Toasted bread has to be the world's most versatile vehicle for other foods. Can you top these tempting toasted treats?
A toast, ladies and gentleman, to Alan MacMasters, inventor of the electric toaster in Edinburgh in 1893. Since then the humble piece of toast has been our staple, our comfort, our go-to; ideal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But can it be improved upon? We think it can.
French toast, eggy bread, gypsy toast, call you what you like it's completely delicious AND it can be sweet or savoury. People have been arguing about what goes in the dipping sauce ever since a version called aliter dulcia – "another sweet dish" – popped up in a 4th century Latin cookbook, instructing ancient chefs to soak the bread in milk before frying.
What goes in yours? Sugar? Cheese? Milk? Our savoury recipe combines sugar and chives, or try this cheesy, chivey, eggy bread version. If you need something a little sweeter what about adding cinnamon, or check out this ultimate fruity French toast as cooked by Fleur de Force, complete with honey, vanilla, blueberries and a solid dose of crème fraîche.
Best bread: a slightly stale challah is the perfect bread for French toast, with classic French baguette coming a close second. Cheap white bread or anything with holes simply won't do, and ideally you want to slice the bread yourself to ensure it's at least an inch thick.
Cheese on toast
But not just a slice of cheese on a slice of toast. Oh, no no. We're talking dijon mustard, grated nutmeg, ham and mature Gruyère cheese: this croque monsieur will take your cheesy snack to a whole new level. Or why not go the whole hog and take on parmesan French toast with hollandaise?
Best bread: country-style bread will do the job nicely.
Seasame prawn toast
Turns out this Chinese staple is surprisingly easy to make. Try Ching-He Huang's simple recipe and you'll have people saying "what, you made these?" Plus it gives you a chance to get the wok out, so everyone's a winner.
Best bread: brown bread, at least two days old, with the crusts cut off.
Photo: Jean Cazals
Avocado on toast
Sure, sure. You've had avocado on toast. But what about avocado and pea puree? What about adding chilli flakes, chimichurri or pistachio? What about poached egg, smoked salmon, tomato, sea salt, goats' cheese, a squeeze of lemon, Greek yogurt, prawns, mushrooms or apricot jam – the list of toppings is endless!
Best bread: a good sourdough, a country-style bread, or anything that came from a market. Slice while pretending you're making brunch in your Manhattan studio apartment.
Grilled cheese sandwich
Isn't that cheese on toast again? Non! This is a whole new ball game. Bread, cheese and butter, pure and simple. Use the toastie or panini maker for this one if you must, but the greatest sandwich satisfaction comes from standing over the pan and flipping to perfection.
Butter one side of the bread and place it that side down in a hot frying pan with another solid knob of butter. Sprinkle the bread with a good dose of grated cheese and black pepper, top with another slice of bread, this time butter side up, and keep flipping until the cheese has melted and you've reached crispy, golden sandwich nirvana.
Best bread: in your face, artisan bread! Cheap white sliced loaf (a day old for good measure) is the perfect choice for a grilled cheese sandwich.
Italian for toast. Prononced "broo-sket-tah" and the perfect summery starter. Is there anything more Italian than rubbing a garlic clove over a ciabatta before brushing it with a liberal dose of olive oil? Oh, la dolce vita. Here's the classic tomato version, something fabulously fresh with peas and mint from Sarah Randell, or this ever-so-impressive little chilli and prawn number.
Best bread: ciabatta or a good French baguette sliced at a sharp angle.