Artisanal Toast


James Lileks is always mocking places like Portland for being full of SWPL affections like “artisanal toast”. I always thought this was just another example of James’s hilarious trademark hyperbole.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the NY Times Dining section today to find a story on just that. The story asks “How do you get this perfect toast?” and includes a recipe. (If you need a recipe for toast, the Times food section is probably a little advanced for you.):

There may be more pressing issues in the food world, or more ambitious projects to tackle, but I am here to talk about perfecting the simplest of kitchen basics.


A good piece of toast, whether smeared with butter or draped with prosciutto, is a many splendored thing. Attention must be paid. While a badly toasted slice won’t necessarily ruin your day, it won’t brighten it, either. Ideally, it should.

Of course, just how the toast should be is really a matter of personal preference. The ideal, if I may generalize, is this: the perfect color (golden), the perfect texture (it should have a little “give” in the center) and the perfect temperature (hot).

How do you get this perfect toast?

It’s the little details that matter. You must take charge of it while it cooks, and nurse it along. In all toasting, not just the toasting of bread, you want to achieve color gradually. Leave it too long on the fire and the moment is lost.

Different breads need different kinds of toasting. Tender, buttery brioche can’t take high heat; denser, moister whole-grain breads can. Challah, ciabatta, semolina bread, baguettes split lengthwise, pain de campagne — all make fine toast (actually, day-old bread makes the best toast), given proper attention. And when the toast is burned, just start over; scraping the black stuff off the top makes a horrid sound, and it never fools anyone, anyway.


I am apparently not up on the latest culinary trends because this is actually a thing. A piece from earlier this year asked “How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze?” and just this week NPR ran a piece entitled “We Didn’t Believe In ‘Artisanal’ Toast, Until We Made Our Own“.

Now that artisanal toast is entering the mainstream, James is going to have to try harder to mock bobo absurdity. Maybe curated quinoa or sushi for dogs (though I hesitate to Google these, lest they actually exist).

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