Introduction

Introduction

Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 700 8

TOAST is a pretty humble food. Perhaps it was the first solid food you were allowed to hold in your hand and post into your own mouth. You probably got melted butter all over your clothes, your face and your high chair – but it’s the sheer, unalloyed delight of managing to feed yourself (to the beaming approval of your mum and dad) that imprints toast early in life as most people’s favourite food. Everybody loves toast. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t.

On the face of it, nothing could be simpler than making toast – a little heat, judiciously applied to scorch a piece of bread. And yet each of us has a set of personal preferences about how toast should be made and served: our own individual Code of Toast.

Depending on the bread used, most of us have a very particular preference for levels of ‘doneness’. These days all manner of hi-tech toasters are available, some with conveyor belts, some of which claim to ‘read’ the colour of the toast with a photocell, some with simple timers… but most of us can’t resist intervening. Every toaster requires constant, neurotic jockeying, frequent checks on ‘brownness’ if horrible breakfast disappointment is to be avoided.

And what disappointment it can be. Who amongst us has never burned the toast? Who has not allowed the last piece of bread in the house to be catastrophically carbonised… the doomed attempt to ‘scrape off the burned bits’ and the whole day, subtly, but appreciably thrown into a sense of sadness and failure.

There is similar partisan passion concerning the serving temperature. Some believe the toast should be brought to the table at a temperature that sears the fingertips, all the better to melt the butter and absorb it. Others – otherwise sensible people, whose judgement in most matters is usually to be trusted – want their toast cold so that great curling waves of butter can be piled onto the surface without melting.

It’s here that the toast rack comes into play: toast-making, like any great art form, is a matter of balancing like an acrobat on the precipice of disaster.

Toasting bread is unlike any other form of cooking. For the perfect finish, the toast must be warm, moist and steaming on the inside, crisp and dry on the outside. If toast is allowed to cool flat on a plate or breadboard, the steam in the centre is trapped and causes the crust to become unappealingly soft. There is nothing as disheartening as soggy toast. The toast rack is, therefore, the only tool by which one can allow the toast to cool in freely circulating air, allowing the steam to escape and retaining crispness.

That crisp surface is the result of the ‘Maillard reaction’, a process of non-enzymatic browning, caramelisation and finally pyrolisis… a very posh way of saying ‘crisp and delicious’.

This also explains why you can’t make toast in an oven or microwave. You need something that can hold the bread in place while intense heat is applied to the surfaces. An electric toaster is ideal; searing in a hot, dry pan is a good substitute, but best of all is a toasting fork and a fire.

Toast is the most elemental of foods, simple yet complex, utterly plain yet deserving of infinite tweaks and enhancements. Toast can be reassuringly humble or very, very posh.

Now…. what shall we put on it?

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