There are many types of Spanish “Torrijas“. The Castilian torrijas, the Galician torradas, the Cantabrian and Basque toasts, the Catalan torrades of Santa Teresa; each one being prepared slightly differently. Of course, other nations have their own “torrijas” too. The French have “Pain Perdu” (lost bread) a.k.a. French Toast, the Portugees “Rabanadas” or “Fatias Douradas” and the Germans have “Arme Ritter” (poor knights). However, they all share important similarities. It is always a sweet treat made out of soaked bread, garnished with sugar and cinnamon, and then fried.
Owing to the simpleness of the recipe, they are one of the oldest known desserts. This is why the recipe can be attributed to Roman times. The recipe appears in the cookbook “De re coquinaria” dating back to the 4th-5th centuries A.D. However, sugar was not used since it was introduced into Europe by the Arabs in the Middle Ages. Even later, cane sugar was a luxury ingredient almost until the 19th century at which time beet sugar became popular. Homemade torrijas were traditionally made with honey and often with wine instead of milk. Why? Because not everyone had livestock and wine does not spoil as easily.
“Torrijas” for Pregnant Women
Given its topography and dryness the majority of the Iberian Peninsula is not conducive to a widespread culture of cows being raised for their milk production and, therefore, cow’s milk was a rare good since it was only available once calves had been suckled. Such surpluses were often given to pregnant women and those who had recently given birth since it was strongly believed to stimulate the production of milk in women.
Milk, bread, eggs, broths and sweets (whether made out of honey or sugar) were considered easily digestible energy foods suitable for women who had just given birth and needed to return quickly to the routine of daily life. Hence, the combination of bread, milk, eggs and honey (i.e. which we now call “French Toast”) was a real hit in the diet of women in labour before and after giving birth.
“Torrijas” in Poetry
Juan del Encina was the first author to use the word torrijas to define this energy food. It seems very appropriate that León, the city where Juan del Encina lived and where this word was perhaps first written, is the venue for the annual National Torrija Competition.
From the 16th century onwards, this delicious food is frequently mentioned in carols, poetry and comedies. In fact, eating torrijas during the fasting period of Lent has perhaps evolved into a tradition since whatever little you were allowed to eat had to provide you with much energy. Over time, the ingredients that made torrijas so special – sugar, bread, cinnamon – have become cheaper. At the same time, paradoxically, it has become something enjoyed by all members of society.
Ingredients for 4 servings
- 1 litre of milk
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lemon peel
- 6 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 loaf of bread from the previous day
- 2 eggs
- sunflower oil
- powdered cinnamon
- Pour the milk into a saucepan together with the cinnamon stick and the lemon peel and cook for about 5 minutes. Then, gradually, add the sugar and stir at a low heat until it dissolves then place it aside.
- Cut the loaf of bread into slices and place in a deep dish
- Pour the above-mentioned milk onto the slices of bread and soak them well. Then drain them.
- Beat the eggs and coat each slice of bread well.
- Fry the slices of bread in a pan with plenty of hot oil. However, take care that they do not fall apart when you turn them over.
- When they are golden brown, remove them and place them in a dish to cool down.
Serve them cold sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or covered with syrup, honey or sweet wine.