Whether it’s first thing in the morning with butter and marmalade, a slice munched on the hoof flying out of the door, or little Marmite and honey squares at teatime, eating toast is one of our most cherished national traditions. It conjures up comfort, warmth and happiness-there’s even a fashion brand selling luxurious pyjamas, woolly socks and throws called Toast, and cookery writer Nigel Slater picked Toast as the evocative title for his memoir.
When I was a child, my absolute favourite thing was warm white toast with beef dripping, salt and those delicious juices from the bottom of the dripping basin. For others, smashed sardines or Marmite reign supreme. It’s not a straightforward subject, and it stirs up strong feelings. Aga or toaster? Brown or white? And what, above all, do you top it with? I decided to quiz fellow members of the Guild of Food Writers along these lines. Responses flooded in, and opinions were forceful and varied. Here are some of the answers.
The winner, hands down, is sourdough, made from wild yeast in the atmosphere, long lasting and, as you’d guess, sourish-‘crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside’. Both Poilane sourdough and rye sourdough got votes, ‘thick sliced with unsalted butter’ and toasted ‘under the grill (or, better still, over a fire)’. Otherwise, spelt bread, baguette, polenta bread, brioche, classic French bread and even slightly sweet potato bread all came highly recommended.
How to toast it?
The Aga gets the best press here. ‘It’s Aga toast for me any day… hot plate for a short time, cool plate for a much longer time or roasting oven… they all have a certain something you just never get with toaster-made toast,’ enthused one respondent. And a tip: ‘It helps to heat the wire holder before adding the bread so it doesn’t stick to the rack.’ Another writer explained: ‘I prefer an open grill, but I do use my Dualit toaster when I’m rushing’. ‘Try a Breville sandwich toaster, a Phillips grill that can double up as a panini machine, or a Spanish toaster-a thin frying pan with a rack that fits over the top,’ suggested a culinary adventurer.
What to top it with?
Lots of the writers I surveyed just liked butter, and plenty of it. ‘Good butter and nothing else is unbeat-able,’ claimed one, boldly. Another adored ‘very cold unsalted butter and French radishes’, and a sophisticated choice was ‘unsalted butter and, perversely, Maldon salt’. Other top-rated toppings included Chevre cheese with oil, vinegar and lettuce, mashed avocado and a touch of Tabasco, and garlic, olive oil, ripe tomatoes, rocket, basil and ricotta.
Rather more ambitious choices were puréed artichokes with truffle oil, melted Stilton with a sliced pear, fried tomatoes or mushrooms cooked in butter, and Melba toast with a slice of pâté. One respondent reminisced fondly about ‘Welsh rarebit and all those other half-forgotten savouries’, another sang the praises of ‘peanut butter and Marmite toast with a cup of builder’s tea on the side’, and yet another extolled the virtues of ‘potted shrimps with lots of lemon and black pepper squashed onto hot toast’.
One of my own mother’s treats was a toasted tomato sandwich: thick white bread toasted, and then cut through into two thin slices, toasted on one side only. The warm, untoasted sides were smeared with butter and piled with salted tomato slices, then pressed together. Delicious.
Hot or cold?
‘My beloved likes crispy toast above all else, all the way through,’ wrote one lady cookery writer. ‘So he doesn’t mind it cold (that’s why he uses a toast rack). I prefer hot, so the butter melts, and I like it chewy. He hates it when hotels wrap toast in napkins to keep it hot-it steams and goes soggy.’
And sweet treats?
Cinnamon toast was felt to be just the ticket on a cold, dark winter’s afternoon, as was toast topped with lemon curd, plum jam or cream cheese and lime marmalade. A rather more exotic topping was feta cheese and ‘ripe, sweet Bing cherries’. Brioche toast with unsalted butter and French cherry jam was one writer’s ‘all-time favourite toast-and-jam combination’, but toast simply topped with honey seems to have a special place in our hearts.
How do you like your toast? Send us your views to firstname.lastname@example.org
East Sussex www.lighthousebakery.co.uk
Country Life’s top toast toppings
Marmite, Gentleman’s Relish, homemade marmalade, butter and honey, homemade strawberry
jam, fried or scrambled egg, baked beans, melted cheese, roast tomatoes, smooth pâté
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