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.

Great toast always starts with great bread. I recently discovered 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.

With your toast cooling, we can now turn our attention to the other significant aspect. Butter. For the perfect toast you butter needs to be at cool room temperature. During the winter, this is not a problem, but in the heat of summer, it can be a little trickier. You will do well to store your butter in the 'fridge, removing it just 30 minutes or so before using it for it to be at the proper consistency. Unsalted butter is best, and if you feel like the luxury, European butter, of course, is amazing. I'm sorry that my Grandpa never got to taste European butter, now so readily available in the market, before he passed away. He would have loved it on his toast.

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.

For a lovely break on a warm summer day, layer thinly sliced radishes atop the butter, sprinkle with Maldon sea salt flakes and serve with a chilled French Rose'.  Put your feet up in the shade, take a moment to think about the uniquenesses of the people who have loved you in your lifetime, and raise your glasses and your hearts in their honor. And while you're at it, toast your toast!

7 comments:

  1. One of my favorite snacks is an open face radish, cold butter, on toasted bread. So simple, yet so wonderful. Never thought of this and some Rose.

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  2. Your grandfather sounds like an amazing man! My husband and I discuss - frequently - that I'm turning into a middle-aged English woman because I am toast crazy! I do exactly what your grandpa suggests....it makes all the difference in the world!

    I also cut my grilled cheeses in triangles and set them up on their crust so they stay crispy-crunchy to the last bite! GREAT post! I have happily buzzed this one!!

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  3. I love reading about your grandfather! I never stopped to think much about toast before, but everything you are saying makes sense. I'll have to try your strategies for breakfast tomorrow morning :)

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  4. this was a great post! Loved hearing about your grandpa. It was written so well, I now have a great picture in my mind. He sounded like a wonderful man.

    Now, I have heard of butter and radishes on toast, but I have never tried it. Oh, and I fully agree about letting the toast cool in the toaster as opposed to the plate, prevents gross toast.

    This gives me yet another reason to buy a mandolin for slicing...like I needed one. I keep hem-hawing around about it. I need it to slice some radishes, darn it!

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  5. Wow this looks delicious, love your photos! :)

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  6. The sandwich and the wine sounds lovely. The focus on the simple pleasures of the sandwich was a nice diversion from "other" things.

    Jason

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  7. I discovered the beauty of radish toasts (with butter of course) earlier this year. I cannot stop eating them! Such a simple, beautiful and delicious snack.

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