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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Toast the Old-Fashioned Way













Though I have had a toaster in my home all my life, I rarely use this appliance and have it tucked away in a corner cabinet, behind a crockpot and a stack of cake pans. Not too long ago, I had some homemade bread a little less fresh than I wanted for a sandwich. Toasting is a great way to use bread that is still flavorful but just this side of stale, so it seemed time to drag out the toaster.

For one little sandwich? All that cabinet clearing just for one little sandwich? There had to be a better way.

And indeed there is. In fact, now that I have been reminded of this ancient method for making toast, I may never drag out the toaster again.

Almost as long as people have been making bread, they have been making some kind of toast. The earliest method seems to have been to put chunks of bread on a stick and hold them over a fire, much like we might toast marshmallows. Later when pans were hung over a fire area, bread began being toasted there. Only in the late 19th century did the toaster that we know today become a reality, and people continued with the more old-fashioned approach for years after the pop-up toaster became a standard appliance in most western kitchens.

Now, in a step backward in time, I have come to love the more old-fashioned approach, for several reasons:
  • It requires no specialized appliance, a nice thing when one's kitchen storage space is limited
  • All sizes and shapes of bread can be toasted, even the little ones that always seem to fall way down in the slots and need fishing out (dangerously, if you don't unplug the thing) with a fork or knife

  • The final product can be much lower in fat than a slice of toast taken out of the toaster and buttered while hot
  • This method may actually be quicker than a pop-up toaster, especially if you have several slices of bread that you want to toast.
  • This method leads right into grilled sandwiches of all kinds, just by adding fillings of your choice. 

Basics of Old Fashioned Toasting

The best pan for this is a cast iron (of course!) skillet or griddle, large enough to place several slices of bread flat in the bottom. If you don't have cast iron, any heavy, flat pan will do. Because you will be preheating the empty pan, avoid non-stick cookware.
Canola oil or olive oil, flavored if desired, are probably the best fats, but butter can also be used, by itself or mixed with a little oil. If using butter, you will have to be more watchful to be sure the toast doesn't burn.
It will be easier to do this on a gas stove rather than an electric one because of the responsiveness of the flame, but either range will work.

Method
 
  1. Heat the empty pan over medium high heat, adding only enough oil to barely cover the bottom. Even in a 12 inch skillet, you may not need more than a teaspoon.
  2. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a few large crumbs into the pan. They should "dance"  and sputter a bit if the pan is hot enough.
  3. Arrange slices of bread flat on the pan. Allow to toast for a few minutes.  Lift a corner now and then to check on the progress; as you become comfortable with the length of time needed, you'll find yourself doing this less and less.
  4. When the first side is browned to your preference, flip the slices and continue toasting until done.
If a second set of slices will be toasted, add a bit more oil as needed. However, you may be surprised at how very little fat is needed with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.




Other things you can do

Once you become proficient with this method of toasting, you can do all kinds of things, like toasting the bread for your sandwiches and grilling the fillings at the same time or toasting a couple of slices of bread and then, with a few more drops of oil added, frying up an egg or two in the same pan for breakfast with minimal clean up. And, as the photo below shows, you can even slice up slightly stale rolls into rounds that could be a great  base for your favorite bruschetta toppings.





Using up stale bread

And you can even turn dinner rolls, hot dog buns, etc., into garlic bread, mini-pizza bases, or toasts for using with spinach dip, etc. Talk about frugal--no more stale bread that has to be thrown away!

 As shown below, take a sandwich roll and slice it like a mini-loaf of bread, with most rolls able to be cut into four slices. Toast  these slices just as for full bread slices. The rounded part of the top slice of the roll can be pressed gently to be sure that all parts are toasted.



 
So that's it. Toast without a toaster. How easy is that!



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