notes on toast

 
Toast doesn't seem to generate a lot of debate or opinions. Toast is assumed to be just toast, with limited variation. 
 
Unlike the multiple answers that follow the questions "How do you like your steak?" I've never been asked how I like my toast. This is why I'm now writing about it because not all toast is equal. Toast, my friends, is not just toast. We should stop taking this kitchen staple, this saviour for stale bread for granted.
 
It has been years since I've had a toaster. Living toaster-less was the first spark for thinking about what makes toast best. As a kid, I lived in houses with toasters and toaster ovens, which is why I never had to think much about toast.
 
When I worked in a restaurant in Copenhagen, we served toast with breakfast and toasted breads for sandwiches at lunch but, typical to all restaurants, there was no toaster to be found in the kitchen. We just threw bread on the grill and called it toast. Lesson #1: Grilling bread to make toast is always a good idea.
 
Since then, I've mostly used the broiler to make toast. I turn the broiler on, throw in some slices of bread, and flip them once the top side takes on some colour. Business as usual.
 
Then I courted the stovetop method for making toast. You melt some butter in a pan, add a piece of bread and then weigh the bread down with a heavy lid. After two or three minutes, you remove the lid, flip the slice of bread and repeat. You can use coconut oil or olive oil instead of butter and it yields pretty great toast.
 
 
I took a break from the broiler, but then I read Edna Lewis' classic The Taste of Country Cooking. What follows is what she calls Country Toast: "We would slice some bread from our homemade loaf, butter it liberally, and place it in the oven. When cooked it would be browned in the areas where there was no butter and the buttered part would be golden and soft. This was the most delicious way of toasting bread. It can be done under the broiler as well, especially if the bread is placed on a hot broiler pan. That will crisp the underside of the bread and the top will be brown and crisp in spots where there is no butter. The combination of crispy brown and soft buttered bread is simply heavenly, (233).
 
Edna Lewis wasn't the type of woman to throw around words like heavenly. When she writes heavenly, she means it. The top is crispy and the bottom is soft. Who knew that bread and butter alone could yield toast that almost tastes like custard? Lesson #2: Butter bread before toasting.

I too don't throw around words, especially ones like game changer, so I think the next time you make toast, you should practice the wisdom of Edna Lewis.

I use the broiler and don't bother spreading the butter beforehand with a knife. I find that as it melts it spreads itself, plus this makes sure that some parts are without butter and get extra crispy. If you aren't into butter, coconut oil works as well.

Just like different methods yield better toast, so does bread. This method (and toast in general, I believe) works best with white sourdough. Dark breads just don't crisp up in quite the same way. 

My favourite bread in Munich come from the French bakery Dompierre. If you are lucky enough to snatch up a loaf of their dried fig and walnut bread, cut off a couple slices, butter them, turn on your broiler and be prepared to have a well-formulated answer to the question of how you like toast. 

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If you fancy eating toast while drinking tea, then take a look over at MUNCHIES where I wrote about Rangoon Tea House in Yangon, a tea shop that celebrates the tradition of Burmese tea shops while refining the food. 

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