Spilling the beans (and other ingredients) on Toast
Toast author Raquel Pelzel on how to to make a humble snack food as highbrow or lowbrow as you like
Being big fans of simple things done brilliantly we're not surprised that Toast, by Raquel Pelzel, has become one of phaidon.com's favourite books from the upcoming fall list. In it, the former Cooks Illustrated editor unveils 50 cleverly conceived and exquisitely executed recipes to spread over a perfectly charred humble slice of bread. But while some of the recipes can be made in mere minutes, others allow gastronomy novices a safe arena (it's a slice of bread - what could possibly go wrong?) to stretch out a little and discover culinary capabilities they didn't know they had.
As Raquel told us recently, "It would have been really easy to take these toasts in a very chefy direction and to start adding all sorts of toppings and finishes and drizzles and sprinkles but I tried to not just do that." Instead, Toast features a perfect balance of salty, sweet, spicy, temperature balances, something cold something warm, something crunchy, something creamy. In short, something to suit any mood. With that in mind we sat Raquel down and asked her a few questions.
Inevitable first question: Can you remember the first time you had toast? Oh yeah, it was cinnamon sugar toast. My mom is a horrible cook - she burned down our kitchen. I lived on frozen food and beef stew from a can – that’s what I grew up on. But if I was sick she would make cinnamon sugar toast, slathered with tons of butter and tons of cinnamon sugar. The bread was so saturated that when you bit into it it was just butter and sugar. And it was just awesome and delicious! My dad was Israeli, and he would make toast with avocado and tomato on it. This was way back in the seventies, so you could say he was ahead of his time.
So why toast now and why this book now? Because toast is sophisticated and on trend - and, at the same time, who doesn’t know how to make toast? And it also seemed to me like a natural way to feature items from the green market. The cover recipe is from Hugh Acheson, this amazing chef from Georgia who does these Hakurei Turnips with Poached Chicken and Apple Butter. That’s obviously a very fancy toast, a 'project' toast, but the book also has recipes as simple as throwing some butter and pepperoni in a food processor and blitzing it all up, then throwing some fresh mozzarella on top, putting it under the broiler and, hey presto: pizza bread times 8 million! So it can be downmarket and fun and trashy but you can make it totally fancy too. It seemed like there was a great opportunity to touch on all these bases in one book. And once I started working on the recipes it became apparent that there are absolutely no rules when it came to toast - it’s a whole new genre.
There must have been one recipe that you just had to have in there though? I wanted to do something using meatballs - because everyone loves meatballs - but I didn’t want it to be obvious and use Italian meatballs with red sauce. So I started playing around with Danish meatballs. When I was researching recipes and doing pork and beef combinations I had this idea to use rye breadcrumbs in the meatball mixture instead of regular plain breadcrumbs and that was really great. That just elevated the meatballs and brought all these flavours into it. That was really fun.
You're a former Cooks Illustrated editor what was the hardest recipe to get right? I think the hardest recipe was the S’more toast with hazelnut which is pictured on the back cover of the book. It looks like it would be the simplest thing to make but I wanted to get the texture of the hazelnut chocolate just right, because if you’re telling people to make a home made Nutella you want it to be pretty rock and roll. You’re using expensive hazelnuts and expensive chocolate so it needs to be awesome. I probably tested that chocolate spread a dozen times to get the right texture. I had to!
And your favourite recipe is? I have a lot of favourites, I love the Romesco with the Garlicky Mustard Greens. I really love the Macadamia Cardamom butter toast that has chocolate in it. Cardamom is one of my favourite spices, it’s really sultry and musky. The flavours are just so pretty. And I love the Sesame and Honey-Barbecue Fried Chicken Toast. It’s a good one because it’s somewhere between Chinese Szechuan fried chicken and barbecue and Southern fried chicken on top of bread. It’s just a little trashy and fun to serve. And oh, the Tomato Butter Tartine is ridiculous. My friend Sara Kate Gillingham is the founding editor of thekitchn.com and she and her partner Penny love it so much they make it at dinner parties and people freak out for it. The flavour of the tomato is so prominent but yet it’s tempered by the butter. It’s really awesome, really delicious.
Split into four seasons: fall, winter, spring and summer and with numerous handy tips on how to broil, singe and crisp your bread, Toast is that great thing, a recipe book that can be as high end and fancy or as approachable and simple to use as you might want on a lazy Saturday or Sunday. If you want to stretch breakfast out at the weekend or maybe create an occasional mid week evening meal but can’t always rise to René Redzepi standards, this’ll give you a real feeling of culinatry achievement without having to try too hard. Pre-order Toast here and look out for some teaser recipes in the weeks to come.