Monday, November 16, 2009

The Many Styles of Toast.

A little over a year ago on this blog I wrote about toast. The trigger was the quotation attributed to Julia Child:

“I have trouble with toast. Toast is very difficult. You have to watch it all the time or it burns up.”

In my previous story, I agreed with Julia (if indeed they are Julia’s words), and I went on to say “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.” I then moved quickly away from plain old toast onto its glamorous cousin “French” toast. At the time I clearly felt there was not much else to be said on the very prosaic subject of toast (apart from scattered minor references to such things as, among other things, prune toast, toast pudding, and savoury toasts), so dismissed the topic from my mind almost completely.

Recently it was suddenly revealed to me that perhaps there is more to learn about toast than I first thought. What I had thought was that there were only three basic sorts of toast – burnt, underdone, and perfect. It appears that there may be more. My renewed interest came about via the following passage, from Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady (1827)

"There are four kinds of toast .. . Since Sir John Sinclair gave a receipt for toast and water, it has generally and deservedly occupied a place in cookery-books as it is our best and healthiest beverage, the making of which is still ill attended to; I must, therefore, following this good example, say something of toast, which is so material to comfort, appearance, and health, being generally served with coffee and with butter. There are four kinds of toast, three of which come in their place here.
Toast for coffee, hard, and soft toast. Bread should baked expressly for the first two with eggs and milk, to which sugar may be added and well worked, that it may have the consistency of cake, very white and fine in the grain: this bread should be baked in square tin cases, and no more dough put in than will rather under than over-fill them: this shape is a great saving: the bread not be cut for two days. To serve with coffee let it be sliced from an half to one inch thick, according to the square that is wanted, then square it properly, and the pieces be from three to three and a half inches long; these be dried in the screen or oven perfectly white, and when wanted tinge them before the fire on all sides, the edges will get darker which looks well; serve them stalked. This bread makes also excellent hard toast, and should be toasted at a great distance from the fire, which prevents it from losing its shape, and should thoroughly dried through. These toasts if not used are to be put up as rusks and will keep as well.
Soft toast, to eat cold with butter, ought to be thinner and rather more hardened than to be eaten hot: and this should be the business of the cook, as in the pantry it is often left to careless boys, who, after toasting it, throw it down upon a table where glass and other things have been cleaned, and laying on their hand very weightily to crust it, press the hot bread together, which soddens and destroys the fine flavor imparted by the fire.
The difference is that the cook slices it in her bread tray, crusts it carefully, knowing that any pressure on it would hurt it even before toasting. There is also no loss, as, if the cook knows her business with economy, she has plenty of uses for the crusts. Toast and butter is variously made with soft toast to taste when much butter is not used: an excellent way to give it mellowness is to put the bread as it is toasted a little over the steam of boiling wate,r and then butter it from a fine perforated buttering pan, taking care the butter is not oiled. This way of buttering has another advantage, all the sediment and milky particles fall to the bottom."

And here is a recipe for ‘the best and healthiest beverage’ – from the same book.

Toast and Water.
Toast the bread quite hard through and through; brown it well, and pour filtered boiling water upon it; let it stand till quite cold, and pour it gently off; for if it stands till the bread dissolves, it gets thick and mawkish. A little lemon zest or nutmet and sugar is very grateful in it, or whatever else an invalid may desire; but toast and water ought to be a constant table and family drink, laying economy aside, upon account of health, and the best for bilious constitutions.

In the light of my new respect for the topic, there will be more on toast as the week progresses.

Quotation for the Day.
Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea.


srhcb said...


My Mother used to make these for my Brother, Sister and I when we were little if we didn't feel much like eating:

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

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

For some reason we considered this to be really special, perhaps because eating toast with a fork seemed so exotic?

srhcb said...


didn't realize I'd posted this last time!

KT said...

That is surprising - water that bread has soaked in is "the best and healthiest beverage" ?

The Old Foodie said...

a good post, worth repeating Steve!
KT - toast and water - dont know if it is healthy, but best? I dont think so. Toast water vs champagne? or a good cup of tea?

Anonymous said...

I admit to a preference for thickly sliced, warm and softly rich with butter, toast. :)
Great blog you have here!
Trish MacDonnell,

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Trish! Welcome! I am glad you are enjoying the blog.
I am with you on the toast - thick, warm, and buttery.
There is more to come on toast.