By Raquel Pelzel
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Raquel Pelzel: Hi, I'm Raquel Pelzel. My cookbook is Toast: The Cookbook.
Suzy Chase: Okay, so I looked up the definition of toast. It's "Sliced bread that has been made brown by being put near high heat." Seriously, who doesn't like toast? In your cookbook, Toast: The Cookbook, you show us a sophisticated evolution of toast. I love that you've organized these recipes by season. Is toast experiencing a renaissance?
Raquel Pelzel: I think so, yeah. I think that toast in the singular as just kind of singed or browned bread, and also toast as the dish, toast with stuff on top, I think they're both kind of experiencing this really beautiful kind of an evolution if you would. I see it on so many menus, in so many bakeries. I think when you use that amazing gorgeous bread, and then you pair that with seasonal beautiful ingredients from a green market or from a local shop, you can't help but create something that tastes really good.
Suzy Chase: Give us the basics.
Raquel Pelzel: In developing the recipes for Toast, I used a lot of different kinds of bread, and went back and forth. Like do I recommend a certain kind of bread for each recipe, which would, of course, be incredibly easy to do. People get nervous enough when they look at recipe like, "Oh my gosh, I don't have paprika. Now I can't make the entire recipe." It's like, "Well no, you could just cut that ingredient out and use something else instead and it was probably beautiful." I didn't want people to feel like, "Oh no, I can't find old Jewish marbled rye bread to make the Danish Meatball Toast." Well, "No, you can still do the Danish Meatball Toast, just make it on any kind of bread." I guess I could make specific recommendations of actual bread for each recipe, but I didn't want to turn people off and make them think that they had to go 18 different bakeries to find exactly the right bread.
That said, of course, there are certain kinds of breads that work better for toast than others. Generally speaking, any bread that doesn't have large tunnels in it. You get a beautiful loaf of ciabatta, and I love ciabatta, but you slice it open and there's all these holes in the bread. That's something that bakers actually strive for, they want those big beautiful tunnels and holes because it means there's lots of gas trapped within the dough, it had a good rise, the crust is developed enough to trap all of that air inside the bread and make it airy and beautiful. But when you're making toast with toppings on top, you put the toppings on top of the toast and then they fall through.
Generally, I go for breads with I think will have a tighter crumb. Sometimes you slice into a loaf and it's like, "Oh, there's a tunnel." In that case, occasionally what I'll do is I'll just slice the loaf horizontally through the middle, almost like as if you're making a sandwich. Then I'll toast that bread. Then I'll cut it crosswise and then top it. Because then at least you have the crust as a buffer, so none of the ingredients will actually fall through because you're slicing the break through its middle from end to end like you're making a giant grinder or sub or hero, whatever, depending on where you're from in the country. Then you toast that up. Then cut if crosswise into like strips almost like old school garlic bread strips.
You can top toast that way as well. The only problem with that way is that then you have thicker toast. I found that between 1/2" to 3/4" was my personal sweet spot just because I really like it when you get the crispy beautiful brown surface of the bread, the top and the bottom. Then the interior, you still have that pliable bouncy crumbs happening on the bottom. I just thought that was kind of perfect.
Suzy Chase: What are some of the different toasting methods?
Raquel Pelzel: Well, there's a lot of ways. Actually, I don't even own a toaster. People find that out and they're like, "Wait,-
Suzy Chase: That's funny.
Raquel Pelzel: ... you wrote a book on toast and you don't have a toaster?" I live in Brooklyn. I have a small kitchen, counter space is a premium. There's so many way to toast bread. Yeah, and actually, the toaster, it makes beautifully evenly toasted slices of bread, but I actually really love to use the broiler because I find that the singe you get around the crust, especially when it gets really dark, provides just a wonderful contrast. You have that bitter charred edge in contract to the golden interior crumb. I think that's really nice. I like to broil. That's my top choice.
I also love to pan sear bread, to use oil, or butter the top of the bread, and then cook it in a skillet, preferably weighed down with a little heat safe plate, then put a can of beans on top, so you get the surface of the bread even from side to side so it toasts evenly, so you don't take it out, and you have a toasted crust, but the inside is still spongy and raw because it didn't hit the pan bottom.
It just depends. You can keep checking, and it's not gonna hurt it to pick it up every once in a while and look at it. Because, honestly, the worst smell in the world is burnt toast.
Suzy Chase: Yes, I live in New York City too. Someone burns their toast every single morning. It just wafts through the whole building.
Raquel Pelzel: Oh, that's awful.
Suzy Chase: I know.
Raquel Pelzel: You can slip a courtesy letter under their door. [crosstalk 00:05:42]
Suzy Chase: With some Lysol.
Raquel Pelzel: Lysol, a little spritz of Fabreeze.
Suzy Chase: Who are some of the chefs that contributed to this book?
Raquel Pelzel: Oh, I was so lucky. My publisher is Phaidon. The cookbook, Toast, is published in French. It's in France. It's in the UK. It's in Australia. Then next spring, it's gonna be in Korea and Germany, which is kind of crazy, mind blowing. I tried very hard to make sure the recipes really reflect the global audience of Phaidon because they just opened an office in New York City, but their birthplace is in England and London. When I asked chefs to contribute a recipe, it is also important to ask chefs from different places of the United States, but also different places around the world.
Dan Kluger, he used to be at ABC Kitchen. I think, in my opinion, I think he kicked off the whole toast trend in New York City, fancy toast. There are some cafes that were doing avocado toast already. Dan really, he inspired so many of us, myself and so many other chefs and cooks, to take green market ingredients and layer them in interesting and intricate ways on top of beautiful bread. Dan Kluger offered a recipe for the book that's really beautiful minty pea smash with a lemon oil. It's just gorgeous. It's on top of ricotta.
Then there's a chef from Australia named Bill Granger. He is credited with inventing the avocado toast, although this thing, you know, "I invented peanut butter and jelly," it's so ubiquitous at this point. He has a restaurant in Australia. It's a great breakfast spot. It's known for its avocado toast. It's been around for a while. He gave me this really great recipe for a take on a tuna melt, which uses two kinds of mozzarella, fresh mozz and an aged mozzarella. Then includes capers, and I think lots of parsley. Has this salsa verde thing happening. It's really fresh and bright and delicious, and probably one of the best tuna salads I've ever had. It's really vibrant.
Fergus Henderson offered a recipe from London. He's known for his nose to tail cooking. He gave me a beef mince on toast, super traditional English, really hardy. He uses marrow instead of butter to fatten the toast so to absorb into the bread. Just really decadent and delicious.
Itamar from Honey and Company, also in London, gave me a recipe for chicken liver on toast. They used to work with Yotam Ottolenghi in England. They're both Israeli. The style of their food is very Middle Eastern, yet with new world inspired twists and ingredients. Their chopped liver toast is really incredible.
Suvir Saran, who's an Indian chef, who I wrote a couple of books with, he gave me a recipe for an Indian Balchao toast, using lobster. It has this really beautiful tomato sauce with lots of spices and cilantro.
Deb Pealrman, form Smitten Kiitch, gave me a really nice cauliflower and like a beer gravy toast, which is really fun.
Then Hugh, of course, Hugh. He gave me the cover recipe. He's on Bravo and all these TV shows. He gave me this gorgeous recipe for a toast with apple butter, poached chicken and turnips and the farmer's cheese crumbled over the top. It was so gorgeous that we decided to make it the cover.
Suzy Chase: As with all beautiful Phaidon books, the layout and the photographs are gorgeous. Can you talk a little bit about the photography process and food photographer, Evan Sung?
Raquel Pelzel: Yes, well Evan Sung is just a lovely man. He is so great. He actually shot another book that I co-authored, the Num Pang Cookbook, which is coming out through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in May 2016. Then is just an immensely talented ... He's got this great ... He loves food and respects food. It really comes through in his photography. Then he has this great urban vibrant bold color sensibility, so the food just comes alive under his lens. He shot all of the recipes.
Suzanne Lenzer styled them. That was no small feat because, when you think about it, when you have 50 recipes for toast, how do you make ... I mean, it's toast. How do you make each photo look a little bit different and interesting? I can't take any credit for it because I am not a food stylist. It's all Suzanne and Evan and their great use of props and light, and using different kinds of bread and different sizes of bread, and cutting them in different ways, just to make the actual shapes of the bread visually interesting and different from page to page.
Suzy Chase: Thanksgiving is next week. You have a fantastic Thanksgiving toast recipe to use with leftovers. Can you describe that?
Raquel Pelzel: Instead of just piling everything on top of a plate and reheating it, you're creating something new altogether. I took the cranberry sauce 'cause usually have a little bit of leftover cranberry sauce, and used that to spread along the base of the toast. Then I added mashed potatoes and some leftover turkey that gets pulled into long beautiful shred-y pieces. Then just drizzle the gravy over the whole thing. Just so beautiful. For the mashed potatoes, I added a little bit of cheese, just to make it interesting and different.
You could really do this with anything you have leftover. If you have leftover cranberry sauce, and you want to give it an Indian spin, you could add some chopped cilantro and maybe a chopped jalapeno. You could stir in garam masal and tumeric into the mashed potatoes. You could fry an egg and put it on top. It could go in so many different directions.
If you didn't want to have this style of Thanksgiving toast with gravy and all that, you could take the turkey, of course, and make it into a turkey salad, following ... I have a poached chicken salad recipe, but just sub in turkey for the chicken and use apples or grapes instead of the peaches, and you've got a beautiful lunch salad that's ready to go.
With leftover sweet potatoes, you could make the ... There's a squash toast that has Manchego and spiced pecans. It's really fall and like cider and those great spices. You know, you could stir those into leftover roasted sweet potatoes, and top it with some nuts, toasted nuts or spiced nuts, if you want to make the spiced nuts with some cheese shaved over the top, and it's beautiful.
Suzy Chase: The other night for dinner, I made your recipe for patty melt toast on page 53. Usually, patty melts to me are so heavy. You just leave feeling awful. Since this was on one slice of toasted rye, it was so much lighter. It was just fabulous.
Raquel Pelzel: Thank you so much. There are certain things that you want to make sure you include in a book, like burgers and meatballs are always two great recipes to have in a cookbook. I didn't want either one to be traditional. How do you include a burger in a toast book? Then I just naturally went to the patty melt. I was like, "Oh, it could totally be an open-face toast with sauteed onions." I love a great patty melt, but I agree, sometimes they can be just gut bombs. Having it on toast lightens it up a bit.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web?
Raquel Pelzel: Raquel Pelzel.com. I have recipes up there. You can see where I'm gonna be signing books next, appearances. I was just at ABC Carpet and Home in Manhattan last night for a holiday market event. Yeah, you can find all kinds of toast related intel there.
Suzy Chase: Thanks, Raquel, for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Raquel Pelzel: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.