Language, Common Law, Individual Rights and Toast

The weirdest thing about the history of toast is that while scorched bread has been around for millennia, it was only two hundred years ago that anyone hit on the idea of spreading butter over it. For most of human toast-making history people just ate the stuff plain, stuck on stick or a spit, held out over an open fire. Then in the Middle Ages honey became a popular addition, followed soon after by sugar pastes, dried fruits, spices and nuts. The 16th century saw the rise of meat toppings and hashes. The 17th, cinnamon, sugar and wine. Finally, by the dawn of the 18th century the perfect fusion of bread and dairy fat was achieved: hot buttered toast.


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And you thought MY web page was pointless.

Just goes to show there’s always somebody out there who’ll make you feel good about the way you spend your free time….

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On Toast

It won’t surprise anyone that toast has been around for as long as there’s been bread: about 6,000 years. The Pharaohs ate toast, so did the Greek philosophers and the Emperors of Rome. The Merovingian Kings, the Holy Roman Emperors, Renaissance painters, New World explorers, Napoleonic warriors and so on. Indeed one could argue that throughout all the ups and downs of Western history, toast has been one of the few constants. No wonder we like to wake up to it in the morning.

For most of history toast was little more than a strategy for extending the life of bread. Exposing it to heat removes its moisture making it less susceptible to molds. Plus heat makes bread rigid, less likely to crumble in the pocket. …

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I Am Melba!

Though you wouldn’t think something as simple and unassuming as melba toast actually had to be invented, it was. And not by just anybody. Melba toast was invented by the greatest chef of all time for the greatest prima donna of all time: an Australian soprano by the name of Nellie Melba. Melba’s real name was Helen Mitchell, but she changed her name at the urging of her voice tutor to something a little more…showbiz. She took “Melba” as her stage name, which was a contraction of the name of her old home town, Melbourne.

Though she was from Australia (in fact she was the very first internationally-known female soprano from that continent), she rose to prominence singing at the Royal Opera in Covent Garden, London. During her engagements there she stayed, often for extended periods, at the Savoy hotel where the chef was a mustachioed French fellow by the name of Auguste Escoffier.


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Mercy Joe, Mercy!

So writes reader Ariana:

Please Joe no pecan pie, at least not right now. After pigging out for almost two solid weeks over the holidays I just can’t look at anything rich or sweet this week. I know you’re running a pastry blog here, but can’t you make us some nice melba toast or something, just for this week?

That’s one of the funniest requests I’ve ever received, which means I’m going to honor it. I have some very old content on Dame Melba that I’ve been meaning to update, so let’s do the toast before the pie for Ariana’s sake (and maybe my own…I need some trips to the gym in addition to a dry toast diet).


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First: thank you.

Hope everyone had a merry Christmas and/or a Happy New Year! I have over 200 comments and questions waiting for me this morning so don’t mind if I don’t post too much my first day back. However let me say thanks so much for all the well wishes I’ve received these past few weeks. Several generous gifts also found their way into the tip jar. A proper thank you will be coming to all who donated, but let me say a pre-thanks right now to all you generous folks out there. The funds I received will help me make good on my New Year’s resolution: keeping the kitchen at least minimally stocked so Mrs. Pastry doesn’t have to keep facing the frustration of an ever-empty fridge. She’s such a pretty, dainty little thing, she shouldn’t have to curse like a sailor for want of a single egg. …

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Next Up: Pecan Pie

I might not get these posts up before the first of the year, but then again you never know! To all those who looked in, commented and heckled this year (I’m look at you, Chris from Down Under) — thanks for helping me through another fun and productive twelve months. A very merry everything to everybody and see you soon! – Joe

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Making Lemon Tea Bread

Whaddya know. I made lemon tea bread without poppy seeds and the sky didn’t fall in. I don’t know when in human history lemon and poppy seeds became inseparable, but I wish a mad scientist would build me a fusion-powered DeLorean so I could go back in time and stop it. This tea bread is rich, tangy and tender with a crispy, almost candy-like crust. Best of all you don’t have to pick anything out from between your front teeth after you eat it. Start yours by assembling your ingredients, preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and greasing two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans. Line those suckers with parchment paper.


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Lemon Tea Bread Recipe

This is always a nice one to have in your repertoire. I do these en masse because they make great giveaways and are always appreciated — a nice light and citrus-y alternative to heavier holiday fruitcakes or intense chocolate treats. This recipe makes two large 9″ x 5″ loaves, but you can scale it up as you like. I usually double this, because then I can make 5 smaller 1-pound (or so) loaves with it.

14 (2 cups) ounces sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
3 eggs
15 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
8 ounces (1 cup) buttermilk
3 tablespoons lemon juice…

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Next Up: Umm…

From here on I’ve got no big project plans, just some by-the-numbers holiday baking to do. I may put up a new tea bread flavor or pie recipe here and there, but there’ll be no rhyme or reason to my posting up to Christmas. I’m around to answer questions if you have any of course, but posts will be sporadic though next Wednesday at which point I’ll go dark through the first of the year. Here’s to the holiday baking rush!

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