It seems there’s a bit of a toast revolution stirring and whilst it is getting a cynical treatment from some, I am a big fan.

The right bread toasted with good toppings seems like the best comfort food to me and it is such a versatile base. My freezer is never without good sourdough rye ready and waiting so that I can add whatever I fancy at a moments notice for a perfect snack or meal. In fact, my friends at Knead bakery in South Africa have made a hugely successful business marrying their hand crafted breads into the very core of their easy and yummy menus, including a “toast with…” choice. It seems like the most perfect combination to me.

josey baker bread

It is the team behind Josey Baker Bread who seem to have hit the headlines this week for selling $4 toast at the place they share with Four Barrel coffee called The Mill in San Francisco. Commentators are shocked at the price and the audacity of taking this humble offering into such a price threshold but personally I disagree. When you see what it takes to make a proper loaf, not least of all a proper piece of toast, then you begin to understand. It is not the price of the ingredients, although good artisan flour does not come cheap. Nor is it the cost of production. But it is the time, passion and genuine love that it takes a proper baker to create such a miracle of baking that deserves, in my eyes, more appreciation.

balthazar bread

I was lucky enough to spend a little bit of time with the baker behind Balthazar bakery in London and he literally opened my eyes to the art of baking. Most bakers work late at night and from very early in the morning. They have to be very physical at times and yet have the touch of an angel at others. This is all about connection with an ever changing product and a sensitivity that can only be mastered through experience. The Balthazar team have been doing it for years in New York. It was one of the first I went to see on my research trips with M&S, along with the incredibly well known Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, and the team here in London have replicated it brilliantly.

When you look at the plethora of bakeries popping up in London you realise there is something in the humble loaf. Whilst they all offer breads which can be toasted or not, as required, the toast bar concept hasn’t yet taken off over this side of the pond. I always liked the dualit toasters plugged into the ceiling and directly onto your breakfast table at Ottolenghi. I am in fact spoiled with bakery choice near where I live with Gails, Le Pain Quotidien and Euphorium all putting out good offers. Then there’s the small one off bakers who are just delivering great breads such as E5 bakehouse which has been on telly a few times, plus the many that were heralded at the Real Bread Festival last year. It says something when you can have a whole festival dedicated to bread!

The Mill toast

Perfect toasting thickness delivered every time at The Mill

But what is great about The Mill is it’s focus on toast rather than bread. They take the dualit toaster and put it centre stage to their funky place. There’s even the toast equivalent of the barista who is solely focused on making the perfect slice of toast. It’s important to have the right thickness, the right amount of toastiness and the right buttering to make it toast-a-licious.

Then there’s the toppings. They have given a great big nod back to the childhood treats with good old fashioned jam or honey as well as old US favourites such as peanut butter or cinnamon sugar. In addition there are trendier butter flavours such as other nut butters (almond butter gets a good press) and pumpkin butter. Or you can opt for combinations like peanut butter, honey & sea salt.

yves bordier butter

It’s funny. I have been talking about butters a lot in the past year as I think there is a lot of potential in the butter market. We are increasingly being told of the benefits of good fat so a well made grass fed butter is not the killer we once thought. When you see how experts like Yves Bordier do butter in France then you can see the opportunity that is out there to do more not only with sweet toppings like those at the Mill, but also flavoured butters to cook with such as herb butters or citrus butters for meat or fish cooking. They can be kept in the freezer for a long time and really do transform a dish.

Anyway, whatever your choice of topping, and whatever you ideal toasted offering, I for one am a fan of this new toast bar idea and hope that it catches on soon somewhere in the UK some time very soon.

Pic from Josey's blog. "Loafers" - funny!

Pic from Josey’s blog. “Loafers” – funny!