Today your narrator, just like the narrator in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, has eaten something that so reminds her of many a lost afternoon. Can you guess? It was pain perdu.
Pain perdu translates to lost bread or wasted bread as it is made from yesterday’s now stale remnants. Though this sweet egg-soaked dish is made in many countries, I think pain perdu is the most poetic of its titles. French toast seems a misnomer and eggy bread is too infantile for me to want it on my plate–even if it is nursery food.
Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory. It was the theme of his most prominent work, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu or In Search of Lost Time. In the famous episode of the madeleine, he writes about flavors and textures summoning memories from decades past.
There is magic in the senses. There is magic in food. And sometimes they blur when we remember. That’s why I wonder if my daughter will come to associate her mother’s pain perdu with rainy days as that’s when I always make it. Kind of like how the rain reminds me of watching Hannah and Her Sisters for the first time years ago and discovering E.E. Cummings.
“nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”
sliced stale bread
1/3 cup milk per egg is the ratio I use
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt
*you can also add 1 teaspoon of orange zest per 1/3 cup of milk and egg if you like
a plate of blanched slivered almonds
powdered sugar to dust the toast at the end
butter and syrup for serving
Put the milk, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean paste, and salt in a wide shallow dish.
Whisk them together until well blended.
Dip your bread slices into the mixture. Coat both sides then lay one side onto the plate of slivered almonds.
Place the almond side down in a lightly oiled frying pan. Cook over medium-low heat on both sides.
Use a sifter to dust the pain perdu with powdered sugar. Serve with butter and syrup.
And once you’ve finished your pain perdu, be sure to go out for some serious puddle splashing.