milk toast: a recipe revival

As I write this, I’m scooping spoonfuls of buttery toasted bread bathed inside a bowl of warm cinnamon sugar milk into my mouth, a.k.a. milk toast. Dating back to Civil War America when the ethos of preservation was a matter of survival, milk toast found its way into American cookery books written by Fannie Merritt Farmer, M.F.K. Fisher, Irma and Marion Rombauer nearly a century later.

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Served to the weary, sick, young, and old for its mild and soothing digestive properties, it wasn’t necessarily a dish to celebrate. Especially when it’s served with soft or inferior bread. The bread must be good to start. Hearty yeast and sourdough breads yield crisp toast with chewy middles that hold up nicely under the weight of milk.

Until now, that is. As Maurice Sendak might exclaim in an alternate take on the much-loved children’s book, “In the Night Kitchen,” Milk, milk. Milk for the morning cake toast.

I didn’t learn to make milk toast from a book. Rather I learned from my grandmother who learned from her mother. She taught me that toast soaked in warm milk is among the finest (and cheapest) forms of comfort food to relish in under any health conditions and even daily, if desired. Her recipe began with bread and milk swathed in butter with a pinch of sugar and dash of salt added to the bowl. The first time she served milk toast to me at the breakfast bar, I inscribed the recipe to memory. Then I went home and reclaimed it, eating it in the middle of the day for the shear pleasure of it.

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Aside from the bread and milk, the rest of the ingredients are up for give and take. This milk toast version is like deconstructed french toast meets milky cereal dregs with enough cinnamon sugar almond milk left to ditch the spoon and drink from the bowl. Either raisins or cocoa powder could be added as well. Other milks could be swapped for the vanilla almond milk and the flavored milk, sugar, and brown sugar could be replaced with dairy milk, salt, and pepper with a slight pinch of cayenne.

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“It was a small modern miracle of gastronomy, certainly not worth having illness for, but worth pondering on, in case milk toast might help.” —M.F.K. Fisher from An Alphabet for Gourmets

It does, indeed.

Here’s to the milk toast revival, serve as desired.

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Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Milk Toast
Serves 1

1 cup vanilla almond milk (or plain almond milk with 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ tablespoon light brown sugar
2 slices good sourdough bread
½ tablespoon unsalted butter

Gently heat the almond milk, cinnamon, and sugar in a small saucepan until simmering; remove from heat. Toast the slices of bread until they are light golden brown with an ever so slight crunch to the exterior, while remaining soft inside. Butter the warm toast. Leave the toast whole or break it into chunks and place inside a bowl. Pour the warm steaming milk over the toast and serve at once with a knife (for whole slices) and spoon.

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Comments

  1. That is an interesting recipe. A dish I’ve never had. Lovely!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. I’ve heard of milk toast, but sort of disparagingly, as a stand in for “bland” or “boring” (and in fact on the book jacket of an MFK Fisher volume). I didn’t know what it was, just its “ill repute.” Thanks for this post! It’s fun to rediscover things like that.

  3. Oh my God, I haven’t heard of milk toast in forever!!! My Mom would make it for me when I got sick (when I was in grade school)! This looks way better than what my Mom made, but it is bringing back some memories!!! Thanks!

  4. Simple, comforting, delicious– looks great!

  5. A different way of toast. Nice one

  6. This looks like the ultimate comfort food. I’ve just started my own sourdough culture so hopefully will very soon have some beautiful bread to make this dish with :-)

  7. Huh, I’ve never had this! It looks absolutely delicious :)

  8. I would have milk toast quite often as a kid. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  9. I always read about someone being insulted as a little “milquetoast” (it was definitely spelled like that!) in old fashioned books and wondered what it meant.

    This looks like the opposite of an insult. So, delicious :)

  10. Sorry I came so late to this party, but I’ll bring the sourdough next time!!

    I can’t believe I’ve found someone who seems to love milk toast as much as I do! I like mine with vanilla flavored soy milk, NO cinnamon, and a little salt and sweetener. Good stuff. Good stuff.

    • Steffaney Smith says:

      I grew up eating warm cornbread in milk with my grandpa (Iowa). To this day, that is my ultimate comfort food! I will bake a batch of cornbread or muffins and when it’s warm have a bowl in milk. Can’t help myself! He also ate graham crackers in milk, but that was too mushy for me. Thanks for the memory!

      • ArtandLemons says:

        Steffaney, Oh, I must try it with cornbread and I love the story about eating it with your grandpa!

      • Tanya Campbell says:

        My great-grandfather, Shady Stafford, used to make this for my dad, who then made it for me when I was a kid. Sounds icky, but we loved it. It’s a must try!

        Crumble saltine crackers in a bowl.
        Make good coffee, add cream/milk and plenty of sugar.
        Pour over crackers and stir until completely moistened. Will be similar to consistency of oatmeal. I suppose someone ran out of oatmeal one day and created this as a substitute. I haven’t run into anyone else yet who has heard of this. Maybe on this web site.

        • Tanya Campbell says:

          And I LOVE milk toast, just made some this morning for the first time in decades. I must try with heartier bread and love the cornbread idea!

  11. Was just thinking about my long deceased mother and her milk toast piped into my head from nowhere! I decided to look it up and came across this.
    Mom ate it often and always when she was ill. We didn’t have much money and I realize now that mom often ate milk toast while feeding we five kids whatever hearty food she could provide.
    As I recall, mom toasted plain white bread, buttered it, then poured milk over all. She then added just a pinch of sugar.
    Mom did the same with buttered toast added to a can of tomatoes she had heated. She called this “stewed tomatoes”.
    As I think back I can see that my mother always gave her children whatever meat there was while she are these inexpensive meals she made for herself.
    I was never aware at that time what she was doing. She was careful to have us think she preferred her bread concoctions.
    She was a wonderful woman.
    Thanks for reenforcing my memories with your memories! I will be purchasing a good, heavy, white bread so I can try this myself.

  12. My mother would make milk toast when we were sick, and on cold nights. We had a coal fired furnace and the house would get quite cool at night while we slept. She would butter the toast and then place it in a frying pan and grill the bread, she would heat the milk on the stove till it was warm but not boiling. Some time she would add a fry egg if she had some. It was delicious and seem to really help you sleep and seem to be one of the few things you could eat when sick that wouldn’t upset your stomach.

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