Long before the dawn of the breakfast sandwich, there was toast.
John Friend recalls how his parents pushed him out the door of his home in Kansas City, Mo., when he was a child with a slice of buttered sourdough toast in his hot little hands as he made his way to school.
There are a lot of people in the artisan bread industry that shy away from doing things to their bread that would mask the flavor, but weve always been about the toppings, says Friend, the 28-year-old vice president of Farm to Market Bread Co., a Kansas City, Mo. artisan bread company that recently marked its 20th anniversary.
The truth is toast is humble enough for even the shakiest of home cooks to master: the easiest versions are embellished with melted butter and maybe spread with jam, a tasty combo for any morning meal.
But when savory toppings are thrown into the mix and creatively slathered on all manner of interesting artisan breads toast is transformed into a square meal deal appropriate for any time of day or night and just about any occasion, including cocktail parties.
Slices of Farm to Market breads get an upscale twist at restaurants such as the Drop in Martini Corner in Kansas City, where one of the more exotic toppings is a red grape, Gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar reduction. At the Urban Table in Prairie Village, Kan., bruschetta toasts are topped with a luxurious medley of roasted chicken, mushroom duxelle and fontina. But in our own kitchen we also were wowed by the results of store-bought pimiento cheese smeared on white bread toast.
Some toast-masters pop their slices in a slotted toaster, while others prefer to set the oven to broil or throw it on the grill. Either way, toast is best made with day-old bread that has been evenly browned by radiant heat to the point that the natural sugars and starch molecules on the face heat up (scientifically speaking thats the Maillard reaction) to create a slightly crunchy exterior and a warm, sponge-y center.
The true toast addict is fussy about its preparation, choosing day-old bakers bread to make it, and insisting it is eaten as soon as ready, for good toast must be consumed whilst hot. Left to go cold, it becomes leathery and loses its aroma, according to the authoritative tome The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, who portrays toast as an almost exclusively British fixation.
Marion Cunninghams classic The Breakfast Book (Knopf, 1987) includes a chapter on toast, and she notes that many early American cookbooks included chapters on how to create modest-size meals on toast to offer a little more nourishment and variety to the diet. Cunninghams cookbook includes recipes for sausage applesauce toast, apple and cheese toast, ham toast, banana toast, tomato toast, creamed mushroom toast and smoked salmon toast.
More recently, toast has been the subject of articles in Cooking Light, Bon Appetit and the Food Network magazines. A Google search turns up from five to 351 fanciful ways to top your toast. Here are our 20 ideas.