July 31, 2011
The Art of Toast
Toast: Drop a couple of bread slices in the slots. Wait a few minutes. Pop. Butter. Eat, right?
Not so fast! I realize that it's only toast, but since so many terrific nibbles begin with toast, including a summer radish tea sandwich, perhaps it deserves a more careful look.
Everything I learned about great toast I learned from my Grandpa, and in order to understand why, it would help to know a little about him.
A self-taught but serious student of classical music, my Grandpa was always either quietly humming or gently whistling to himself whatever movement in which he was currently engrossed. His perpetual music making gave me the sense that he was always thinking of beautiful things. Grandpa was a slightly built man with a kind of lithe thinness normally associated with fast movers like runners, or in those with a higher than normal level of internal discipline. Interestingly, I never saw Grandpa make the rapid, reflexive moves of an athlete, but he could sit very still, quietly listening to family conversation the entire afternoon long without necessity of comment. When he did speak, it may have been on a point long since passed over, but with evidence that he'd been thinking it through all the while. And, when he spoke, we all listened.
That level of internal discipline, apparently, is also what it takes to make really wonderful toast. As it is with so many things, the few extra minutes that separate okay toast from really great toast require a bit of self-restraint.
Dave's Killer Bread in the natural foods section of my grocery. For grainier breads Dave's is the bomb. For the radish sandwiches, I choose Dave's 21 Whole Grains. 21 Whole Grains is just what it sounds like, only with a unique combination of seeds added. I am particularly fond of the nutty black sesame seeds speckled throughout and around this loaf.
Whatever bread you happen to use, toast it until it has at least a medium golden tone. Only then will it have the proper amount of toasty flavor. That is the no-brainer part. But here's Grandpa's big secret: If you are using a toaster, leave the slices standing in the slots until they are completely cool. If you are using a toaster oven or some other device, remove the toast, prop it upright, and allow it to completely cool. By all means, do not lay the bread flat on a plate, cutting board or counter. Steam will build underneath as it cools and completely change the texture of the final product from crispy/crunchy to chewy/flabby.
I hear you... you are protesting that your butter won't melt into the crannies of your slice this way. That is right! It won't. I respect the melted butter perspective on toast, I really do. But please hear me out.
The cooled toasted bread and just barely softened butter make the butter even better. Butter becomes more like a cheese in a way. Slather it on. Go ahead. You will be surprised how little butter it takes to give you a lovely layer of buttery yumminess compared to the melted-into-your-toast method.