French toast is a food made by soaking bread in egg and milk and then frying it. There are many variations on this basic recipe, both sweet and savory, and the dish is very popular in many parts of the world. Typically, French toast is eaten at breakfast. Many people make French toast at home, although the food is also offered at restaurants which specialize in breakfast food.
The roots of of the dish can probably be found in a desire to use up stale bread. Sopping stale bread in milk is a tradition which dates back to at least the Middle Ages, and adding egg would make it much more rich and flavorful. Recipes date back to at least the 1800s, and the food may be much older. Certainly many foods involve soaking bread in milk and cooking it, as is the case with bread pudding.
To make French toast, the cook whisks eggs and milk together and soaks bread in the mixture before frying it on a griddle, usually with a pat of butter. Ingredients such as nutmeg and cinnamon may be added to the egg and milk mixture to make the French toast more spicy. Depending on personal taste, the toast may be made sweet with the addition of syrup, or it may be savory with a dressing of salt, pepper, or hot sauce. It may also be served with things like sausage or bacon, and it is best when served warm.
The food may be called “French” toast because French breads often go stale quickly. French specialty breads like brioche are usually designed to be eaten on the day they are made, and they tend to get dry and tasteless if they sit too long. Classic French breads such as sourdoughs and baguettes also stale quickly, which can be frustrating. Technically, any sort of bread can be used, ranging from a whole wheat loaf to a sweet bread like Stollen.
Many people think of French toast as comfort food, and some associate it with childhood as well. A number of different terms are used to describe French toast around the world. In Britain, it is “eggy bread,” and it is usually served as a savory breakfast food. The French call it pain perdu, “lost bread,” perhaps a reference to the fact that the bread is lost in the egg and milk batter. The food is by no means restricted to the West, either; it is very popular in several Asian countries as well.