Toast

Toast

I’m waiting for the “ding”— that polite, almost British way that my trusty little Toaster Oven has of saying, “Yes, we’re ready.” The rowdy, overeager “kerchunk-sprang” and obtrusive popping slots of my little guy’s countertop rival isn’t for us. No, just a lovely, succinct “ding” signaling near-perfection.

But now I wait.

I’m not very good at waiting. I peer through the hazy, glass-fronted door to see how things are coming along in there, and to catch a whiff of that bready, buttery, slightly nutty smell of almost-ready. Comfort and sustenance from an inanimate object. I wait.

I love toast.

I particularly love toast prepared in A Very Specific Way. Properly made toast begins with a good, solid slice of a fairly yeasty bread made by a baker who actually likes to make bread. Then it’s run through the Toaster Oven once, dabbed generously with pats of salted butter, then run through again to melt the butter and brown the edges. That’s it. Simple. Elegant. Perfect. Any questions on this?

I view any deviations from A Very Specific Way as failures of will. And herein lies a truth: I suspect that we all, each one of us, have a very clear idea about how to prepare toast and consider any other method as just plain wrong.

I’m married to a very smart woman with degrees in philosophy and architecture. And yet, despite 20-some years of coaching, mentoring, and pleading, she remains somehow inept in this regard. Her “recipe” involves jabbing bits of refrigerator-hardened butter onto lukewarm, just-toasted bread, then rummaging around for some jam to slather on as a topping. The butter never melts. Ever. I always thank her for the effort and then stare off thoughtfully, wondering about this discrepancy.

When our sons were young, the boys and I would sit on the couch while I read to them from a book called Bread and Jam for Frances, which was about a little badger who loved only toast. The moral had something to do with the need for variety in one’s diet, but we didn’t much care about that. What we cared about was that at the end of the story, we’d stand up from the couch in unison and yell at the top of our lungs, “Let’s make toast!” I’m proud to say that they’ve grown to be two young men who know how to make a really fine piece of toast. They use a Toaster Oven. Just like their old man.

The Toaster Oven arrived on the scene sometime in the mid-’60s and has been a mainstay of wedding gift registries—and my morning routine—ever since. It’s flexible, space efficient, and perfect not just for toasting but for properly melting butter onto your toast. That’s why they call ‘em “Toaster Ovens”—they make damn fine toast. Still, the appliance is sort of like a little utility infielder for the kitchen, because if you’re going to use the bench space anyway, why not use it for more than one purpose? Besides, if you try to melt butter onto your toast using a regular toaster, sooner or later you’ll make a helluva mess—and probably have a little more excitement in the kitchen than you’d planned.

On ratty-feeling days, again when the kids were little, I’d make cinnamon toast by sprinkling a little sugar and cinnamon over the butter for that second run through the Toaster Oven. I did this to remind them that I was not only sometimes unpredictable, but handy to have around.

I try to remind my wife of this from time to time, too. As such, I have to admit that there may—I said may—be other ways to make toast. I’ve sautéed slices of bread in duck fat and have been appropriately dazzled. I’m always amazed by just how tasty it is to grind a garlic clove onto a slice of unbuttered toast and then smother it with olive oil, even though that seems like cheating given that garlic and olive oil would make a doorstop tasty. Even basic toast, when topped with cooked-just-right-and-buttered fresh spring asparagus, a chopped hard-boiled egg, some pepper, and a few largish slivers of Parmesan cheese, accompanied by a chilled, cheap white wine, says to my wife that I really love her. Even if she can’t make toast. Works almost every time.

About Rick Casner

Rick Casner is an architect and part-time ski instructor, or a ski instructor and part-time architect, depending on how and when you ask. He divides his time roughly evenly between Tacoma, Washington, and Stowe, Vermont, according to whim, work, and snow conditions. During his long drives back and forth across the country he thinks about stuff. He also writes a little.

Comments
Comments
  1. I loved Bread and Jam for Frances as a girl! I also wanted to say that’s a great article on something as deceptively simple like toast. But it’s a thing of beauty with the right bread and there’s something about the taste of butter that makes me glad I’m not vegan.

    • Rick Casner says:

      Thanks Cristina. ‘Bread and Jam…’ really is a great little book. Though I suspect our guys liked it mostly because they knew, that if they waited through my reading, sooner or later, they’d get some toast. Thanks again for reading.

  2. Susan Bingaman says:

    Nearly every morning, I return to my old standby: nutty granola mixed into a cup of brown sugar-sweetened plain yogurt for breakfast—but not this morning. Something told me it was a good morning for toast. As I ran the almost-past-its-prime English muffin through the regular old toaster, I knew it wasn’t going to quite cut it. But it was good enough. Until I opened my browser to this post. I do believe I will have proper toast for dinner.

  3. Kristin C. says:

    I agree that the simplicity of toast can be enhanced by the quality of ingredients used (and the right type of toaster). This morning, I sliced some homemade whole wheat bread, toasted it briefly, topped with irish salted butter and finished it off in the toaster. I don’t know that the double toasting was necessary as the butter normally melts just fine after one session. I finished one piece of buttered toast with raw honey and the other with cardamom cinnamon sugar. A perfectly satisfying breakfast!

    • Rick Casner says:

      Whole wheat!?! Honey!?! Damn Kristin, way to go!!! I worry about your not understanding the need for ‘double toasting’ though. I’m currently thinking about offering a seminar on Toast that you may want to sign up for…

  4. Lenes says:

    I make my toast exactly the same way. I love good bread and freshly made butter. Starts my day off in the right way. Hmmm…think I’ll go make some toast right now with a large cup of strong coffee. Thanks, I really enjoyed your article.

  5. Cindi Kruth says:

    Since my husband destroyed two toaster ovens, I have banished the appliance from my countertop. Better, I figure, than banishing said husband. So I make toast in a toaster or, preferably, in my convection oven. The oven makes fine toast and doesn’t combust when confronted with greasy, broiled-on-foil-so-I-don’t-have-to-wash-a-pan burgers (the immediate source of the demise of our toaster ovens) albeit probably with a bigger energy footprint than a toaster oven.

    I too, believe toast should only be made from bread worth eating in the first place. I love to bake such bread and while we tend to devour most of a loaf fresh, leftovers are perfect for toast (or French toast, but that’s another post) on the morning after. I have to slightly disagree with Rick on the butter melting. Unless you really are just softening it, mere seconds, butter, with its 18% water content, can make toast soggy pretty quickly. I use very soft, not melted, sweet butter spread quickly on the hot toast, then salted. Which is why if I have the time, I make toast one piece at a time. Not efficient, of course, but if you understand toast it makes sense.

    My favorite is the late summer specialty, cheese and tomato toast. Perfectly toasted crusty, ever so slightly chewy, mild sourdough topped with whatever bits of good cheese I have and plump, dead-ripe tomatoes. Retoast until the cheese is bubbly and the tomatoes oozing their sweet tomato-ness (tomatoyness?).

    • Rick Casner says:

      Great comment Cindi and it sounds like your husband and I have a lot in common. I keep telling Lynn that the risk of combustion and an occasional blaring smoke alarm are all a necessary part of what I call civiization’s ‘Great March Forward’. Really agree with, and long for, your ‘Late Summer Specialty’.

  6. Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

    My favorite childhood memory is a warm piece of cinnamon toast. I used to eat around the edges saving the buttery, sugary center for last. Sounds pretty darn good, I may need to go make some right now!

    • Rick Casner says:

      Thanks Beth. I’m starting to think that cinnamon makes almost anything a little better. And butter. And sugar…..

  7. xania says:

    I like the way you write – hope to read more of you.

    • Rick Casner says:

      Thank you Xania. Gotta admit it’s pretty amazing to write something & then have someone enjoy it enough to comment. Means a lot.

  8. You would love Iris Murdoch’s The Sea The Sea, if you haven’t already read it. Protagonist Charles Arrowby is as particular as you are about his toast! (Bread and Jam for Frances was my favorite book as a child.)

  9. Jodi Calhoun says:

    You know, I actually tried to give up toast recently. I came to the conclusion that my late night snack of oven toast and butter was not being helpful to my waistline. After 10 excruciatingly long late nights of no toast, I gave up, went back to toast and just bought a larger size of jeans. You need to be able to identify what is really important in life.

  10. Ling Teo says:

    I’m really glad there’s a community of double-toasters out there; people gave me odd looks when I was a kid for demanding my bread toasted once, buttered and toasted again for the full butter and crunchy-chewy experience. Nowadays, I let bits of butter not melt completely so I the added cold-butter sensation too… :)

    • Rick Casner says:

      Perhaps in another time or parallel iniverse we were members of the same tribe of double-toasters….

  11. Sofia says:

    Back home a toast (or two) in the morning is a staple. And oddly enough every time I go visit my parents as soon as they pick me up from the airport that is exactly what I want; a slice of “good” bread toasted and coffee with milk. Here in the States I do sometimes make bread and we all enjoy the morning toasts with salt butter or nutella.

    • Rick Casner says:

      Thanks Sofia. My wife, Lynn, brought a jar of nutella to me here in Stowe, then headed back West. I spent the last week wondering what to do with the stuff. Now…

  12. lizaanne says:

    Mmmmmm – cinnamon sugar toast, have not had that in ages!! I know what I’m making for dessert tonight!
    :-)

    • Rick Casner says:

      Just so you know….
      In the article it’s almost as though I conjured up the idea cinnamon toast all by myself. The truth though is that cinnamon toast is what my Mom made for me. And I remember the smells…and her ‘look’ when I told her it was my favorite. That’s why I made it for my sons. That right there.

      Tonight I’m having French Toast with real maple syrup and a huge passel of real smoked bacon….FOR dinner by God.

  13. David Leite says:

    Okay, I’m late to the party here. (Blame it on back-to-back meetings.) A story: When I was small, about five or six, my dad had to work late one night, so my mom and I played beauty parlor. (Yes, I know, cliche.) As I sat perched on the back of the old stuffed chair, my mom sat beneath, and I pretended to tease her hair. But unlike other “pah-liz,” which is how we Massachusetts South Coaster pronounced it, mine served food: toast. Hot, buttered toast. While we sat there, her watching TV, me teasing, we went through–are you ready for this?–a whole loaf. Granted it was Sunbeam, with that terrorizing child on the package, and the loaf probably equaled about 6 slices of today’s heartier breads. And we liked our buttered toast naked: no jam, no sugar, no cinnamon. Just butter, the way God himself intended it.

    • leanne says:

      I would probably base my salon choices on which ones served buttered toast. I mean, most offer water or tea, but I haven’t found one that offers snacks, yet!

    • Rick Casner says:

      Jeez David…A whole LOAF of toast….
      Makes my eating a whole bag of Cheetos seem almost…reasonable.
      Thanks.

  14. Penny Wolf says:

    I love the fact that you have such a passion for toast. My all time favorite way to eat it is toasted rather dark but not burned. I like to call it a robust brown. Smother it in a salted butter and then a quick dunk into hot chocolate with a melting homemade marshmallow barrier sealing the cups entry. My oh my…

    • Rick Casner says:

      “oh my” she said demurely, after drowning her her toast steaming chocolate and marshmallow.
      There’s a 19th century potboiler of a novel lurking in here somewhere…
      I also liked “robust”
      Thanks Penny. Great note.

  15. Nonnapn says:

    Thin slices of Edam cheese ( which is popular here in the Philippines) plus butter on a piece of bread, into the toaster oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is one big golden pool of goodness. That’s how I like my toast!

  16. David Alger says:

    I happen to be a big fan of toast, but I prefer the old toaster. Those new toaster ovens simply do not work very well. They take forever to toast something. Then it’s uneven. There is nothing like the old toaster and the sound of the toast “popping up.”

    The best toast is made with spongy white bread and margarine. Then you lather it with the jam of your choice (ala your spouse). If you are out of margarine you can switch to peanut butter.

    Beware of the bakers and their fancy breads. The major bread manufacturers do it best. Don’t you miss Wonder Bread?

  17. Andrea says:

    I can almost smell everyone’s toast. I grew up on a dairy farm in VT and we had home-made bread toast with raw butter everyday for breakfast. Mom made country white and Anadama (made with a little corn meal & molasses) my favorite! The old pop-up toaster, even the wide slotted ones made difficult work to fit the those lovely over-sized slices into the machine. Thank you to who ever invented the Toaster Oven! I didn’t double toast though until meeting my husband in college.

    • Rick Casner says:

      I just stepped out on the porch of our place here in Vermont and there’s still a faint whiff of your Mom’s toast in the air. Good to know you learned something on College though. Me & the neighbors was wonderin’…
      Thanks for your note

  18. I love toast any way but…burnt. I can still remember my mom standing over the sink in the morning before school scrape, scrape, scraping away. I particularly like challah toast with pools of melting butter.

    • Rick Casner says:

      I had forgotten. Our mothers must’ve shared notes or something because my Mom did the same thing. The sound of that scraping, then the bright, “There now. That’ll be fine!” drove me nuts. Thanks Jessica.

  19. Dan Kraan, LC Community Moderator says:

    I have to admit that I’ve a fondness for the two-slice pop-up myself. The wait for that first slice of toast from my former toaster ovens – I’ve had three in previous lifetimes – always ended up being so… excruciatingly… long. I am ever too impatient to wait for my reward (I have no will). There always came a point when the reversion to a “popper” was inevitable. My latest two-slicer doesn’t “kerchunk-sprang”, so much as it “fe-plooks”.

    I am a toast lover, though. Light, dark, burnt on one side while almost bread on the other (one of my toaster ovens did that), over a wood fire or off of the grill. Regardless of the preparation, I can find beauty in almost any slice that has had a lick of heat in its general proximity. It may seem heathen to the masses, but as far as right or wrong is concerned, I firmly believe there is no wrong method to preparing toast. Unless you burn it all the time, but that’s just training.

    There have been times when I did toast a slice twice. They usually occurred when I found “toast” the next day. Something someone has stored in a bag for “later”. Yes, there is the (very) odd occasion where toast is leftover. I’ll butter it, then risk the odds by popping it into my toaster to try and squeeze out that last memory of crispness. Regardless of the sound or the design of the machine, the Pavlovian signal is unmistakable. Coupled with the warm, toast-scented waft emanating from my kitchen, I never fail to get to those golden beauties at light speed. I must say however, that perfect or not, those slices are rarely caressed by anything but (softened) butter. No margarine for this fella.

    • Rick Casner says:

      Thanks for a great note! Even though we may disagree on some of the fundimentals I can just tell that if you could only dedicate yourself to learning, there’s some hope that you may yet learn the correct way of making toast… using a TOASTER OVEN. You may wish to consider the ‘Seminar on Toast’ that I mentioned to Kristin C or, better yet, I pleased to announce that I’m considering establishing a ‘Summer Camp For Wayward Youth’, thinking about ‘Camp Toast’ as the name. Anyway, sounds like it’d be perfect for you.
      Kidding aside, thanks again for a great note.

  20. Lynn Vandeberg says:

    Ok, ok … You’ve forced me to stand up for myself here. I’m the wife who you note doesn’t double toast (gasp!). Well it’s true, but there’s a darn good reason. When one double toasts, and of course I’m not naming who that “one” might be, one ends up with a big puddle of butter in the middle and crunchy, scratchy bread around the perimeter. The point of taking the toast out of the oven and slowly moving the pat of butter around the warm slab of bread is for equal distribution of yummie-ness.

    That being said, I love you anyway!

    • Rick Casner says:

      And this, dear friends, is pretty much what you get when you fall in love with someone with a degree in philosophy. Much debate. Not much toast.

      Noted though, she remains thin and trim as a whippet while I, more and more, look like I’m built for comfort. Probably all those puddles of butter…

  21. Maureen says:

    You are brilliant! I read this as I was enjoying my very late breakfast of freshly sliced oatmeal bread, crisply toasted, slathered with unsalted butter (always at room temperature) and drizzled with honey. This was accompanied by a large mug of tea with lemon. Heaven.

    I grew up eating cinnamon-sugar toast made in the oven and have fond memories of that delightful smell filling the house in the morning. As an adult, I graduated to a toaster oven rather than waste energy. Our last toaster oven died some time ago and was replaced by the “spare” oversized 2-slot toaster. You have now inspired me to go shopping for a new toaster oven. Thanks for sparking the discussion.

    • Rick Casner says:

      Geez Maureen, ‘brilliant’ just isn’t a word I’ve heard used to describe me very often. I’ve heard ‘tall’ occasionally, but that’s about it.

      Glad you liked the piece. Thanks.

  22. Sally Alger says:

    You all have created Toast Shame in me. I really like toast that is just this side of burned; I’d probably like the toast that came from Cindi’s husband’s ruined toasters. No need for butter. This is the first article I’ve ever seen about toast as fine art. An area of literary neglect.

    Speaking of “Bread and Jam”… Francis’s “father” Russell Hoban wrote some great adult novels. No toast in them though.

    • Rick Casner says:

      Elegance. Civility. Gentleness and wisdom in a single note. Please do not speak of ‘Shame’ to me, gentle lady.
      Surely there is room for different points of view regarding toasting in this grand tent of ours called civiization.
      Cue: ‘We Are The World’ background music & photos of puppies and children.

      And tell that old coot reading this over your shoulder to keep his hands off the computer.

  23. This post reminds me of Molly’s post on toast on her blog Orangette. I wrote about toast this week for my newspaper food column. So much in common!

  24. john nichols says:

    I`m like your wife Casner, love that toast cold with fresh butter staight from the fridge, pulled over it to the point of breaking,and half a jar of orange marmalade dumped over the top. After reading this I can understand your fondness for Sam`s breakfasts.

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