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Carnival, Carnival…


Start thinking about what fancy dress you’re going to wear this year – Carnival’s just around the corner….

Countdown to one of the craziest events in Bilbao: our Carnival! In our article “Secret Carnival” we told you about some of events that take place around this time of year. Now, However, we’d like to share another secret that happens around now too: the cakes and sweets that also typically make their appearance around now.

For us, the month of February kicks off on the 2nd with the Las Candelas festivities. These days at the beginning of the month, it’s typical here to enjoy a desert that’s not necessarily strictly associated with Carnival as such. We’re talking about tostadas de crema or leche frita (“fried cream toast” or “fried milk” – a sort of French toast made by soaking bread or sponge fingers in milk and then frying them, not to be confused with torrijas or tostadas de Carnaval (Carnival toast), that we’ll talk about later in this article.

Neither should we forget the sweets and meringue deserts (malvaviscos) – Oh! How I can still remember Santiaguito’s famous shop in the Old Quarter of Bilbao! All those tiny, sticky fingers pressed anxiously against his shop window! – or the aniseed-flavoured, deep-fried sort of donuts named after San Blas that can be seen on display in practically every cake shop in town these days. As we eat them, we people from Bilbao ask San Blas to protect us from throat infections and any other kind of throat ailment for the remainder of the year. And, on the 3rd of February, absolutely everyone in Bilbao wears his/her “cord of San Blas” round his/her neck for 9 days whereupon it’s traditionally burned to bring no throat complications for the rest of the year. No virus or bacteria can withstand the power of this typical “remedy”, I guarantee.

But let’s get back to what we were talking about before: the sweets and deserts typically made at Carnival time. The star turn of deserts this month must surely be the torrijas or tostadas de Carnaval (a sort of French toast made using either milk or confectioner’s cream) and, as might be expected, every single restaurant has their “secret recipe”. And, not to be outdone, we at Secret Bilbao have ours too and here it is:


  • 1 loaf of bread, preferably from the day before.
  • 1 litre of milk or 700 ml of milk and 300 ml of single cream for those who like sweeter deserts.
  • 1 skin of a whole lemon.
  • 1 stick of cinnamon.
  • 125 grams of sugar.
  • 2 or 3 eggs (to be beaten so we can dip and coat the bread fingers).
  • Powdered cinnamon.
  • Brown sugar for dredging and decoration.
  • Olive oil.


In a large saucepan, heat the litre of milk (or the milk and cream) together with a stick of cinnamon, 125 grams of sugar and the skin of 1 lemon. Meanwhile, cut the loaf of bread into thick slices so that they’ll really absorb the liquid and place them, one alongside the other, in a deep oven dish. Once the milk has cooled down, pour it over the slices of bread using the back of a spoon. Leave the bread to absorb the liquid for approximately 8 – 10 seconds and then carefully turn the bread slices over and repeat the operation.

Meanwhile, heat a frying pan containing a lot of olive oil. While the oil is getting nice and hot, beat the eggs and sprinkle the flour on a plate. Grind the brown sugar and cinnamon in a mortar until they become a fine, loose powder. (You can also use glacé sugar combined with cinnamon, but using brown sugar gives the bread a delicious crunchier taste.)

Once the bread can absorb no more milk, we’ll carefully take one slice of bread from the dish, coat it first in beaten egg and then flour, before frying it in hot olive oil. Once the French toast is nice and brown, take them out of the frying pan and place them on a sheet of absorbent kitchen paper to remove any excess olive oil. When all the bread fingers have been fried and drained, place them carefully on a serving dish and sprinkle with the ground sugar and cinnamon. Delicious!!

What? Feel like trying this recipe out?? Bearing in mind just what keen foodies we Basques are, if you don’t want to make them yourselves, you’ll find Carnival toast in practically every cake shop in Bilbao and the Basque Country generally at this time of year, not to mention their being served as typical deserts by restaurants at this time of year. But remember: they should always be eaten warm!

It’s no secret just how delicious they are!!

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