"Torrijas’, like every simple dish is delicious. Torrijas are nothing: pieces of fried bread with milk and sugar dressing."
This is how Antonio Diaz-Cañabete described torrijas in a chapter devoted entirely to them in his Historia de una taberna. In this work, written in the '40s and focused on Antonio Sanchez’s tavern in Madrid, the writer praises this typical Spanish sweet that is eaten during Holy Week and the days of Lent that precede it, but which also enjoyed unconditional success in the most traditional taverns, accompanied, of course, by a glass of wine.
Like many traditional dishes, torrijas reveal their humble origins, as they were a clever and tasty way to use up the remains of stale bread.
No wonder that torrijas are the quintessential sweet this time of year. As they are slices of bread soaked in milk, then dipped in egg, fried and then seasoned with sugar, syrup or honey, torrijas made it easier to put up with the prohibition of eating meat during Lent.
Torrijas appear in the famous cookbook by Francisco Martinez Montiño, chef of the Spanish Royal House and author of Arte de cocina, pastelería, bizcochería, y conservas published in 1611.
"You take white bread muffins and bagels that are tender, and round, cut them into a dozen round pancakes that are a little fat, and pass them in a little milk, then some salt sprinkled on them: then put on the frying pan with lots of butter, and make each torrija individually."
According to food critic José Carlos Capel this is the first documented recipe for this sweet. The reviewer also notes that the torrijas "madden the obese Queen Isabel II, Alfonso XII and even Jacinto Benavente, the inveterate gluttons of the time" and that their name comes from the verb 'torrar', i.e. toast, because of the toasted colour of this delicacy once fried.
The Spanish proverb refers to the enormous energy value of torrijas when it goes back to a time when there were no cars and sugar was needed more than petrol, "Give the driver whatever he needs and give the horse a torrija!".
Newer versions of this traditional sweet have extended the list of ingredients and combinations: no longer just bread and sugar, but fried milk brioche, green tea with milk, chocolate and milk foam in the most cutting edge style. There are even bakeries that have invented a 'teletorrija' service: fast home delivery of torrijas ordered through social networks.
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