Freud maintained that the way people behave is often the result of traumas they have suffered in the past. Well this morning, I didn't have any crumpets with my coffee. Who knows what ramifications this undoubtedly traumatic event could have on my life in the future?
Anyway, maybe it won't matter in the long run, because this morning, I had something that was every bit as good as crumpets if done well, and that was toast. How good is toast? You can make it with honey or jam, or vegemite or marmalade, and it tastes wonderful. Note that you 'make' toast: you don't just 'cook' it, or 'fry' it, or 'boil' it or 'bake' it, like you would to an egg or a steak or something like that. And you don't just 'have' it, like you would 'have' a bowl of cornflakes, or muesli: no, toast is far too complex for that. In order to produce a completed plate of toast, you have to go through a complicated ritual, involving several steps, just like you would when making an omelette, or a pudding, or a cake.
THE PERFECT SLICE OF TOAST
But having typed that, of course, I have to admit there is no 'perfect' slice of toast, only delicious variations on a theme which appeal to different toast-eaters. That being said, there are so many traps the toast-maker can fall into, and which are so easily avoidable.
Firstly, what sort of bread will you be toasting? It is no good making toast out of any old slice of home brand supermarket white bread. That stuff is so insubstantial that it turns to tasteless dry flour the moment it's put into a toaster.
When it comes to sliced and packaged breads, I prefer the Burgen brand, as it is full and juicy and you can still taste it when it comes out of the toaster. (Not, mind you, its imitator, Burgomeister). Yes, it is just an imitation Germanic label, but it makes good toast.
Otherwise, a good roll of rye bread or sourdough from a baker will perform quite well in the toaster, and I find the thick slices preferable. Besides, the eccentric shapes you can make with the bread knife on your own are more aesthetically pleasing than the regular rectangles sold in the supermarket. Ciabattas and rye breads are particularly good with honey or syrup.
An ancient tradition from the mists of time (ie, my mum) informs us that toast is to be made by bread that is starting to go stale. A good rule to follow, although in some cases the bread may go mouldy before it goes stale, and it may go mouldy a day after you buy it. In these cases, of course, common sense ought to be the guide.
Secondly we come to the toasting part. You will have got the bread by now, and you will obviously need a toaster (if you don't have a toaster, go out and get one right now). How long should one toast the toast for? I am a 'give it two turns in the toaster' man myself, as I like toast to have colour and character. A fringe of black around the corners of a slice of toast may or may not increase the risk of cancer; but it is certainly delicious. In fact, to get best results, I recommend putting the toast in for one-and-a-half turns; to do this properly, you of course have to stand by the toaster just as you stand by the stove when you are cooking something on it. You should pay attention to your toast!
Thirdly, the condiments. Toast is made to go with butter: on this point I am quite firm. It is no good objecting that margarine is healthier (pah!) or melts better: butter tastes better, and renders the consistency of the toast more pleasing, if applied correctly.
There are some steps you can take to make the butter melt over and into the toast in a pleasing fashion. You could leave the butter out whilst making the toast, allowing it time to grow soft and pliable. You can also make the knife with which you are spreading the butter hot by pouring a little boiling water into a glass, and dipping the knife in that. (I do this every morning at breakfast after making the coffee: toast should frequently be had with coffee). Once you have spread it, give the butter a little time to melt: it's like Pantene - it won't happen over a second, but it will happen. And then, once the butter has been spread, you can proceed with the condiments.
Here are some of my favourite spreads:
- Orange Marmalade
- Cherry jam
- Creamed honey
- Or, if you are making toast with sourdough or ciabatta, and have taken care to let the butter soak into the surface of the toast, making it soft and pliable, a drizzle of golden syrup.
Various received traditions have urged upon me, from time to time, the virtues of toast-with-liverwurst, or even peanut butter. I do not agree: I think toast is to be had primarily with sweet-or-sour spreads, and that the bitter contrast is to be found in the morning coffee.
This toast was brought to you by two slices of post made in my lovely silver toaster, with butter fresh from the butter tray.
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