Torrijas: a Spanish Easter Treat
We’re coming up on a wonderful time of the year with beautiful traditions all around the world; my American childhood was filled with chocolate candy and Easter egg hunts, which is oddly enough starting to come into fashion in Spain. More traditionally, however, the processions here during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, have nothing to do with the Easter bunny and are among the best-known in the world. In many Spanish cities and small towns, penitents carry incredibly heavy altars through the town for hours on end. These altars range from wooden depictions of Jesus on the cross to ornate gold and silver floats. Sevilla and Málaga, both in the South of Spain, are particularly famous for their processions.
I’ll be spending this Spring Break in Bulgaria (we leave tomorrow!) so I’ll miss the processions, but before leaving I was able to share one Semana Santa treat with my friends: torrijas!
When asked to describe this dish, I usually say it’s “French toast on crack.” Basically, you soak bread in milk that is flavored with lemon, orange, cinnamon, and sugar. Next you coat the bread in egg and fry it.
Finally, you roll it in cinnamon-sugar. Torrijas combine three of my favorite things: cinnamon sugar, fried, and more cinnamon sugar.
Here you can see the whole process laid out, with the finished product on the bottom right:
These should come with a warning sign: they’re so delicious that it’s difficult to control yourself. I have to say, I’m glad they only come around once a year and are relatively time-consuming to make at home; that means I eat exactly as many of them as I should (per year, not necessarily per meal.) Waiting also makes them feel special, and I like that. So I dutifully wait until the season is upon us, and then I spring them upon my friends and guests.
I’m happy to share with you my recipe for torrijas, which I lovingly translated from a demonstration I received two years ago from my Spanish family. I hope you enjoy the dish as well as the vacation that comes with it.
Yield: 16-20 slices, to be divided into as many or as few servings as you see fit (I’m not judging)
1 unsliced loaf of white bread with a tight crumb; if you’re in Spain, you can buy a torrijas loaf
3 1/4 c. milk
Freshly grated lemon peel*
Freshly grated orange peel*
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick, or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
Olive oil for frying
Cinnamon-sugar mixture for coating
1. On a diagonal, slice the bread into slices approximately 1 inch thick. Place slices, close together, in any container deep enough for a little bit of liquid, such as a jelly roll pan. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, combine the milk, lemon peel, orange peel, granulated sugar, and cinnamon stick. Bring just to a boil, and then remove from heat.
3. Strain solids from milk mixture.
4. Pour the warm milk mixture over the prepared bread, soaking it as much as possible. Flip each piece of bread to soak the other side.
5. In a skillet, heat 1/2-inch of olive oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a deep plate. Prepare a second plate with paper towels to drain. Prepare a third plate with cinnamon-sugar mixture for coating. Prepare a final plate to serve the torrijas.
6. For each piece of soaked bread, coat both sides with egg and place into the hot oil to fry. When the first side is golden brown, flip them using tongs or a fork. When the second side is golden brown, remove the bread and place on the paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
7. While warm, coat both sides of each slice of bread with cinnamon-sugar and place on serving platter. Serve warm or cold. (We prefer them cold!)
* Placing a whole strip of lemon rind and orange peel in the milk serves just as well as zesting it, and it makes it easier to strain out the solids later.