Poor Knights, Arme Ritter, Pain Perdu, Wentelteefjes
The Dutch court, mid-19thcentury. The two little princes ate sober, pretty monotonous but well. Once in a while they were ‘spoiled’ with a sweet. Often a dish of seasonal fruits. Occasionally ‘Arme Ridders’. A word not used in the Netherlands, but no doubt derived from the German Arme Ritter. The boys’ mother was of German descent after all, Württemberg to be precise. And indeed, the recipe goes back a long way in the history there. Das Buch von Guter Spisen (14th century) tells us `to cut old bread into poor knights and bake them in schmalz, but not too dry’. A couple of centuries later they will be called ‘golden slices’.
Of course, recipes for stale bread are as old as bread itself. Even the Roman gourmet Apicius tells us to make a sweet dish : break the bread and make some larger chunks, dip in milk, bake in oil and drizzle honey on them, serve hot.
But when do we get some context about these Poor Knights? I found some information dating from the 17th century. Poor Knights are alms given to the poor. The Poor Knights are those from Windsor, and are also called cinnamon toast’. Those poor knights were often prisoners ofo war (one of the many with France, or from the crusades) and were cast adrift after selling their properties to raise money for ransom to gain freedom. Free but poor, they were pensioned of and live the rest of their life in Windsor. This provision seems to date back to the 14th century.
Yet again, the pain perdu is not limited to Germany or English ex-prisoners of war. In Spain it was a dish for Lenten periods. The recipe is certainly more like the Roman one, as honey is being used, instead of the (popular in the late Renaissance!) sugar with cinnamon.
In Portugal it’s a Christmas traditional, called rabanadas. Bread is dipped in milk and egg, baked in oil or butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Alternative prepping: wine, tea or water instead of milk and egg. And served with a sweet portwine sauce. Might be an idea.
A bit odd, but Americans call the French pain perdu (lost bread, one doesn’t see it’s stale) French Toast, as they call pommes de terre frites French Fries.
The shape of the local bread, by the way, defines the shape of the pain perdu (Dutch: wentelteefje). So it can be halved buns, sliced baguettes or brioche, or a slice of bread. But don’t forget how well this recipe will do for left over panettone or Weihnachtsstollen.
Wentelteefjes - Poor Knight
Ingredients: 18 slices of bread w/o crust, 1 or 2 eggs, approx. 6 dl luke warm milk, 30 grammes of sugar, 100 grammes of butter, a little cinnamon, zest of lemon, or vanilla sugar, for serving: powdered sugar.
Beat the eggs with the sugar and the zest, cinnamon or vanilla. Add the milk and mix well. Dip the slices, they should be almost soaked but not too soggy. Bake them light brown in the butter, sprinkle the powdered sugar on top and serve hot.
Nodig: 18 sneetjes oud brood zonder korst, 1 à 2 eieren, ongeveer 6 dl melk, 30 gram suiker, 100 gram boter, wat kaneelpoeder, geraspte citroenschil of vanille, en tot slot poedersuiker.
Bereiding: Klop de eieren met de suiker en de citroenschil, kaneel of vanille. Voeg er de lauwe melk bij en week hierin de sneetjes brood. Zorg dat de sneetjes brood weliswaar verzadigd van het mengsel raken, maar niet oplossen. Laat ze op een bord even uitlekken en bak de wentelteefjes in de lichtbruin geworden boter aan beide zijden bruin. Bestrooi ze met wat poedersuiker en dis ze warm op.
For the classic French Pain Perdu:
Gebaseerd op het oorspronkelijke blog van toen nog Spinazieacademie: https://www.lizetkruyff.nl/arme-ridders/