Pain perdu, which translates to lost bread, because it’s usually made with stale bread.
No, they don’t just call it toast. They call it pain perdu (in English, lost bread), because it’s a good use for stale bread that would otherwise be wasted.
In fairness, it’s a much better name than French toast; aside from the fact that lost bread sounds cooler and more dramatic, the name French toast is misleading, since the dish isn’t even French.
In fact, the first known mention of a food resembling French toast comes from a collection of recipes (known as the Apicius) from Ancient Rome. The dish was called aliter dulcia, meaning another sweet dish in Latin. The Apicius was written in the 5th century – many, many years before France came to be.
So why is it called French toast?
Well, no one’s really sure. We do know, however, that the term French toast is only a few hundred years old.
The most popular theory suggests that French toast was popularized in America by Joseph French, a New York innkeeper in 1724. French named the dish after himself, but didn’t add an apostrophe due to his poor grammar.
Another possibility is that the name comes from the Old Irish word to French, meaning to slice.
It was not until the 17th century that the term “French Toast” appeared in England (in 1660, to be precise, in a book called The Accomplisht Cook, according to The Oxford English Dictionary). This would be in line with one of the theories developed about French fries which is that the name “French” does not designate from the country of origin of the dish, but is instead in reference to the verb “to French” which means “to slice” in Old Irish. Hence, “French toast” as in “sliced toast.”
That makes some sense, but this “sliced toast” is no more sliced than normal toast. If your toast isn’t sliced, I think you’re doing it wrong.
Another theory proposes that businesses advertised the dish as French toast to take advantage of the perception that French cuisine is fancy and refined, using the name French toast as an excuse to mark up the dish’s price.
All of these explanations seem plausable, but there isn’t any hard evidence that favours one theory over the others. If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that the French call it pain perdu, a much more clear-cut name.