Christmas is truly the best time of the year! At my Grandma’s house and many other Brazilian households that means it is time for rabanada(s), fatia dourada, or fatia parida. Huh??? I mean, it’s time for Brazilian French Toast, accompanied by a good cup of coffee. What’s so special about that? Well, it’s small and thick, round or oval, custardy inside, and crunchy on the outside. It is simple, comforting, goldenlicious… and more!
Brazilian French Toast (or rabanada, as it’s known in Brazil) is different from its cousin, American French toast. How so? Well to start, the bread used to make Brazilian French toast has to be stale, usually has either a round or oval shape, and is cut thick. The way it is prepared is also different! Bread slices are first soaked in milk (or in a milk mixture) and then coated with beaten eggs, fried in oil, and then sprinkled with a sugar cinnamon mixture — instead of being briefly soaked in a milk-egg mixture and cooked in sizzling melted butter, as the standard American French toast is. The result? The Brazilian French toast is much custardier inside, crunchier outside, and overall sweeter than its American counterpart.
Its sweetness may explain why it is served as a dessert or an afternoon snack instead of for breakfast. If you have never tried this, now is your chance! Your simple ingredients — a French baguette or other round/oval bread, milk, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, and oil — are available pretty much in any corner of the world.
Rabanada makes its first documented appearance in the 15th century, as mentioned by Juan del Encina: ‘…honey and lots of eggs to make rabanadas…‘ evidently referenced as a dish helpful for recovery from childbirth. This is why it is also known as fatia parida or fatia-de-parida (i.e. slices for the new mom).
The first recipes trace back to the cookbook of Hernández de Maceras (from 1607) and the “Arte de cozina, pastelería, vizcochería y conservería” by Francisco Martínez Motiño (from 1611). By the beginning of the twentieth century rabanada was very common in the taverns of Madrid where it was served with jugs of wine. The dish came to be associated with the Lent festival in Spain, while in Portugal it came to be associated with the Christmas feast.
From Spain to Portugal… and then from Portugal to Brazil, which was of course once its main colony. You may see some designate this treat as Portuguese French Toast while others, like us, designate it as Brazilian French Toast. Although the Portuguese and Brazilian preparation are essentially the same, there are some variations in the ingredients. In Portugal, their French toast is soaked in milk (flavored with spices and/or orange or lemon zest), wine (Minho province uses vinho verde, red or white), or a sugar syrup. In contrast, Brazilian rabanada is often soaked in either plain milk or a mixture usually made from milk, sugar, and vanilla. There are also differences in the way that they are served. In both countries they are often served plain…
…Yet, in Minho province they may be drizzled with a wine syrup, while in my home country, they may be drizzled with honey, sugar syrup or maple syrup (xarope de bordo)…
I can still vividly remember watching my maternal Grandmother, Socorro, standing at her stove as she carefully prepared this treat. The aroma coming from her kitchen still fills my mind with delicious memories. As an adult, I treasure all of the moments that I spent as a child in her kitchen and in her company — back then so heedless of time and the simple happiness of those moments. I would give anything to go back in time and have her hand me a slice of rabanada with that big smile on her face.
Time can be quite ruthless… that is why I have started my own memories, this time with my own children. From my grandma to me, and from me to my little ones (and hopefully to my grandchildren)… What I truly want to do is to create fond memories with my loved ones and fill them with all the happy, comforting thoughts that will stay with them even when I too have long become a memory.
From my family to yours, MERRY CHRISTMAS!