Classic French Toast with Berry Compote

What is French Toast?

French toast is a dish that is traditionally made using bread soaked in eggs and milk, which is fried in a pan until golden and crispy. Although the earliest known reference to this dish (pain à la romaine) is found in the Apicus, a collection of recipes that can be traced back to the Roman times, a more popular history behind the dish is that it was created by European cooks during medieval times [1]. Instead of throwing away rather unpalatable stale bread (pain perdu in French, which literally means lost bread), they were able to revive it into a delicious, moist, protein-rich meal. Another theory behind French toast is that it was actually a dish enjoyed by the wealthy. In this case, it was actually made using expensive ingredients like white bread with the crusts cut off, spices, and was topped with honey and sugar [2]. Either way, it has become a rather popular dish that is enjoyed in different ways, both sweet and savoury forms, by people throughout the world [3].

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Bread, glorious bread...

Ok, so let's talk about one of the main ingredients used to make French toast - BREAD. I know that this is going to a bit controversial, having been on the gluten-free bandwagon myself, but please hear me out. The humble loaf of bread has become synonymous with words like ‘unhealthy’, ‘inflammatory’, and 'processed' over the years. It has been right at the top of the 'red list' of many popular diets, being made up of mostly carbohydrates. Gluten, found in bread, has also been blamed as the cause of many health ills, so it’s no wonder that so many of us have banned bread from our diets! The reality is, however, that unless you experience incredible discomfort when you eat gluten-containing foods or have been diagnosed with coeliac disease by a medical professional, there is nothing wrong with eating bread. 

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Let's talk about sourdough

Having said all of this, I am a firm believer that there is a difference between a loaf of locally produced artisan sourdough and mass-produced white bread. If you are able to budget for a tasty, lovingly-produced sourdough loaf made with top-notch ingredients, it'll be worth the splurge. Your tummy may be better off, particularly if you find that regular bread makes you feel uncomfortable. Disclaimer: this isn't necessarily evidence-based, just what I have experienced with my own tummy troubles :)

Whole grains, and loaves made using freshly milled whole grains, tend to be higher in fibre and micronutrients than white bread found in the supermarket [4]. In fact, a number of observational studies linked higher cereal fibre intake and lower type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease  risk [4]. Sourdough is prepared over a number of days by fermentation using naturally-occurring lactobacilli and yeast species. It has been shown to elicit a lower glycaemic and insulinaemic response than regular bread made using baker's yeast in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance, most likely due to the presence of lactic acid produced during fermentation and the reduced availability of simple carbohydrates [5, 6].

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Recipe time!

Now onto the recipe. This is a very traditional, simple recipe for French toast that requires very little cooking skills and no fancy equipment. All you need is a good frying pan, a spatula, and whisk, and you're good to go. If you find that gluten-containing bread (even sourdough) doesn't agree with your system, feel free to substitute the slices the bread with a good quality gluten-free loaf :)


Recipe

Serves: 2

Total time: 20min

Ingredients

For the French toast:

  • 4 slices of good-quality sourdough
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (dairy, almond, cashew)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp olive oil

For the berry compote:

  • 1 cup blueberries OR mixed berries
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water

Method

For the French toast:

  1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in a shallow dish.
  2. Place the slices of bread in the egg-milk mixture to soak it up for a few minutes. Turn over the slices of bread to allow the other side to soak up what is left of the mixture.
  3. Meanwhile, head up 1 tsp olive oil in a non-stick pan on the stove over a medium-high heat. Place each of the slices of bread in the pan, leaving some space between each slice.
  4. Cook for about 5 minutes, until golden brown on one side, before flipping over each slice and cooking for a further 5 minutes (until golden brown and cooked through).
  5. Serve with plain yoghurt, berry compote, cinnamon, and chopped nuts.

For the berry compote:

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.
  2. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, squishing the berries with a fork to release the juices and making sure to mix every now and then.
  3. Remove from the heat and serve with the French toast. Alternatively, store in a clean glass jar in the fridge for up to 5 days.

References

[1] The Origin of French Toast

[2] The Nibble - French Toast History

[3] Where does French toast come from?

[4] Venn B, Thies F, O'Neil C. Whole Grains, Legumes, and Health. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2012. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2012/903767/ [Accessed 26 November 2017].

[5] Maioli M, Pes GM, Sanna M, Cherchi S, Dettori M, Manca E, Farris GA. Sourdough-leavened bread improves postprandial glucose and insulin plasma levels in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. Acta Diabetol. 2008;45:91-6. Available from: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs00592-008-0029-8.pdf [Accessed 26 November 2017].

[6] Stamataki NS, Yanni AE, Karathanos VT. Bread making technology influences postprandial glucose response: a review of the clinical evidence. British Journal of Nutrition. 2017;117:1001-12.