I love torrijas — if I see them on a dessert menu in Spain, all the other options immediately become irrelevant. They are basically the same as what Americans call French toast, even though in France they are called pain perdu (lost bread); stale bread soaked in milk and egg and then fried. In this Spanish version they are fried in olive oil and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The perfect accompaniment is a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some butterscotch sauce.
They are so popular in some parts of Spain that bakers sell special pan para torrijas (torrija bread). This is a brioche-like loaf with quite a dense crumb that stands up well to being soaked in milk without falling apart. So a counsel of perfection is to use this, although failing that stale French baguette or any good white bread is fine (for heaven’s sake don’t try to use wrapped white sliced bread for this). If you do want to try the genuine article, I searched the web and eventually found a Spanish recipe for pan para torrijas, and adapted it for the bread machine — see below. I always make two loaves, cut them in half, and freeze them. Once thawed, I leave them to go stale — the staler the better, you can leave this bread hanging around for a couple of days. It makes good toast too.
For two people:
250 ml milk
1 tbs sugar
Sliver of lemon or orange zest (or both)
4-6 slices of stale white bread, preferably pan para torrijas (see below) — about 1 cm thick
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbs sugar
Heat the milk to almost boiling with the table spoon of sugar, the zest, and the cinnamon stick, cover, and leave to infuse for at least an hour. When you are ready to cook the torrijas, pour the milk into a shallow dish large enough to take all the bread in a single layer. Soak the slices of bread in it, turning over once, until they are thoroughly imbibed; this will only take 5-10 minutes. Beat the egg. Mix together the ground cinnamon and sugar.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan until it shimmers. Carefully remove each slice of bread from the milk using a spatula (they are fragile), and brush both sides with beaten egg. Cook till golden on the first side, turn over and cook the other side. Remove from the pan, drain on kitchen paper, and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar.
Optional extra step: either caramelize the cinnamon sugar with a blow torch, or put the torrijas on a tray under a preheated hot grill for a minute, until the sugar layer is bubbling and golden. This is not traditional, but I like the crisp texture.
Serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and/or sauce of your choice: chilled crème anglaise, butterscotch sauce, or simply cream.
Pan para torrijas
For 2 25-cm loaves
500 g medium-strong flour (I use half bread flour, half plain flour)
125 ml lukewarm milk
125 ml lukewarm water
20 g instant yeast
50 g soft butter
5 g salt
10 g sugar
If using a bread machine, add all the ingredients in the order suggested by the manufacturer and set the machine to the “dough” setting. Otherwise, mix all the ingredients together to make a dough, and knead thoroughly until smooth and elastic. Cover and leave in a warm place to double in size.
Divide the risen dough into two equal pieces and form two long loaves on a baking tray. Leave to rise again until almost doubled, then cut some diagonal slashes and paint the loaves with beaten egg. Preheat the oven to 200C and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.