Origin: Spain and other origins
Torrijas is par excellence the Easter dessert of Spain. Torrijas are similar to French toast. It was "invented" in the 15th century and like many other Spanish desserts it was created by nuns. It is said that it's an Easter dessert because it's appearance resembles roast meat, an item of food which is forbidden for Catholics during this period.
However it is likely torrijas are inherited from the Al-Andalus period, among these recipes there is one called "zalabiyya" which may be an earlier version of this Spanish dessert. The Moorish Zalabiyya was a kind of brioche which was fried in oil and then sprayed with honey.
Perhaps torrijas is one of the remnants of what until not so long ago was the Easter gastronomy which was based on two rules; abstinence and fast. Today there is religious free will and even Christians can choose to follow these precepts or not. Many choose not to, which has led to the oblivion of typical Easter recipes. Whether you believe in religion or not, the gastronomic creations of all of the religions in Spain form an important part of the culture of the country and it is therefore a shame that these dishes are disappearing. Why not help protect these dishes, such as torrijas, from gastronomic extinction and have a go at making them yourself.
In the convents torrijas were often made with leftover bread - the perfect sweetmeat to lighten Lent. Since then they have been prepared in a number of variants, such as soaked in milk, syrup, honey or wine, sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon, etc. Sometimes they are made using orange juice which gives them a fruity taste and makes them suitable for those with a lactose intolerency. Similarly, the milk can also be substitued with soy milk for this purpose.
According to the Christian lore, bread is the body of Christ. The base of torrijas could be considered to be dead bread, and therefore the milk, eggs and frying are understood as the remedies needed to resuscitate Him. It's the resurrection of dead bread and that's why is considered a "divine" dessert. It may be a heavenly dessert, but is devlish in terms of calories!
At the beginning of the 20th century it torrijas were very common in taverns and bars of Madrid and it was usually accompanied by a glass of wine. Today Aragon is the community where it's most consumed and some 3 million torrijas are made and eaten there every year.
However it's not mandatory to consume torrijas during the Easter period alone, and they're so delicious and easy to make, and also a good way to make use of yesterday or older bread, that they are perfect treats for all year round. It does have a high caloric content, so we recommend that you enjoy torrijas only as an occasional delicacy.
If you ever happen to be in any city of Spain during Easter, be sure not to miss out on these great little treats and try some torrijas!