Poor Knights – remains of the Roman Empire

It’s rainy and windy at the Ministry. A perfect excuse to stay indoors and have “fattiga riddare” for coffee. Fattiga Riddare is swedish and mean litterally “Poor Knights”. The favorite version of Poor Knights at the Ministry is made out of old swedish coffee-bread (a pastry-bread not much unlike the Danish Pastry, it’s a sort of wheat bread with cinnamon, sugar, raisins, marzipan and other deliciousness). This is dipped in milk and fried in margarine and topped with sugar and cinnamon. Served warm with café au lait. Extremely tasty and good for a murky swedish summer-afternoon.

When feeling lazy it’s easy to just fry it directly in the frying-pan with margarine, and then when it’s more or less done poor the milk over it. The bread will soak up the milk. And then of course topping off with sugar and cinnamon to taste. It can also be made on any ordinary bread and dipped in a mix of milk and egg and are then more commonly known as “French toast” – which comes in different shapes and sizes plus countless tastes and variations. In fact “french toast” is more or less known in the whole western world (including all the old English colonies like in Hong Kong and their Cha chaan teng’s – chinese tea house’s).

In Sweden the Poor Knights are generally made just like the “french toast” on ordinary bread, done with pastries it’s sometimes referred to as “Rich Knights”. However, in the northern parts of the country it is mostly made on pastries and called “Poor Knights”. For the Minister/President “Poor Knights” are made of pastry bread. I guess the “French toast”-version could be called “Destitute Knights”. 😉

Poor Knights (fried pastries) in a version with jam on the top, perfect for afternoon tea …

The precise origins of the recipe are unknown. There is a story in U.S that it was invented in 1724 by a man named Joseph French in a roadside tavern near Albany, New York. However this is highly dubious. The dish was well known all over medieval Europe, in fact it is likely that it have been a logical “invention” by different peoples, as a way to use day-old or stale bread (some breads, French bread especially, become stale already after one day). Whereas a stale, crunchy bread might seem unappetizing, soaking the bread in eggs and frying it solved that problem. A similar dish, suppe dorate, was popular in England during the Middle Ages, although the English might have learned it from the French Normans, who had a dish called tostees dorees. However, the first written mention of the dish comes from the court of Henry V of England (1413–1422). Although a version appears in the 1st century AD Roman cookbook, Apicius (“Another sweet: Break grated Sigilines (a kind of wheat bread), and make larger bites. Soak in milk, fry in oil, douse in honey and serve.”). This was also known as Pan Dulcis. So in fact the “Poor Knights” is a ancient remains of the Roman Empire spread all over the world! Similar dishes have existed in many countries and under many names.

French Toast Hong Kong-style, two slices of bread are normally used and a sweet filling is usually added, either peanut butter, kaya (coconut jam), or more rarely jam.

The “french toast” was wellknown in Medieval Europe as:

* Austria: Pavese (a medieval type of shield whose shape resembles a slice of bread)
* France: pain perdu (literally, “lost bread”)
* Germany: armer Ritter (literally, “poor knight”)
* Portugal: rabanadas or fatias douradas (literally, “golden slices of bread”)
* England: suppe dorate (Italian for “gilded sippets”)
* Yugoslavia and some successor republics: прженице – prženice
* Croatia: pohani kruh
* Lebanon: pain perdu
* Catalonia: torrades o croquetes de Santa Teresa (literally, “toasts or croquettes of Saint Theresa”)

Modern versions occur in many countries under other names:

* Australia: french toast
* Belgium: verloren brood, wentelteefjes, gewonnen brood, or gebakken boterhammen (literally “lost bread”, “won bread”, or “baked sandwiches” as it was traditionally made from stale bread) in Flanders, pain perdu (literally, “lost bread”) in Wallonia
* Brazil: rabanada or “fatia parida”(in the northeast region of Brazil)
* Bulgaria: пържени филии – părzheni filii (“fried slices [of bread]”)
* Canada (in francophone regions): pain doré (literally, “golden bread”)
* Denmark/Norway: arme riddere (literally, “poor knights”)
* Greece: αβγόφετα (avgófeta, literally “egg-slice”)
* Finland: köyhät ritarit (“poor knights”) when eaten plain or with butter, rikkaat ritarit (“rich knights”) when rolled in powdered sugar, sprinkled with it until fully covered or alternatively covered with whipped cream to provide the white base, and an eye of red colored jam added in the center.
* Estonia: piilud (“ducklings”)
* Hungary: bundás kenyér (literally, “coated bread”)
* South India/Sri Lanka: Bombay toast
* Israel: –
* Malaysia: Roti telur
* Mexico: pan francés
* Netherlands: wentelteefjes (etymology unclear, wentelen = “to turn over”, teefje = “female dog”). Used in some parts of Flanders, Belgium as well.
* Pakistan: meetha toas
* Romania: frigãnele
* Russia: гренки – grÄ›nki
* Spain: torrija
* Switzerland: Fotzelschnitten (“rascals’ slices”)
* Turkey: yumurtalı ekmek (literally, “bread with eggs”), or ekmek balığı (literally, “breadfish” / “fish of bread”)
* United Kingdom: ‘poor knights of Windsor’, ‘Gypsy Toast’ and in parts of Cumbria, ‘Pandora’.
* U.S.A.: French toast (on rare occasion it may be called German toast, Spanish toast, nun’s toast, egg toast, or French fried pudding.

One Response to “Poor Knights – remains of the Roman Empire”

  1. Ministry Blog » Blog Archive » Nov 28 - National French Toast Day! Says:

    […] everybody knows. Today is the National French-toast Day (U.S. only probably, but it’s a “good” thing every-where). It’s in fact […]