In Gibraltar you know it is Easter time when people make Torrijas. They are similar to French toast, and there is no direct translation so you could call them Spanish toast. Torrijas are creamy on the inside, sweet, cinnamony and absolutely heavenly! There are 2 main variations of them – some people make torrijas and then drench them in a simple syrup (my favourite) or cover them in a mix of sugar and cinnamon. Either way I have never met a single person who doesn’t like them.
Torrijas are a classic and traditional Spanish sweet traditionally made during the Easter festive period with the recipe going back to at least the 15th century, although it is probably older. Everyone says that their favourite is their mum’s, and I have to concur! In fact this is my mother’s recipe. Having said that, my friend Nicole makes a mean torrija too. She makes them for the Calentita food festival in Gibraltar every June for the ‘Traditional Gibraltar Sweets” stall, and while the stall sells out, the first sweet that usually sells out early on are the torrijas. That is a measure of how popular they are!
Torrijas can be found ready made at the supermarket, cake shops, even some bars and restaurants but I have never had one as good as home made, and it pays to make them yourself as the recipe is relatively easy and cheap! As with many traditional Spanish dishes, bread is used. With torrijas, bread is simply a medium as it soaks up the sweet infused milk mixture and them becomes creamy when cooked. The milk is infused with lemon rind and cinnamon. The lemon rind will release lots of lemony flavour and combined with cinnamon is a classic of many Spanish desserts.
It is best to use bread which is slightly stale (from the day before) as it will soak up more liquid and make it creamier on the inside. You can either use thick cut sliced bread (the thicker the better) or a normal baguette cut into slices about 3cm (1 inch) thick. In Spanish supermarkets you can find bread especially made for torrijas, usually already sliced. It is important to not remove the crust as otherwise it will fall apart.
Torrijas are traditionally Spanish; bread soaked in milk, infused with lemon and cinnamon and drenched in syrup. Torrijas are creamy on the inside, sweet, cinnamony and absolutely heavenly!
- 500g bread, slightly stale if possible, either a baguette or sliced loaf (see note above)
- 1 litre of whole milk
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 sticks of cinnamon
- the rind of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp Marsala wine (optional, can be substituted with brandy or sherry)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- neutral flavoured oil for frying (e.g sunflower oil)
For the syrup
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1 cup of water
- Pour the milk into a pan, with the cinnamon sticks, vanilla extract, 2 tbsp of sugar, the Marsala wine, and the rind of 1 lemon. Cut the rind thinly as if you were peeling the lemon trying to avoid the pith (the white part of the skin) as this is bitter.
- Turn on a medium heat and when it is about to boil turn off the heat and allow to cool down. Take out the lemon rind so it doesn’t give any bitterness but leave the cinnamon in. This may take about 30 minutes to become cool or tepid.
- In the meantime to save time you can proceed to make the syrup. To do this simply add the twice as much sugar to water in volume on a medium heat. If you use a thermometer allow the temperature to reach 105C. If you are not using one allow the sugar to dissolve in the water and let it thicken slightly. Allow to cool and set to one side.
- Lay the slices of bread into a baking dish and lay them side by side. With a large spoon pour the cool or tepid milk mixture over the slices until they have soaked up the milk.
- Pour some oil into a frying pan and heat to a medium to high heat.
- In the meantime beat 3 eggs into a bowl, one slice at a time dunk into the eggs so they soak up some of the beaten egg.
- Immediately place in the frying pan and fry each side until golden brown. Remove from the pan and allow to cool on a plate lined with some kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.
- When the torrijas have cooled down pour some syrup over the top of them. The torrijas won’t soak up much of the syrup but it is served with the torrijas dripping in syrup. You don’t have to use all the syrup made, you can always save what isn’t used for the next batch (and believe me, there will be a next batch!)
- To serve, you can sprinkle with some cinnamon and eat with a spoon.
- If you are serving the torrijas coated in sugar instead of syrup, simply dunk them in sugar and cinnamon and coat evenly.
- Torrijas will keep well for a few days in the refrigerator, but i doubt they will last that long!