“If you don’t get good bread, you’re f-ed. Quote me on that.”
Josey Baker takes his toast seriously. But that’s only because, first and foremost, he is a baker. (And, yes, Baker is his real last name.) When I called him to talk about his bread and, consequently, the wildly popular toast at The Mill—the San Francisco establishment he co-runs with FourBarrel Coffee—he spoke with as much enthusiasm as a kid talking about his brand-new bicycle. “There’s plenty of people doing toast now, [but] most of them aren’t making the bread themselves,” he said. “It’s a really critical piece of the puzzle as far as we’re concerned.” And while The Mill was not the first to create a thick-sliced, Nutella-topped piece of artisanal toast, Baker and his crew have certainly perfected the art. The one caveat? The thing some people can’t get over? That coveted slice can run you upwards of $4.
“Hipster Toast,” as the phenomenon is being called by outraged and genuinely befuddled media outlets, has taken San Francisco by storm, with iterations at bakeries and cafés around the city. There are even reports of Hipster Toast reaching as far as L.A. (What’s up, NYC? Why no Hipster Toast?) But out of context—and let’s be honest, in most cases—the question is valid: Why would people pay that much for a slice of toast? The answer is equally valid: Because it’s really, really good. Especially at The Mill.
“We had no idea that this was going to happen—I just wanted to create a way for people to eat my bread that wasn’t buying a whole loaf. I realize there’s a small amount of absurdity, here,” Baker admitted. But the whole process is a meticulous labor of love, and a long labor at that. “From start to finish, each loaf takes about 36 hours,” he explained, describing how The Mill stone-grinds all its whole-grain flours in-house, and how all its bread is made with a sourdough starter—a more difficult and temperamental method of bread-making than using commercial yeast.
So, that’s what Baker means when he says “good bread.” And if Baker’s list of clients tells you anything—restaurants like State Bird Provisions, nopa, Bar Agricole, and Frances—it’s that his bread is “good bread.”
And then comes the toasting.
Until you can buy Baker’s book on bread, on shelves April 15, you can’t make his bread; but you can steal his toasting technique. So we asked him about it. “This is a dream come true: I can wax poetic about bread and toast,” he gushed. Here’s how to make the perfect slice of SF-style toast, according to the master.
1. Start with Good Bread
“That means actually using bread that isn’t really old,” says Baker, striking down the myth that you should make toast with older bread. For the best toast, start with a whole fresh loaf. “You want the bread to still have a lot of life in it. What we’re doing when we toast the bread is creating that crispy crust on the outside, but inside of the toast there’s still all of that moistness of it being fresh.”
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2. Slice It Thicker
“We cut our bread pretty thick,” says Baker. Basically, to take your toast from snack to meal, just cut it thicker. But it all depends on the density of the bread you’re working with. “Our rye bread, our most dense bread, we slice the thinnest, a little over a centimeter. Our country bread, which is the fluffiest, that’s a little over an inch in thickness.” But the thickness allows you to fully appreciate the crispy surface and the soft, tender inside, which brings us to…
3. Get Your Toaster Hella Hot
“You want to put it into a super-hot toaster,” Baker says. “I have an infrared thermometer gun for testing our toasters, and our toasters get up to 750 degrees.” To get a nice crust—as with a steak—you need to get your toaster screaming hot. Turn that baby up to eleven. “Depending on the thickness and type of bread, you’ll have it in your super-hot toaster for 2 1/2 to 4 minutes. You’re crisping up the outside without completely drying out the piece of toast. You don’t want a cracker—you want a piece with a lot of crunch and flavor on the outside, and a moist, tender, soft inside.”
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4. It’s Always Better with Butter
“We use a butter that happens to be made in a dairy an hour north of San Francisco, McClelland’s. We did a taste test with all the best salted butters we knew of, and they won.” Before any other toppings, the toast team spreads down a layer of butter. Then they slather on things like pumpkin butter, berry preserves, or homemade Nutella. Sometimes, the toppings will be as simple as cinnamon and sugar.
5. Salt It
Like everything else, season your toast. Baker sprinkles a flurry of Maldon sea salt onto everything from cream cheese to almond butter for that extra hit of flavor.
6. Eat It as Fast as You
Like scrambled eggs, boxed mac and cheese, and a Fudgsicle on an August afternoon, toast is best eaten as soon as it’s ready, and quickly. “Josey Baker’s pro toast tip: Eat it as fast as you can.” Because no matter how good the bread, how hot the toaster, and how tattooed the toast maker, nothing can stop toast from getting soggy, eventually.
Hungry yet? Perhaps it’s time to browse our Stuff on Toast recipes.