Friday, October 10, 2008

On Toast

I am inclined to agree with Julia Child on the subject of toast. She said “I have trouble with toast. Toast is very difficult. You have to watch it all the time or it burns up.” She is right. You have to get it right first time. Overdone toast with the black dust scraped off is bad, and underdone toast re-submitted to the toaster becomes dried out and hard and is also bad.

Toast does seem to be originally an English invention. A Prussian clergyman visiting England in 1782 wrote about the new habit of afternoon tea.

“The slices of bread and butter, which they give you with your tea, are as thin as poppy-leaves – But there is another kind of bread and butter usually eaten with tea, which is toasted by the fire, and is incomparably good. This is called toast.”

The usual excuse for toast is that it is a way of using up stale bread, and there are worse ways than making it drier and warmer so that it will soak up more butter. The idea is sufficiently good that we must ensure that there is a supply of stale bread available at all times. There are other ideas for stale bread of course, such as French Toast. French Toast is simply bread dipped in egg and fried, and the idea is very old indeed. In old books it is called pain perdu, which is usually translated as lost bread, but I prefer the idea that it is a corruption of pain pour Dieu, or God’s bread. The same idea goes by a myriad other names: Poor Knights, Golden Bread, Bread Fish, Gypsy Toast, and Gilded Slices for example.

French Toast is ‘French’ to the English. I find it interesting how one nation will name a dish after another, often without any obvious connection. I want to explore some examples of this over the next few days. Unless I change my mind. What is it that makes this recipe “German”? (to an English cook book writer)

German Toast.
Take the remainder of any fricassee or ragout ; any small quantity will do; chop it finely, add a little chopped parsley, and a little bit of shalot or chive: mix it up with one or two eggs beaten, according to the quantity. Put the whole with its gravy into a stewpan, and let it reduce and thicken on the fire. Let it remain until it is cold, then cut pieces of bread, toast them: lay the mixture thickly upon them. Boil an egg hard, cut it into small pieces, and stick them on the top; brush the whole with egg beaten up, sift bread-crumbs over, and bake them in the oven; squeeze a little lemon-juice on the top. This makes a good corner-dish.
A New System of Domestic Cookery. Maria Rundell. 1844

[Another idea is Bacon Toast]

Quotation for the Day …

The toaster is part of a system and only has significance relative to the wrapped, pan-made, thin-crusted bread that can be used in it … Ultimately, the toaster is an apology for the quality of our bread ... the toaster represents a heroic attempt to redeem our packaged bread … Every piece of toast is a tragedy.

Arthur Berger. The Crux of Toast. In Et cetera. 1990.


srhcb said...


My Mother used to occasionally make these for my Brother, Sister and I when we were little.


Bread, store bought white - 1 slice/person
Butter, enough for number of slices


Toast Bread, medium to well done works best

Butter Bread

Cut Toasted Bread into 16 pieces a bit larger than 3/4" square. You should end up with four crustless interior squares, eight four-sided pieces with crust on one edge and two pieces with crust on two adjacent edges, and two three-sided pieces with two straight sides and one curved crusted edge each

Reassemble the pieces in the shape of the original slice, and serve on a small plate with a fork

For some reason we considered these to be a special treat, perhaps because eating toast with a fork seemed rather exotic.

PS: Toast Boxes also make an excellent base for hot beef or hot turkey sandwiches.

Liz + Louka said...

I can't say I agree with Arthur Berger. Bad-quality bread makes bad toast, good bread makes good toast (though I'd except those ultra-light French-style breads that have to be eaten within hours of baking). My parents make their own delicious bread, and it makes terrific toast.

Rochelle R. said...

My great grandmother always said that burnt toast "puts the rosy in your cheeks". I think she was just frugal and didn't want to waste it. LOL.-

srhcb said...

Another old toast saying was that eating the crust "made your hair curley".

I've always liked the crust anyway, and now I don't have enough hair left to worry about it!

The Old Foodie said...

My mother always used to say crusts made the hair curly. I am living proof that that is an outright lie!