Torrijas are a typical sweet in Spain during Holy Week. You see them on the menus of cafés or for sale in many bakeries. I bought a couple of slices the other day for my "merienda" (mid-afternoon snack) and boy were they yummy! But I got to wondering why on earth were they considered a Holy Week specialty??? I mean, torrijas are basically French toast made with baguette!!! (Note: in France they make the same thing and call it "pain perdu" or "lost bread", and as far as I know it's not a special Holy Week thing.) In my family French toast is breakfast and is valid all year round (unless we start worrying about calories and stuff, which we don't... which explains a lot!).
|Delicious torrijas in my local bakery|
Since no one could explain it to me in my local bakery... I did what any other computer-savvy person in the 21st century would do... I googled it! Got links to several pages, but I'll stick with Wikipedia (in Spanish). Turns out it's not just Holy Week, they're considered a traditional sweet during Lent as well! I guess the bakeries wait until Holy Week because a shorter availability makes them all the more special?
Apparently torrijas have been on the menu for at least 500-600 years (and I've seen websites stating they go as far back as the Romans), as the first written reference to them is in a XVth century document by Juan del Encina in which he recommends them for women who have just given birth! I guess after all that intensive labour the extra calories in torrijas would definitely be a good boost! ;o)
As usual with many traditional Spanish sweets, the origin of torrijas is attributed to nuns. But it was pretty much made in almost every Spanish household for the past 500 years at this time of year. Why Lent and Easter? Apparently because of all the extra bread! Why extra bread? Well because during Lent you weren't allowed to eat any red meat, so people also ended up eating less bread (which they would eat with the meat I guess). But they were on automatic pilot in their daily lives and were baking as much bread as during the rest of the year and so... lots of bread was leftover! As throwing food away is a big sin (and something you just don't do when it's hard to get enough food for your family anyways), well a recipe was developed to make use of all this leftover bread! Just slice it up in thick slices, soak it in milk for a while, then pat it dry and dip it in egg and fry it up in a hot skillet with olive oil! Then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on it and voilà! Torrijas! ¡Buen provecho! :o)