned a tavern near Albany, New York. His name was, you guessed it, Mr. French, Mr. Joseph French!

Do you know what they call French Toast in France? Pain Perdu or "lost bread." How apropos:) While exploring the Origin of French Toast, I became intrigued with the many national coats French Toast may cloak. For instance, in Britain, French toast may be referred to as Poor Knights of Windsor or Poor Knights Pudding. Eggy bread is another English term you may hear.

The popular history behind French toast (aka German toast, American toast, Spanish toast, Nun's toast, Cream toast, Breakfast toast, Mennonite toast, Pain Perdu, Panperdy, Arme Ritter, Suppe Dorate, Amarilla, Poor Knights of Windsor) is that it was created by medieval European cooks who needed to use every bit of food they could find to feed their families. They knew old, stale bread (French term "pain perdu" literally means lost bread) could be revived when moistened with milk and enriched with eggs. The traditional method of cookery was on a hot griddle prepped with a little fat (butter, oil). Quite like today...The Food Timeline

I hope those tidbits about French Toast are going to satisfy you for the time being because, I want to talk about my favorite version of French Toast; the Monte Cristo Sandwich. Have you heard of it? Don't worry if you haven't, I haven't come across another person besides Marion that knows what a Monte Cristo Sandwich is here in central Pennsylvania.
Most food historians generally think that the Monte Cristo sandwich is a variation of a French dish called Croque Monsieur. This original grilled cheese sandwich consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter. It was originally served in 1910 in a Paris cafe. This sandwich is still a popular snack or casual meal throughout France and Switzerland in most bars and cafes. It is usually made in a special sandwich grilling iron consisting of two hinged metal plates, each with two shell-shaped indentations. At most Paris cafes, the Croque Monsieur is no longer prepared as a square sandwich but rather as a one-sided tartine made with a large single slice of bread from a round loaf. What's Cooking America
As a matter of fact, just the other morning I asked the chef at my morning cafe whether he had the ingredients on hand to perform a Monte Cristo Sandwich. Well, I didn't say it quite like that. I simply asked Justin, the cook at Sunset West, if he knew what a Monte Cristo Sandwich was. He didn't. I then asked if anyone had ever come into the diner and requested a Monte Cristo Sandwich. He said someone had a few years ago and ironically enough, they too were from New York. Perhaps, it's a New York thing. I doubt it.



Basically, a Monte Cristo is a gussied up triple decker sandwich filled with tender slices of ham, turkey and cheese. That's how I prepare it anyway. However, it took me longer than I care to admit on getting it quite right. You see, in the past, my Monte Cristo sandwiches never held up quite right like those I use to get at my favorite diner in New York. And since it didn't appear anyone in the immediate vicinity was going to serve it to me on a silver platter, I just had to learn to make it on my own. Well, wouldn't you know it, I discovered the secret here. Most recipes I've encountered in the past didn't include adding flour to the eggy milk batter. And although the sandwich still tasted yummy, it just didn't have any substance. I tried changing up the bread, slicing the cold-cuts thinner, thicker and even omitting one of the "decks" and it still didn't feel quite right. Well, using this recipe, with a few minor ingredient changes, the results were exactly what I was looking for.

Monte Cristo Sandwich
adapted from norecipes.com
makes 2 sandwiches
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
6 thin slices of challah bread or brioche
1 tablespoon butter
2 ounces Emmentaler (Swiss) cheese, sliced thin
1/4 pound sliced honey roasted turkey
1/4 pound sliced black forrest ham
powdered sugar
strawberry or raspberry jam

Whisk the egg, milk, flour, cheese and nutmeg together until smooth. Heat a skillet or griddle large enough to accomodate all the slices of bread in a single layer over medium heat. Dip the slices of bread into the egg mixture, giving it a few seconds on each side to absorb the batter.

Add the butter to the pan once it is hot, then place as many slices of battered bread onto it as you can fit. Wait till it is golden brown and crisp on one side, then flip and top 4 pieces of bread with the cheese. Put the turkey on 2 of cheesed slices of bread and the ham on the other 2 cheesed slices of bread.

Fry until the bread is browned and crisp on the second side, then make the sandwich by stacking a ham slice with a turkey slice topped with a plain piece of French toast. Slice the sandwiches in half, dust with powdered sugar, and serve with a small bowl of jam.

I didn't have any "fancy" bread on hand when the urge struck so I used plain ol' white sliced bread. Pepperidge Farm I believe. I added a sprinkling of vanilla sugar to the egg and milk batter because I usually add vanilla sugar to regular French Toast. As for the turkey, ham and cheese, I used Boar's Head products because IMHO, they are the next best thing when I don't have fresh turkey ham or cheese on hand. The first time I prepared it, Marion and I had it for breakfast. Yes, we skipped going to Sunset one morning and had this instead. That's my daughter Michele's home made freezer strawberry jam slathered on top. Delicious in its own right!!!

Well, it was so darn good, I just had to make it again a few weeks later. This time topped with fried apples!!! Oh my holy goodness, it was scrumptious!!!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one more crumb I learned about French Toast in my travels. It seems, for those of us who live in areas of the world where snow is inevitable, the weather may dictate when the French Toast Weather Alert goes into effect. What? You've never heard of the French Toast Weather forecast? I hadn't either. It seems, it has everything to do with mobs of people running to the grocery store to pick up the bare necessities of milk, bread and eggs when the weather person warns us of an impending snow storm or hurricane. Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife has a great post about French Toast and the weather on her blog if you would like to dig deeper:)

FYI: If you have ever seen the movie Unstoppable with Denzel Washington, chances are you too have seen Sunset West.

Resources
1. Is French Toast Really French?
2. The Origin of the French Toast
3. Pain Trouve au Four (Baked French Toast)

25 comments:

  1. Congratulations on finding the secret to your sandwich success. My sister told my on Thanksgiving that the reason my gravy doesn't thicken is that whole wheat flour doesn't have enough gluten, so I had my own "aha" experience.

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  2. The Knight is a big fan. Me? Not much. I'll eat it the once or twice a year I make it for him...

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  3. Oh my holy goodness I love it too! LOL! I have a weakness for the Monte Cristo Sandwich and have loved it since I ate it the first time at a restaurant in my 20's. I remember they served it with blackberry jam and covered it with powdered sugar. I thought it was the wildest sandwich I had ever ate!! The pilled up meat slices were so thick I could barely get my mouth around it.
    Loved your post :)

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  4. In Germany the French Toast is called "Arme Ritter", that's the same as Poor Knights. But Toast with cheese ham and jam on top - that's really ... special. Do you know the website of Barry Popik, "The Big Apple"? He's doing a lot of great research. Here is what he says on Monte Cristo: "It is not clear why a sandwich would be named “Monte Cristo.” The sandwich name is cited in print from at least 1923, with the name possibly originating in Los Angeles. The Monte Cristo Hotel in Everett, Washington was constructed in 1925—although the sandwich was served at the hotel, there is no basis to assume that the sandwich originated there. The Monte Cristo sandwich has roots and similarities to the grilled cheese sandwich and the ham sandwich, but is most nearly identified with the French sandwich Croque Monsieur. A 1924 recipe in the Los Angeles Times shows the Monte Cristo to be a cheese and ham sandwich, dipped in beaten egg and fried in hot butter."

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  5. Worth mentioning: alternatives to Croque Monsieur often served in French cafes:
    Croque Madame -- turkey instead of ham
    Croque Hawaiian -- add pineapple somewhere

    All sounds great! I had heard that some people even add a tiny bit of baking powder to the egg mixture to make the French toast fluffier.

    Like you, I always add vanilla! Next time I go to the store I'll definitely lay in supplies for some of these delicacies.

    best... mae

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  6. Thanks for the info! I heard Nigella Lawson call it eggy bread, and I thought it was because the British had some kind of loathing against the French. Ha!

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  7. OMG Louise this look absolutely wonderful dear:) gloria
    These sandwichs are to die for:)

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  8. So, Zany and I were wandering around the French Market in Chicago tonight - Our instincts were dead on for the French part, but we had crepes instead! Maybe for breakfast?

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  9. Quele delice! The jam version looks great but the apple version calls the gods down to earth! ;)

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  10. I LOOOOVE Monte Cristos!! That looks awesome :D

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  11. I love French Toast and Monte Criscos!

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  12. Hi Louise! French toast is one of my favorite breakfast dishes. I'm just stopping by to say a quick hello after being away so long. I'll be back later to catch up!

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  13. My hubby and I live in New York and yes many diners serve the Monte Cristo Sandwich, but I must say those pics of your delectable creations have me drooling over the key board. I never made one, but I sure am going to do it now. My hubby will be one happy man. Great post.

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  14. I was just going to tell you how much I love french toast when this version of the Monte Cristo Sandwich stopped me in my tracks. Once is a while I serve this for supper with side of homefries and a vegetable; no matter, I still end up pouring a bit of maple syrup. Great post Louise.
    Rita

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  15. We used to eat Monte Cristos in a restaurant in Connecticut. I've made them for dinner quite a number of times. I use a bit more meat and cheese than you, and straight egg without milk. It holds up well that way. I do love a good Monte Cristo.

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  16. I would love it with the apples too, Louise. This is also a good idea for leftover turkey and any leftover apples that didn't make it into the pie. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

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  17. So French Toast is somewhat a lost toast in France (or at least in french)? :P thanks for sharing.

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  18. Another interesting post from you! French Toast with many names and versions! And your Sandwich looks delicious! I have never tried Sandwich with fried apples before, looks wonderful!
    Have a lovely day!

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  19. Love the French Toast Weather alert!! I can't use that excuse....well, perhaps during hurricane season?
    Anyway, I do love a Monte Christo! Never have topped it with anything sweet though.
    Great post, Louise!

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  20. i'm going to try out this monte christo french toast someday, there must be something very special about these toasts, i dont think i've tried flour on french toasts too, does the flour make them crispier? oh gosh, i'm hungry now thinking of french toasts with cheese!

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  21. Oh Louise, I had to laugh when I read how no one in your neck of the woods knew what a Monte Cristo sandwich was. When I was in college, I worked one summer as a waitress -- a very bad waitress, I might add. Anyway, one of my customers ordered a Monte Cristo sandwich, and after I brought it to him, he complained passionately, "There's jam in here! There's meat in this sandwich and jam!" So next time someone ordered one, I tried to talk him out of it. "Do you know what's in that? There's jam in there! With the meat!" The second customer knew exactly what he was ordering and looked at me like I was a loon. Anyway, I hadn't thought about that for years until I read your post. I never have eaten a Monte Cristo sandwich myself -- guess that first guy really scared me off. But your photos make it look very appetizing. Bon apetit!

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  22. When I was little my grandmother used to call French Toast "egg bread." I found the name so repulsive that I didn't eat it until I was well into my thirties. Now I'm a bit of a connoisseur. Sorry I missed National French Toast Day, but what can I say? It's a very busy time of the year. I'll put it on my calendar for next year. ;-)

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  23. I learn something new today, Monte christo French toast! Got to try this. Look so so delicious. Will keep this for Sunday brunch.

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Through this wide opened gate,
none came to early,
none returned to late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise