Dancing Tomatoes

That’s what a little American girl said when she was visiting and I served soft boiled eggs with toasty, buttered “mouillettes” for dinner.  She was beside herself with joy to dip toast into her soft yolk over and over. “We only eat eggs for breakfast,” she said, her mouth full.

In France, Eggs are Never at Breakfast

Here in France we NEVER eat eggs for breakfast.  Well that isn’t entirely true. The Brunch – pronounced “broonch” – phenomena is trying to fly here though it fights the traditionally lean French version of breakfast which is a bowl or cup of coffee, a croissant or tartine of baguette slathered with unsalted butter and served with jam. That’s it. No flotilla of dishes, no eggs, no anything else.

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No Strangers to the Egg

But the French are no stranger to the egg; they eat more than any other European citizenry, to the tune of 213 per year.  It’s just that they don’t show up for breakfast.  As for the soft-boiled egg or oeuf a la coque (egg in its shell), these are served for lunch or dinner.    I actually think of them as a man’s dinner. Why? Because the French men I know take great pride in not being able to cook. Their partners do that.  BUT, to a man, they bashfully mention that they can make “oeufs à la coque”.

It’s Mens’ Territory

To be honest, as weird as it still is to realize the roles in France are still so generally codified (time are a changing, but not everywhere), I wonder if these oeufs-a-la-coque-making men realize that they’ve mastered something rather special.  After all, making a perfect soft-boiled egg is a thing of delicate precision.  There are near-endless instructions on how to do it perfectly: put the cold egg in the cold water, bring it to a boil and turn it off;put the cold egg in boiling water and time it for 3 minutes; put the cold egg into water, bring it to a boil, time it for ….1, 2, 3 minutes.

Different Cooking Methods

I have different methods depending on the egg and my mood, because sometimes I love my eggs truly jiggly, and sometimes I like them more cooked.  Here you go: put a room-temperature egg in cold water, bring to a boil, cook for 3 minutes if the egg is large; 2 minutes if it is medium; 1 minute post-boil if jiggly is on order. 

Is This Helpful?

That isn’t that helpful is it?  Ok, if you like your yolk soft and you move fast (to place the egg in the egg cup and slice off the top), the 3 minute version (for a large egg) results in perfection.  

Bon Appétit!


I call for unsalted butter because I add my preferred amount of salt. You do as you like!
Servings: 4 servings


  • 4 large eggs
  • 8 slices bread
  • Unsalted butter
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Place a folded tea towel in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan, then fill the pan two-thirds with water. Add the eggs, place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.
  • While the water is heating, toast the bread, butter it generously (I like to salt it here too), and cut it into long, then sticks.
  • When the water has come to a boil, time the eggs for the time you like, then remove them from the water, place them in egg cups, and quickly slice off the top end of each egg so the cooking stops. Serve instantly, with the toast and the seasonings.
  • To eat, dip the toast sticks into the egg yolk. When all the yolk is gone, scoop out the whites with a small, non-silver spoon. Go back for more.

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