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What says good morning like a thick slice of toast with melty butter tucking into each bit, crumb and bite? Food nerds on Facebook and Twitter a couple weeks back spread around an article about fancy toast in and around San Francisco, making mouths water at breakfast tables ever since. Describing a $3, $4 and higher pricetags per slice at chic diners and restos, the article and a few that followed it prompted the question: Is toast worth it? (For some the pricetags are a headscratcher; others, not so much.) Set aside any debate about whether toast is going artisanal on the West Coast or elsewhere and who started it, though, because the best toast you’ve ever had can be made, of course, right at home.
The best way to make awesome toast is to start with awesome bread. Technique and toppings matter, too. You can tear or slice, grill or broil, schmear or drizzle, and each little choice can have a big impact. Keeping that in mind, here’s how to build a better toast.
1. The bread: The best toast comes from delicious bread (denser breads toast particularly well). Look for a loaf that’s heavy and substantial, or made with a mixture of different flours, nuts and seeds. Bakery-style white breads like Pullman and ciabatta have their allure, too. Consider the crust: Even ahead of toasting it should look crackly and crisp, but most of all enticing. When buying packaged breads check the labels. Ingredients such as “unbleached enriched wheat flour” or even just “wheat flour” can be deceiving because they contain words like “enriched” and “wheat,” which sound healthy. Don’t be fooled; these breads are not made from 100 percent whole wheat or grain. If you can, seek out freshly baked loaves or packaged ones that contain easy-to-pronounce ingredients. If you’ve ever made bread, you know that all you really need is water, yeast, flour and salt—it’s as simple as that!
2. The slicing: Go for about a 1/2- to 3/4-inch slices. Unless you like your toast super-crunchy, thicker slices make it easier to get crunchy outsides and tender insides. Whether you are using a pop-up toaster, a toaster oven or your regular oven can also help guide what thickness will work best.
3. The technique: Scientists in England conducted a study to figure out exactly how to make the perfect piece of toast. They tested about 2,000 pieces and found that 216 seconds was the ideal cooking time when using a typical 900-watt appliance, with the dial set to 5 out of 6. (Toast should reach a minimum temperature of 250 degrees for ideal crunch and optimal butter melting.) Interesting? Certainly. Necessary? Who knows. Equations and research notwithstanding, the perfect toast has a crunchy golden-brown exterior and a tender, almost-doughy center. The contrast of textures should be satisfying, the color should be appealing, and the end product should be crunchy, but not so crunchy that the roof of your mouth gets battered after each bite.
4. How to top it off. A great piece of toast is a canvas. It’s a platform. With that foundation, the possibilities are almost endless. Sure, jelly and preserves and cream cheese come to mind. Think beyond peanut butter and experiment with almond butter. Mashed avocado and some salt and pepper delight. Try smoked meats, stinky cheese and marinated vegetables. Or how about just good old-fashioned butter? Maybe some cinnamon-sugar, too.
5. Avoid overcomplicating it. After all, a bread and a spread are enough to call breakfast. Adding too many layers transform toast into something else altogether. And soon enough you’ll have a sandwich; maybe that’ll be the next trend in San Fran
Leila Clifford is an editorial intern at Food Network. She prefers toast thick, dense, slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside with salted butter.