Monday, 21 October 2013

Roman (French) Toast

So much of Roman cooking involves familiarising yourself with the unfamiliar - obscure ingredients, unusual methods of preparation, and nigh-on-non-existent instructions.  So it took me by great surprise when, fumbling through the pages of Apicius, I found a very familiar recipe indeed - it would appear that the Romans had a thing for French Toast!

Needless to say the Romans were there first, so perhaps we should rename the recipe 'Roman Toast', but I can't help but imagine Vercingetorix, defeated by Caesar, being paraded through the streets of Rome with some French Toast in hand.

You may wonder what the point of posting this recipe is when I could just guide you elsewhere, but I think it's nice to see some continuity with the Roman world as well as the near-infinite differences.  You'll notice that the recipe calls for 'fine white bread' - given how time consuming and wasteful it is to produce white flour, white bread was a luxury available only to the well-off in the ancient world.  As it is written, this is a recipe of some status, but feel free to use whatever type of bread you wish, whether fresh or stale.

Roman Toast
(Makes 6 slices)

"Slice fine white bread, remove the crust, and break it into large pieces.  Soak these pieces in milk and beaten egg, fry in oil, and cover with honey before serving." - Apicius, 7.13.3


  • 3 Eggs
  • 200ml Milk
  • Honey
  • 6 Slices Bread


  • Thinly slice the loaf of bread - it fries better this way.  Remove the crusts, and break into large chunks if you wish.
  • Break the three eggs into a casserole dish or a bowl.  Add the 200ml of milk and mix it all together.
  • Soak the bread slices/chunks in the mixture for a few seconds on each side.  If you soak them for too long, the end result will be more omelette than toast (still tasty mind you).  Drain the excess mixture off.
  • Drop the bread into a hot, oily frying pan.  Turn it over occasionally, making sure it doesn't burn.  You know it's done when it starts to look like the picture below.  When you're ready to serve, cover it in honey, as per the recipe.  Cinnamon works well too, and was available to the Romans.


It tasted just as French Toast should taste!  It was crispy without being burnt, and tasted very sweet thanks to the honey added before serving.  All of the egg means that this is a filling dish - I started struggling after my third slice!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Stale Bread Salad

With 'Best Before' and 'Use By' dates in abundance, I think we have grown scared of what we eat.  How many times have you poured away milk, or thrown out a loaf of bread because it was past the little date written on the packaging?  Or how many times have you gone rummaging to the back of the supermarket shelves to gain an extra day or two?  I know I do it all the time!  In reality, your loaf of sliced white isn't going to turn into a rock-hard ball of blue fur the moment it hits midnight, and even if it does, it still has its uses.

This week we're taking stale bread, something which I imagine was abundant in ancient Rome, and giving it a little bit of extra life.  To do so, we're going to enlist the help of our favourite Roman drink, Posca!  The recipe, if followed literally, results in an unusual looking paste.  Delicious though it is, it doesn't look very appetising, which is why I've made the salad a second way too.

You'll notice that the recipe calls for the dish to be chilled with 'snow'. Snow wasn't exactly abundant in ancient Rome, but it was possible to import some, albeit at great expense.  The use of snow in this recipe adds an opulence which we, with our humble refrigerators, cannot hope to emulate.  If winter has arrived, then feel free to use all the snow you want (as long as it isn't yellow) - the rest of us can make do without.  As a final note, I've chosen to leave out mint, as I find it very overpowering - include it according to your own tastes.

Stale Bread Salad
(Serves 1)

"Hollow an Alexandrine loaf of bread, soak the crumbs in posca, and make a paste.  In the mortar put some pepper, honey, mint, garlic, fresh coriander, salted cheese, water, and oil.  Chill in snow and serve." - Apicius, 4.1.3


  • Stale Bread
  • One Glass of Posca
  • One Clove of Garlic
  • 50g Hard Cheese
  • 1/2 tsp Black Peppercorns
  • Small Handful of Coriander
  • 1 tbsp Honey
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 50ml Water

Method 1 (The Paste Method)

  • Add the pepper, cheese, coriander, and garlic to the mortar and grind it to a paste.  Add the honey, oil, and water, and mix further.  This is our dressing.
  • Hollow out a loaf of stale bread - discard the crust (or put it to use if you can think of a way!)
  • Soak the breadcrumbs in enough posca to make a paste.  Place this paste in a serving dish, and smooth it out.  Spoon over some of the dressing, refrigerate for half an hour, and serve to whoever is brave enough to eat it.

Method 2 (The Alternative)

  • Make the dressing as outlined above.
  • Remove the crusts, and cut the bread into triangles.  Arrange these in your serving dish, and pour over plenty of the posca.
  • Spoon over lots of dressing, refrigerate for half an hour, then tuck in.


I'll be the first to admit that neither of these dishes look particularly appetizing.  Despite this, I still tucked into the both of them, and they were phenomenal!  Posca brought the stale bread back to life, making it deliciously juicy, sweet, and easy to eat.  The dressing was very reminiscent of moretum, one of the first recipes found on Pass the Garum - it was sweet, garlicy, and herby, with a bit of a kick from the black pepper.  As for the two methods of making the dish, I would say that the first one tastes the best.  I think we're all agreed, however, that the second is the better looking of the two.  Take your pick.