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What is Milk Toast?

Sara Schmidt
Updated May 17, 2024
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Milk toast is a traditional breakfast food in American cuisine. The meal consists of toasted bread served buttered, then dipped or covered in hot milk. Sugar or salt and pepper are commonly added to the dish. Raisins, cinnamon, maple syrup, and other flavorings may be added to taste.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, milk toast was a popular breakfast food. It was considered a comfort food due to its soothing warmth, and people also believed it was easy to digest, making it a common dish that was served to the elderly, infirm, and young children. It was also often served following a day of playing in the snow, rain, or general cold.

Modern versions of the food are still eaten by some families. Many people still serve the warm meal to their children when they are ill. The baked and dried product known as Rusk, available in stores, also resembles the food.

To make milk toast, a cook can begin by simmering 1 pint (570 milliliters) of milk in a pot. The milk should not be allowed to boil. The cook can then butter four slices of hot, fresh, toasted bread generously with any flavor of preferred butter or spread. A sweet butter will yield a sweeter-tasting breakfast. The buttered toast should be torn into bite-sized pieces and placed in a heat-resistant bowl.

The cook can then pour the hot milk over the toasted bread, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve. For a sweeter variation, the salt and pepper can be skipped, and instead, the cook can add sugar. If adding cinnamon or sugar, the person making the dish should sprinkle both sides of the buttered toast with them before adding the milk. While other ingredients, such as raisins and vanilla, may be added, purists advise against making the recipe too complex, as it is intended to be a simple, soothing meal.

In Asia, milk toast is the name of a dessert. The treat is served in milk tea cafes across the continent, as well as in the United States. It is made from thick white toast covered with condensed milk, and it may also include honey or other sweeteners and dried fruit.

A related term, "milquetoast," is also an urban slang term for a person who is considered soft, bland, or a coward. It can also refer a person who refuses to defend himself. The comic strip character Caspar Milquetoast, created by Harold Webster, was named after the word.

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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGEEK, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.

Discussion Comments

By behaviourism — On Sep 27, 2011

@elizabeth23- I wonder if it might have been a regional thing, or even generational, or something. My mom never made it either, and her mother was from Montana and was from a family of German immigrants. I imagine for them things like milk and honey were serious treats, not just for toast.

Myself, I don't actually make milk toast, but I love dipping bread or cookies or anything else in milk when I drink it.

By elizabeth23 — On Sep 26, 2011

I used to have toast a lot as a kid; my mom never made milk toast, though. I mean she loved milk with honey, which I didn't, and she would even make toast with honey or syrup on top. My guess is maybe she didn't have it as a kid, so maybe that's why she didn't pass it on to us.

By Saraq90 — On Sep 26, 2011

Wow! I have never heard of milk toast before! It sounds very...interesting! I mean it includes all things I like, so I am sure it is pretty good, it is just not anything like what I have had for breakfast, besides french toast, which I don't have very often.

I love having sweet stuff for breakfast, like plenty of fruit and granola, so I would probably like it.

I have never heard milk toast as a slang word either! I don't like to use hurtful words, so I probably won't use it, but it is nice to know what words mean, in case I hear them or see them anywhere.

I feel so out of the loop right now, not knowing about milk toast as an American breakfast/comfort food or milk toast as a slang word!

By LisaLou — On Sep 26, 2011

When I was explaining to my kids that we liked milk toast when we were growing up, they thought it sounded pretty gross.

The thought of milk and toast and honey was not something they wanted to try very bad. After talking about it I decided to make some so they could at least say they had tried it.

All of my kids but my youngest son really liked it! It was a good lesson for them to not say they didn't like the taste of something until they actually tried it.

They must not have liked it enough to ever ask for it again, but I still find myself fixing some milk toast when I want some food that is warm and comforting.

By SarahSon — On Sep 25, 2011

For some reason my mom would make milk toast for us if we stayed home from school because we were sick. This became something my sister and I always looked forward to.

I can understand why it is known as a comfort food, because that is exactly how I would describe it. I know there are many different ways to serve this, but my mom always served our milk toast with honey.

Just a little bit of honey and cinnamon drizzled over the warm toast was soothing and comforting, and you felt better. I didn't always want my mom to know that, so she would make some more for me later.

By candyquilt — On Sep 25, 2011

I grew up having cambric tea and milk toast. When I was little, I used to see my mom sipping tea and would insist on having it too. So my mom would make cambric tea for me which is some hot tea topped with hot milk and sugar.

Sometimes, she would skip the tea and make it just with hot milk and sugar, along with some buttered toast. I used to love dipping my toast in this sweet milk for breakfast.

I think milk toast and cambric tea are really ideal for kids because it's hot, comforting and sweet. And since I grew up having these, I got a lot of calcium and have really good bone development thanks to that. I can't wait till I have my own kids and make this breakfast for them when they are a little older.

By backdraft — On Sep 25, 2011

I really like to use milquetoast as a slang term to describe people I consider kind of weak willed or nervous. I like this so much for two reasons.

First, the object sounds just like what it describes. You can imagine a piece of white bread floating in a pool of milk all pale and soggy. It seems just like a person who can't stand up for themselves.

Second, lots of people don't know what it means so you can call a person a milquetoast without making them too angry. Its kind of like a joke with yourself. Try it out in your own vocabulary. I think it is one of the great forgotten pieces of slang.

By chivebasil — On Sep 24, 2011

Milk toast kind of sounds like French toast. Does anyone know if they are connected somehow, maybe milk toast evolved into french toast or something? Either way, it sounds really tasty. I have never had anything like this but I can imagine the flavor. I might just make some for the family this Sunday morning.

By popcorn — On Sep 23, 2011

@manykitties2 - I wonder if your mom may have used maple syrup on her milk toast, as I find that gives it a really unique and memorable taste. I have tried vanilla myself, and I can't say I really enjoyed the experience.

One thing you can do if you are looking to be creative with your milk toast recipe is by using coconut milk. I like to add a tropical twist to my milk toast by also adding a few slices of pineapple and bananas to it, with a touch of shaved coconut. The overall taste is fantastic and if you can't match your mom's recipe, there is no harm in trying out some others. You may find something you like just as much.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 23, 2011

My mom used to make the most amazing milk toast for Sunday brunch. I have been scouring the net for a recipe that can hold a candle to the tasty meal she used to put together.

What my mother would do is is make milk toast and honey, with a spread of seasonal fruits. She would sprinkle cinnamon on top of the milk toast, and a few other things she added I can't figure out. Though I suspect she may have added vanilla.

I would love to just ask my mom for her recipe, but I am sure I will get scolded for not paying attention while she was making it all through my youth.

Sara Schmidt

Sara Schmidt

With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGEEK, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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