What are torrejas?
Torrejas are the Salvadoran cousins of French toasts or Spanish torrejas.
They are found in other regions of Latin America under the same name or slight variations of the name. Torrejas are eaten during Semana Santa (Holy Week during Easter). With cod and chickpeas, torrejas are an iconic dish of this time of the year. They are always accompanied by a sweet syrup that sometimes contains liquor. This piece of bread or brioche is soaked in milk, syrup or sometimes wine. Brioche does not keep very well, so the torrejas are a good way to use the leftovers. In El Salvador, torrejas are often accompanied by a hot drink called chilate.
How to make torrejas
In El Salvador, the torrejas are usually prepared with an egg brioche called torta de yema, that is stale for one or two days. Cinnamon, an indispensable ingredient, is added to the hot milk. Eggs are separated. The egg whites are beated while the yolks are mixed in with the flour. The brioche is soaked in these different mixtures before being fried in oil or margarine. The brioche should come out perfectly golden brown.
Separately, panela syrup, sugar cane juice cooked at high temperature, is prepared to produce a kind of molasses also known as rapadura or raspadura. Spices such as ginger powder, black pepper, nutmeg and more cinnamon are added to the syrup. Everything is then diluted in a little water and is heated until obtaining a dense syrup with a nice golden brown color. The slice of brioche in drizzled with syrup before it can be enjoyed hot or cold. When enjoyed cold, the syrup will crystallize on the surface of the slice of the brioche.
What is the origin of torrejas?
The Roman gastronome Apicius already mentions Latin recipes as early as the fourth and fifth centuries when bread dipped in milk is mentioned. These recipes appear under the name of aliter dulcia (which means “another sweet dish”). In the Middle Ages, these slices of bread dipped in milk often serve as a garnish for game birds such as partridges and pheasants. In the fourteenth century, Taillevent mentions it in Le viandier under the name of tostées dorées. This is the first appearance of the egg in this recipe. Sugar is also added. In Spain, in the fifteenth century, people started using honey instead of sugar, as mentioned in the book Libro del arte de cozina by Domingo Hernandez de Maceras (1607). In the twentieth century, the torrejas become really popular in Madrid where they are served with a glass of wine. It was the Spanish conquistadors who imported them to El Salvador and Latin America.
What are the other versions of torrejas?
In Spain, cinnamon is also inseparable from the torrejas. Clove is sometimes added. They are usually eaten during Christmas rather than during the Holy Week.
In Venezuela, the slice is fried in cooking oil. In Cuba, pastry cream is added. In Brazil, people prepare rabanada. The Czechs prepare žemlovka with raisins and apples. The final preparation is more like a cake than the torrejas.
The soaked brioche or bread is present in many cultures of the world. Imported by Europeans, this dessert often retains its original name such as French toast, pain perdu or torrejas. The spelling sometimes differs. In Canada, maple syrup is used instead of sugar or honey and the name of pain doré (golden bread) is used instead of pain perdu (lost bread).
The idea of soaking bread with a liquid can give it a pleasant texture. Thus, in Europe, there are many recipes of stale bread on which hot soup, broth, cooked wine or liqueurs are poured.
In Germany, large quantities are prepared in terracotta jars that are placed in the hearth of the fireplace so they can be used throughout the day.
- 1 egg brioche (torta de yema), about 1½ lb, 1 or 2 days old
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1¼ cup whole milk
- 1 stick cinnamon
- Margarine (or oil), for frying
- 4 cups water
- Cinnamon powder (to taste)
- 5 black peppercorns
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 lb panela
Boil the milk with the cinnamon stick.
Remove from heat. Let cool and let cinnamon steep for 30 minutes.
Cut the brioche bread into 1-inch thick slices.
Separate the eggs.
Beat the egg whites, then incorporate the yolks and the flour.
Heat a generous amount of oil or margarine in a skillet over medium heat.
Dip the slices of bread quickly in the milk.
Then dip them in the egg and flour mixture.
Add to the skillet and fry on both sides without burning. The oil or margarine should be at around 340 F.
Place all the ingredients in a non-stick pan.
Boil over low heat for a few minutes until the panela dissolves and until a thick syrup is obtained (about 10 to 15 minutes).
Remove from heat and let cool slightly. The liquid will thicken a little more during cooling.