All relevant religious holidays in Spain have a reflection in the food. Spain was a strictly Catholic country for centuries with the liturgical periods tightly marking the habits, and with food rules that had to be obeyed. Though nowadays the religious rules regarding food, like fasting on certain days during Easter, are largely overlooked, funnily enough the food traditions remain and making torrijas for the Easter celebration, usually a labor holiday lasting four days, is one of them. Also you can find them in pastry shops, restaurants and bars all over the country during this period. Torrijas are apparently a rather ancient recipe, as they first appear quoted by a Spanish author in the 15th Century. Now… listen to yours truly pronouncing this funny word here.
Torrijas are a very simple dish, very similar to French toast and pain perdu, most often made by soaking slices of stale bread in sugared milk, also flavoured with cinnamon or vanilla, then bathed in beaten egg, fried in oil and sprinkled with a mixture of sugar and powdered cinnamon. In fact, another one of the many ways developed by the not so well-off to use up bread leftovers. Though today bread especially baked for the purpose of making torrijas can be bought. As it usually happens with most traditional dishes, the perfect ingredients and method are controversial matters, torrijas made with sweet wine instead of milk and others bathed in syrup after frying being also popular. And of course, the best torrijas are always one’s mother’s, no discussion about it!
- 4 cups (1 liter) milk
- 3 tbsp sugar (or honey if you prefer)
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2-3 medium eggs
- Sunflower oil or other insipid oil for frying
- Sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
- Slice the bread into 1 inch (2.5cm) slices. Arrange them on a shallow dish that can hold the milk.
- Pour all the milk in a saucepan with the sugar and the cinnamon stick, bring to a boil. Turn off the heat the moment it starts to boil and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.
- Pour the milk on the bread and let soak for 30 minutes.
- Beat the eggs in a plate large enough to hold at least one torrija.
- Heat the oil to medium in a large frying pan that can hold several torrijas at the same time. With a spatula (the bread might be overly soft), carefully transfer the soaked slices one by one into the egg and turn them to coat. Then transfer the slices to the hot oil.
- Fry for a couple of minutes on each side, until brown.
- Take out to a dish lined with a paper towel and thoroughly sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Enjoy warm or cold.
Tips for superb torrijas: I find the result is best when you let the bread go very stale before soaking, so that the slices can soak as much milk as possible and yield a very creamy inside afterwards. So what I do sometimes is to slice the bread before letting it dry overnight, to assure that the loaf dries thoroughly (and because slicing is a lot easier while the bread is soft). And I recommend you make sure that the slices soak as much milk as feasible, so it is best to check how they are doing within say 20 minutes after pouring the warm milk on them, because you can always add a little more if the slices have soaked up all the liquid in the dish, say another cup. For me these are indeed the secrets for a lusciuosly creamy interior that looks and tastes more like pastry cream than like plain milk-soaked bread. Because that is what I really love about torrijas, that the alchemy of soaking and frying metamorphoses the simplest ingredients into something different and truly delicious.