“To make Poor Knights pudding. Cut two penny loaves in round slices, dip them in half a pint of Cream or faire water, then lay them abroad in a dish, and beat three Eggs and grated Nutmegs and sugar, beat them with the Cream then melt some butter in a frying pan, and wet the sides of the toasts and lay them in on the wet side, then pour in the rest upon them, and so fry them, serve them in with Rosewater, sugar and butter.”
From The Compleat Cook: Expertly Prescribing The Most Ready Wayes, Whether Italian, Spanish Or French, For Dressing Of Flesh And Fish, Ordering Of Sauces Or Making Of Pastry, printed in 1658
Today (November 28) is, apparently, French Toast Day. Don’t ask me who it is that decides these things. I can, however, answer the question, ‘what has French Toast to do with Poor Knights’ Pudding?’. The answer is that they are both effectively the same thing – a way of using up stale bread for hard up military gents.
What are the other names for Poor Knights’ Pudding?
However another question I can’t answer is ‘why is Poor Knights’ Pudding called that all around northern Europe (it’s known as Armer Ritter in Germany for example) and something completely different in France?’
In France it’s called Pain Perdu (‘lost bread’ – bread useless for anything else)… and in fact that name leaked into English for a time as ‘Pamperdy’ (described in Countrey Contentments, or, The English Hus-wife published in 1615.)
Another name for this dish is the modern and literal ‘eggy bread’.
Where does the name come from?
But Poor Knights’ Pudding has a bit of poetry about it. It came about because when a knight was taken captive he would have to pay a ransom to secure his release, and this often left him destitute.
In the UK this dish (it’s often served at breakfast as well as being an excellent pud) is also known more specifically as Poor Knights of Windsor pudding. This gives some testimony as to the age of the recipe.
This group of men (technically now known as the Military Knights of Windsor; originally, the Alms Knights) claim to be the oldest military establishment in the Army List. It was formed by King Edward III shortly after the Battle of Creçy (1346). They are accorded accommodation in Windsor Castle and a pension in return for taking regular part (at least every Sunday) at ceremonial occasions. The Battle of Creçy was the first of three battles won by the English against the French in The Hundred Years War, the last being Agincourt.
I found the recipe for this, which I’ve slightly adapted, in an old (twentieth century) file of my mother’s. On its own it’s a bit spare so I think it goes well with some fruit compote (berry especially) and some crème fraîche.
Recipe for Poor Knights of Windsor Pudding
Serves about three
- 2 thick slices of stale white bread
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp golden caster sugar
- 120 ml/½ cup milk
- Butter for frying – my mother’s recipe stipulates dripping which gets good and hot
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- Fruit compote and crème fraîche
- Warm your plates.
- Beat the egg with the sugar and cinnamon and add to the milk in a shallow flat dish.
- Take the crusts off the bread and cut into strips – two or three per slice depending on the size of the slice.
- Soak the bread in the eggy milk mixture for at least an hour.
- In a medium frying pan melt enough butter to come halfway up the sliced bread. Fry the coated bread. strips until golden brown on each side.
- Serve on the warmed plates, sprinkled with sugar together with the fruit compote and crème fraîche.
This post is dedicated to Sir Andrew Cunynghame.
“Marcel, the foreman, clumped into the kitchen to show me how to make Pain Perdu – a dish he had often described lyrically but which I had dismissed as too much trouble.
I shall always remember him, far too large for the kitchen, covered in cement splashes, his huge paws delicately beating eggs and measuring sugar. No doubt he made life unbearable for his wife in her own kitchen…but in my kitchen he was the hero who saved the day.”
-Lesley Blanch, Around the World in Eighty Dishes