It’s very easy to make a meal out of just eggs and bread, as has been demonstrated over centuries. I grew up enjoying the culinary delight known in our house as Eggy Bread – bread soaked in egg and then fried in a little butter until the eggs were cooked and the slices a dappled yellow and brown. A delicious, savoury breakfast, brunch or supper.
So imagine my horror when I went out into the wide world and learned that some people sprinkle ICING SUGAR or – heaven forfend – POUR SYRUP on their eggy bread and call it French Toast or Lost Bread (pain perdu). It’s something I still can’t get my head around: imagine if I suggested you drizzled syrup over quiche. Yes, THAT level of horror. To me, Eggy Bread is, and will always be, a savoury dish.
Which leads me to this week’s recipes, neither of which are particularly old, but which are firm favourites in this house. Although I love discovering and resurrecting old recipes, I don’t live on them, and it struck me recently that it is as important to record here the ordinary, everyday recipes meals on my table, as it is to bring back the glorious fare of ages past. So here we are.
If the notion of a savoury egg and bread combo is new to you, let me lead you through, in the first instance, Eggy Bread.
As with many classic recipes, Eggy Bread is deceptively simple. It looks pretty straightforward, with just three ingredients – five if you count salt and pepper separately – but looks can be deceiving. Indulge me as I share my decades of experience in considering each element.
- Eggs – size doesn’t matter. What matters is having enough egg to soak the bread thoroughly. A slice of Eggy Bread with too little egg is tragic. So always err on the side of caution and if in doubt, whisk in an extra egg, just to be on the safe side. A good benchmark is a 1:1 ratio of egg and bread slices. Of course, if your slices are doorsteps and your eggs quail, then some adjustments are going to be needed.
- Bread – you can really go as wild here as you like, but with one proviso – no ready-sliced bread. Having made such a sweeping directive, I’m immediately going to contradict it – you CAN have ready-sliced bread, as long as it is done by the bakery department wherever you shop. Nice crusty cob or farmhouse or split tin – just take them to the bakery counter and ask them to slice it for you. THAT kind of sliced is fine. It’s the plastic-wrapped, ready-sliced, soft and squishy bread that is a disaster when it comes to Eggy Bread. The crumb is not open and the surface is impervious to egg: the slices slide around on top of the beaten egg and persistently fail to absorb it. Bread with airy holes in is perfect for filling with egg, so why not try a sourdough or similar?
- Butter – for cooking the eggy bread. I recommend unsalted butter, as it makes balancing the seasoning easier.
- Salt and Pepper. A must. Use table salt in the egg mixture, where it dissolves easily, and save your sea salt flakes for sprinkling over the finished product if liked. Pepper can be a minefield. I like coarse-ground black pepper, but the larger pieces run the risk of burning if the pan is too hot, so you have to be careful. Ground white pepper mixes in easily, but can quickly be overpowering if your hand slips when sprinkling. Dried red pepper flakes and a few dashes of hot sauce are also options.
- Tomato ketchup – technically not an ingredient, but in my opinion a must-have to serve. I’m going to surprise you now by recommending a non-brand tomato ketchup. Not any particular brand, just not the 57 varieties one (which is too sweet, in my opinion). Cheaper, non-brand ketchups tend to be on the tart side, with the use of vinegar being a little heavy handed. Although it might sound like I’m not really selling this, the sharpness is a perfect foil against the richness of the Eggy Bread.
slices of bread
1 egg per slice of bread, + 1 extra
salt and pepper
- Break the eggs into a flat dish. A baking sheet with edges is ideal. It needs to be something large enough for the slices of bread to lie flat.
- Whisk the eggs and season well with salt and pepper.
- Lay the bread in the seasoned egg and allow it to soak (5 minutes).
- Turn the bread over and soak the second side.
- Melt a little butter in a pan. Have it set to medium heat. My hob goes from 1-9, and I cook Eggy Bread on 5.
- Lay your slices of egg-soaked bread into the pan. Don’t crowd the pan – make batches if cooking for more than one person. If you have any egg left over, after a couple of minutes (when the surface of the egged bread has cooked) you can drizzle the remaining egg over the bread slices, filling up the holes in the bread.
- Allow the slices to cook gently until the underside is cooked (3-4 minutes).
- Carefully turn the slices over and cook to your desired level of done-ness. Lovers of a soft-boiled egg, or a classic French omelet, who enjoy a certain fluidity to their eggs, might want to leave it only a few moments. Personally, I can’t bear underdone eggs, so I like my Eggy Bread ‘well done’: for the egg to be fully cooked. The effect on the bread is to make it expand until they appear to be little butter-covered mattresses – very bouncy and springy.
- Remove the cooked slices from the pan. I prefer to lay them on kitchen paper, to absorb excess butter, but if your tastes are otherwise, feel free to omit this stage.
- Cut your Eggy Bread into soldiers and transfer to a serving plate.
- Squeeze a generous blob of ketchup into a ramekin or similar, and serve.
- Dip soldiers into ketchup and enjoy.
Once you have mastered Eggy Bread, or if you feel the need for more complex flavours, leap straight into Eggity Bread!
This has all the components of Eggy Bread, but rearranged and dressed up with a few exciting flourishes.
I have found several variations of this recipe on the internet, some of which might appeal more to your tastes. This version, with its jumble of textures and flavours with a pop of herbs, is the one that my daughter enjoys.
A few comments on ingredients
- Eggs – softboiled. Cooked for between 3 and 4 minutes, just enough for the whites to be mostly cooked and the yolk runny.
- Bread – as above, whatever you prefer or have to hand. Toasted, buttered, diced.
- Seasoning – in addition to salt and pepper, these eggs also have a dusting of herbs. I’ve tried with both fresh herbs and dried, and my recommendation is that dried works best. It is easier to get a light dusting with dried herbs. In my experiments with fresh herbs, they quickly overpowered the eggs with the slightest slip of the hand. A light sprinkling of chopped, fresh parsley to serve is acceptable. The mixture of herbs can be anything you like – I like the combination of oregano, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary.
slices of bread
eggs – one per slice
salt and pepper
fresh parsley to serve (optional)
- Bring a pan of water to the boil.
- Lower the eggs into the boiling water in a spoon and cook for 3 minutes if medium, no more than 4 minutes if large.
- While the eggs are cooking, toast the bread and butter whilst hot.
- Preheat the grill.
- Cut the toast into cubes/dice. This small act makes for a fantastic mixture of flavours and textures in the finished dish – buttery, dry, soft, crunchy…
- Remove the eggs from the pan and immediately crack them into a bowl. Don’t worry if they break – eggs boiled for this short a time are impossible to get out of the shells whole. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the shells, and chop the eggs roughly. If you find that your yolks have cooked solid, crack a raw egg into the mixture – this dish just doesn’t work without some liquid to bind everything together.
- Season the eggs with salt, pepper and a dusting of each of the herbs. Use a light hand – literally two or three shakes of the herb jar, about 1/8th teaspoon of each.
- Add the cubed toast to the seasoned eggs and toss together. The toast will become coated and lightly bound together with runny yolk and any liquid white.
- Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof dish (a gratin dish as above is ideal) and place under a hot grill for about 90 seconds to heat everything through, crisp the edges of the toast and finish cooking any liquid egg.
- Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve (be careful with the hot dish!).