‘Artisan toast’ is the order of the day in cafés from San Francisco to Hampstead. We have tips on how to make the perfect toast without the trendy price tag and answers for all your burning questions…
San Francisco-born ‘artisan toast’ has attracted a fair amount of criticism – the buzzword ‘artisan’ itself is enough to rile cynics, and the £3-a-slice price tag stings like a knife in a toaster. But, being toast lovers, we can get on board. Our comforting daily bread is something to be taken seriously, and never ones to shy away from delving into the minutiae of cooking, we asked home economists and bakers to share their toasting tips.
Stale versus fresh
Founder of London bakery e5 bakehouse, Ben Mackinnon, insists that fresh bread is best for toasting. That way, the middle will be nice and spongy and the edges crisped up – he goes for a finish that’s bordering on singed.
On the other hand, we’re dead against food waste, so if you have a loaf that’s just past its best it's perfectly good for toasting. However, if you take the time to source an organic, locally-baked loaf, such as sourdough or granary - or go one better and make your own - it should last longer than mass-produced, pre-sliced loaves anyway.
Ben advocates buying a whole loaf and slicing it yourself so you can control thickness. Home economist Katy Gilhooly suggests considering the type of bread when it comes to thickness of the slice – dense breads like rye or soda are best in thin slices, and soft bloomers are better for thick toast.
Use a serrated knife to get a neat, even slice, take your time and keep an eye on the side of the loaf to make sure you’re moving downwards in a straight line.
The perfect method
Grill or toaster?
Most domestic kitchens have a standard worktop toaster rather than the sophisticated conveyor belt grills of professional cafes and restaurants, but you can’t fault them for energy-saving and convenience. Using a grill allows more control to some extent, but make sure you keep an eye on your watch.
Our food editor, Barney Desmazery, grew up without a toaster and grill, so his family chose to griddle their toast. While he loves the carbonised taste achieved using this method, he says this is best reserved for when you require toast for a side dish or bruschetta. He also has a clever tip for only toasting one side of bread with a conventional toaster- put in two slices of bread sandwiched together.
A less conventional approach is to create toast in the oven, an ideal method for making evenly-coloured melba toasts to serve with paté. The limitations of cooking outdoors are no match for our love of toast either – dust off your kitchen tongs or metal skewers and char your bread on a barbecue or campfire.
How do you achieve the perfect shade?
Toast specialist Tonia George, co-owner of Ginger & White and author of the Ginger & White cookbook, says to be brave and toast until you get colour and the ‘maillard reaction’. This technical term refers to the chemical reaction between amino acids and sugar, a kind of caramelisation that gives browned toast its nutty, charred flavour.
If you prefer the safety net of a stopwatch, Ben recommends toasting on a high heat for two and a half minutes for each side to get a golden brown tinge to your finished toast. If you want to go lighter, reduce the time by thirty seconds per side.
To cool or not to cool…
Nothing divides opinion in the bbcgoodfood.com editorial team quite like whether or not to cool your toast before buttering. Most of us fall on the side of buttering immediately and letting it melt and ooze into the crispy bread, something Ben and Katy agree with.
Alternatively, and surprisingly controversially, some of us prefer to let our toast cool in a triangle stack (to avoid it going soggy when laying flat and steaming on the board) and butter it slightly cooled. The argument for this is being able to enjoy the texture of the butter – and argue we did. The jury is out…
We’ve all been faced with toast resembling flint, but fastidiously scraping off black shards into the bin is a futile endeavour. Tonia recommends starting again from scratch and toasting a fresh slice of bread. She says: “You can’t rescue burnt toast as it has lost its sweetness and turned bitter by the time it’s black.”
Top of the pops
The great butter debate: Unsalted versus salted
We’d always take ‘real’ butter over any kind of margarine or spread (although we’d compromise on peanut butter), but given the recommendations that we should eat less salt should we really be going salted?
Ben thinks not, and says that a good, organic loaf should be adequately salted in itself, and adding extra salted butter will detract from the flavour of the bread. However, we at bbcgoodfood.com have a soft spot for salted butter, especially French-style farmhouse butter with ‘fleur de sel’ sea salt crystals. Barney agrees – his toast dream is hot buttered white bloomer with added sea salt sprinkled rebelliously on top.
Will Pearce, chef at the e5 Bakehouse café, highlights the importance of matching bread type with toppings. Sourdough is a blank canvas for anything, so it’s a good loaf to buy if you want it to last for a weeks' worth of varied breakfasts.
Will says cheese on toast works well on raisin and walnut bread, and likes toasted rye with creamy goat’s curd (young goat’s cheese) and contrasting honey. Katy recommends serving strongly-flavoured rye with bold savoury toppings, such as gravadlax, cream cheese and rocket, or mashed avocado with chilli.
Sweet malted or granary loaves work well with homemade jam or compote, and serve earthy wholemeal toast with homemade beans and chorizo. Try flavouring your butter too – cinnamon butter works well with sliced banana, for instance.
How do you make the perfect cheese on toast?
Cheese on toast in all its marvellous forms has yet to leave us dissatisfied, but there are several schools of thought. More radically, Barney’s preferred version is hot buttered toast with a thick slice of tangy, unmelted cheddar perched neatly on top.
If you’re a staunch melt-addict, Will recommends toasting the bread on both sides then adding the cheese and finishing it off in the oven for an even melt. Try to scatter your cheese across every part of the bread to avoid burnt corners. The e5 Bakehouse also serve a toasted cheese sandwich, which involves assembling a sandwich of Dijon mustard, raw red onion and good quality cheese of your choice then grilling it – Ben says remember to use sunflower or vegetable oil instead of a layer of butter, which burns easily.
We’re all for a few adornments – try some torn ham, chopped chives, fresh chilli, Worcestershire sauce, sliced onion, chorizo or a layer of chutney. Or, go all out with a rarebit, which involves creating a cheese mix to spread on the toast rather than grating cheese directly onto the bread. Add some stout and mustard to your spread and you’re onto a winner.
The final cut
We’ve not got the scientific facts to back it up, but we’re leaning towards Tonia’s viewpoint that toast cut into triangles has the edge over square slices.
Do it yourself
With help from our video guide and delicious recipes:
Tex-Mex beans on toast
Mushroom pepper melts
Nettle & blue cheese rarebit
Avocado on toast with chorizo & fried eggs
Tartines with roasted tomatoes & mint pesto
Ricotta, fig & prosciutto crostini
Open mackerel rye toasts with fennel slaw|
Garlic mushrooms on toast
Peanut butter & banana on toast
Calling fellow toast lovers - we want to hear your toasting tips and tasty toppings. Share them with us in the comments below...