March 23rd is National Melba Toast Day, celebrating dry, crisp and thinly sliced toasts.
First, and with all due respect, today’s packaged Melba toast has as much to do with homemade Melba toast as the Keebler Elves have with the best homemade cookies.
Melba toast, which became a diet staple in the U.S. thanks to manufacturers such as Devonsheer and Old London, dates to the end of the 19th century.
But as previously noted, packaged toasts are so dry and unappealing! A recipe to make your own yummy melba toast is below.
Melba toast was born in 1897 at the Savoy Hotel in London, where the legendary French Chef Auguste Escoffier ruled the kitchen, and César Ritz ran the hotel. Dame Nellie Melba, the great Australian soprano, was a guest.
There is an unsubstantiated tale that Melba toast was a mistake in the hotel kitchen; that the dieting diva asked for some dry toast which arrived as over-toasted, thin and crunchy slices. However, as with the story of the history of potato chips, the guest enjoyed the result.
The more likely explanation is that Melba toast was created by Escoffier either as a lower-calorie food for the singer, or as simple fare during a bout of illness in 1897 when she was unable to tolerate richer foodstuffs.
See more foods he named for Nellie Melba at the end of this article.
It is said that César Ritz bestowed the name Melba toast, and put it on the menu.
Since then, manufacturers have marketed Melba toast as a reduced-calorie bread option.
But for those who want to enjoy a piece of Melba toast, modern crostini are a much closer match.
Those thin toast points served with caviar, pâté and steak tartare…those crunchy toasts served with cheese…are they Melba toast?
And what do they have to do with biscotti and bruschetta?
These two are very similar. Both are cut from a loaf of bread and toasted. However:
In the U.S., makers of artisan crackers sometimes call them crisps, to sound more elegant. That works in the U.S., but in the U.K., crisps are potato chips.
What about savory biscotti?
Whatever you call them, serve them:
Melba toast is made by lightly toasting thin slices of bread in an oven or under a grill (no grill marks!), on both sides.
The thin slices are then returned to the heat with the untoasted sides towards the heat source.
1. PREHEAT the oven to 250°F. Remove the crust from the loaf. You can save them and turn them into parmesan crisps, or let them dry out overnight and pulse (or use other technique) to make bread crumbs.
2. DECIDE on your toasting technique. (a) Cut the loaf into sections 3 inches thick. Cut each chunk into triangles, then cut each triangle into three or more thin slices. (b) Lightly toast thick slices of bread. While still hot, slice horizontally into two; then create triangles or rectangles as you prefer.
3. PLACE on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown. Toast bread in oven, flipping slices halfway through, until dry, about 2 hours. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning.
Escoffier created four foods in total, in Melba’s honor. In addition to Melba toast, there are:
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