Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dark Science

At some point in almost all of our endeavours, science rears its head.

Just this morning, I conducted a chemistry experiment, in which I created a  nonenzymatic reaction between a nucleophylic amino acid and a reactive carbonyl by the application of radiant heat.

This procedure, which people have been performing for millennia, was first described by French chemist, Louis-Camille Maillard in the early 1900's. He was attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis, and in his honour, the result is known as the Maillard Reaction.

To make a long story short, which rarely happens here, I was making toast.

Six thousand or so years ago the process would have involved placing your piece of baked bread onto a hot, flat rock, or by securing it, in some manner, in the proximity of an open flame. Usually, you did this because your bread had become stale and unpleasant to taste. Toasting made it into a different sort of thing altogether, and people found that they liked the flavour. In time, they even stopped waiting for their bread to go stale before toasting it.

I prefer whole wheat toast spread with butter and a smear of coarse-shredded orange marmalade. Some of the cats have expressed an interest in this culinary delight, but will usually retreat once they have seen me holding the bread steadfast between my teeth and heard me growling. The Tall Lady is an easier mark, and sometimes they get a share of her white toast with its Smucker's flavour of the week. This, however, is where my line has been drawn.

You can toast all manner of baked goods, from sliced bread to bagels to scones to frozen waffles - I'm told that at some weddings, the guests have even been know to toast the happy couple, but I would hope that's apocryphal.

There are several schools of opinion regarding the proper Making of Toast. At one end of the spectrum are those who place their bread onto the plate and turn up the room thermostat for a moment. Then there are those who hold that the toast is done only when their smoke detector screams in agony. Even they will concede that it might be overdone when the fire engines arrive. I maintain that when it is properly toasted, the colour of the bread will have been transformed to a dark, rich caramel, its aroma will be smoky and a little bit intoxicating. The pat of butter which is dropped onto its surface will spread, top to bottom and left to right, of its own will and volition. Anything less is mere heresy.

But you decide for yourselves - it isn't rocket science.


  1. I sat down tonight to relax and read Limited Vision; and strangely had to get up and go make some toast.

  2. I love toast... we used to toast our stale white bread on the cast iron surface of an oil stove; lift it too early and it wasn't brown enough, lift it too late and use the scrapings for "mock coffee"....

  3. Yes! It has to be just right. Dont'cha hate when you get soggy, pale bread in a restaurant pretending to be toast? And marmalade---golden shred, for me, though I'm quite happy with butter or peanut butter. Multigrain, please!