By now we have all decided that breakfast is by far the best meal of the day, (right?). And with so many great options out there (French toast! Perfect pancakes! Eggs any which way!), it's become the meal we prefer to eat over any other, regardless of the time of day. And all the spiffy breakfast options out there aside, sometimes all you really want is a solid, dependable, regular bowl of cereal, and that’s okay too.
Cereal is, afterall, the meal that carried us out the door through childhood and the humble dish that holds us over while hunched at our computers during our “adult” years. These days there are cereals out there to cater to almost any taste—nutty riffs on granola for the “health conscious”; heartier, fibrous grains for a more substantial bowl; and marshmallow-dimpled nuggets to call back the kid in us all—and the average American consumes an estimated 10 pounds of the stuff every year.
But cereal hasn’t always been around to ease our empty stomachs or pacify our indecisive palates. Before the nation fell for these familiar flakes, it fell in love with milk toast.
A popular dish of the 19th century, milk toast is exactly as the name implies: a marriage of two breakfast standbys, milk and toast, resulting in a something that could be considered the precursor to the cereals we fill our bowls and our bellies with today. It was an obsession for many, and was cited as healing almost all ails, but was realistically heralded because it was easy for the sick and elderly to digest. Unsurprisingly, children were also pretty big fans of what was essentially a bready precursor of today's Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The recipe is simple: Toast some slices of hearty bread, slather them with butter, crumble into a bowl, and drown them in sweetened milk. If you’re thinking this sounds suspicious and possibly disgusting, you’re not alone. Even given a reasonable measure of breakfast-loving deduction (cereal is always a win and toast is great any time, therefore cereal + toast = brilliant?), I was considerably skeptical about the promise of this old-timey favorite, but willing to investigate in the name of breakfast-related science.
As it turns out, eating milk toast is a bit like eating some sort of breakfast bread pudding that’s unusually comforting. Like mac n’ cheese, brownies, and, well, cereal, it’s a mashup of best bites—crusty, charred corners buried among a sea of sweet, warm mush, and a buttery slick of cinnamon-sugar laced milk. It's a little like French toast, and a little like cereal left soaking.
Milk toast is a meal of solace. It's homey, warm, and earnest. It's the kind of thing that would welcome a new day or round out a particularly difficult evening. Satisfying in its own right, it's easy to see how this combination of bread and sweet milk once served the same niche as a bowl of cereal does today—and how it's worth bringing back.
- 2 thick slices of firm, hearty bread (like white or sourdough)
- 2 cups creamy whole milk
- Butter, for toast
- Cinnamon and sugar or brown sugar, to taste
Have you ever had milk toast—or made a variation on it? Tell us about it in the comments.