In her latest cookbook, chef, food writer and Great British Bake Off judge Dame Prue Leith asks, “What’s more comforting and satisfying than toast?”. Through 75 recipes that range from meaty to dessert, simple to elaborate, and fuss-free to posh, it’s hard to find the answer. Born from a column in a senior-citizen-targeted magazine, Bliss on Toast celebrates cosy Sunday suppers, childhood memories, our favourite indulgent treats and more. TASTE’s commercial content producer, Lesego Madisa, recently sat down with the Dame to discuss toast, the future of food and what we can expect on everyone’s favourite baking show.
So many well-known chefs and food personalities released cookbooks during lockdown. Most of these books were so thick, assuming the home cook now had more time in the kitchen. Bliss on Toast on the other hand, well, you went the opposite direction: it’s compact and simply just toast.
For two years, I was cooking for two people. I’ve worked in restaurants so I cooked like a caterer. But I’d cook a chicken and turn it into a casserole, and the next day I’d try to come up with something else using the leftovers and the next day and so forth. I ended up just putting most of it on toast. And then I realised anything that is good is even better on toast! Because toast adds an extra dimension. It’s the crunch, the crispness around the edges, it’s carbs, which means you don’t have to boil rice or pasta or mashed potatoes. It’s just easier.
And it’s fun.
And it’s fun! And I realised that you can make it look nice. I’m incapable of just chucking things on a plate. I’d plate things up and realise it’s all brown on brown so I’d reach for a pickle or relish just to add a bit of colour and contrast to the flavour and I found myself dolling up leftovers on toast.
My husband and I found ourselves taking a picture of the toast and I’d post them on Instagram. This then developed into a column for Oldie magazine. Most of the magazine’s readers are over 50, they’re oldies, and can’t be bothered with elaborate meals. The column was really popular, so I approached the editor with the idea to do a book on toast.
After the Oldie magazine editor passed on the idea, Prue approached her editor with the idea of a cookbook that would look like a slice of toast. Her initial idea was the publish the book as she had the column – just listing the ingredients, no quantities, no method. After a few discussions, it was decided that the book would include quantities, methods, and more in-depth recipes for dips and spreads used throughout the cookbook. Her cellphone images would also get an upgrade with a photographer and food stylist being brought onto the project. While her editor was sceptical about the book making bank, they proceeded with Bliss on Toast.
Bigger cookbooks can often seem intimidating. Was the decision to produce the book in a small format deliberate? Was it to make it more approachable?
Yes. It’s particularly popular with students. Many parents have bought it for their kids because the recipes are easy but still use proper, healthy ingredients used. If you’re a student, and you want to be the most popular person in your wing, you need to cook!
I think it’s great for students and for oldies who live alone but occasionally host a friend or two.
I think it would also make a great first cookbook. There are some easy recipes but also some cheffy moments.
Yes, there are some posh things in there. There’s a sirloin steak toast… but I did resist foie gras and caviar as I thought that could get me in trouble with a few people.
Maybe the next cookbook?
Ha! Yes, Even More Blissful.
I’m just happy that people seem to like it. I do think most of them will flip through it without reading the recipes and figure it out themselves and start to think of using different breads. So many people got into baking bread during lockdown. We go to the supermarket and buy the same loaf, but why not explore different breads? I’m on a mission to get people to do that.
When this began as a column, were you expecting to start a toast revolution that would go beyond lockdown?
I think the way we eat has changed since lockdown. I’ve only been to one dinner party dinner since things reopened, but I haven’t hosted anything. The way we dine now is very family-style and informal. Food is definitely changing. And I think smaller plates like canapés, tapas, dim sum and tear-and-share types of dishes are the better option. Just sampling everything. And it’s the same with toast. Using ingredients you’ve already prepped in advance on this little piece of bread.
I think the simplicity of the book is quite loud. I love cooking and baking but life gets in the way. This book makes me excited to open a cookbook again. Social media has made cooking so competitive and toast feels like going back to basics.
Right. Everything is so perfect on Instagram. I take the occasional picture but I don’t try to make it perfect. I don’t retake pictures.
It doesn’t get more simple than slathering something on a piece of bread!
It can be simple but it can also be comforting, satisfying or wonderfully indulgent or healthy. It can be anything you like.
[The cover] is not even on toast, it is in toast isn’t it? That came about because we had 75 pictures for the book that I was very happy with. So we then had to decide on a cover, everyone had imagined something colourful and healthy but I said to my team, “Let’s just go through the pictures and choose the one that makes your mouth water”. And they all chose the cheese toastie.
I know you’re not supposed to pick favourites, but what’s your favourite recipe in the book?
I love things with a poached egg on top! My first thought was to pick the anchovy toast because of my background but that’s not really a meal, it’s a snack.
The gammon and pineapple on walnut bread (p148) was surprising. I remember in the 60s, people were grilling pineapple on a grilled slab of ham and it was absolutely disgusting! It was sweet and horrible. But someone I work with suggested classic gammon and pineapple (I was against it) when she said the book needed a salsa, something fresh with sweetcorn and pineapple. Once we turned into a salsa it was really wonderful.
Another one I love is the roast lamb with gremolata on fried ciabatta (p124). It’s so lovely to do if you have a bit of roast lamb and you put something herby on top.
A posh one that I love is the scallop Caesar on fried bread (p103). I think you can put Caesar salad on anything. It’s like a giant crouton with salad on top.
I do like the bubble and squeak with hollandaise (p28). But with anything cabbage, I like to put a poached egg on top.
In the foreword of the book, you mention that there’s no shame in cutting corners with store-bought ingredients. If you could have five ingredients for the ultimate toast, what would they be?
The store-bought ingredients I like on toast a probably quite boring.
Mustard, balsamic glaze, some sort of chilli paste, perhaps rose harissa, something creamy like crème fraîche, mascarpone or goat’s cheese, and a jar of red peppers because you can whizz them up to make a lot of things, like adding them to hummus or making sauce.
I think I’m missing something acidic but I can’t think of something that would be universal.
Can we look forward to toast week on The Great British Bake Off?
I think I can have a go at them. We could do it as a signature. Why not?
Do you think you’ll do more themed books like this?
[My publisher and I] have been talking about it and we could do another book on toast, but I always want to do the next thing. So I think we should bring back the savoury.
What’s a savoury?
When I was growing up, people would either have a dessert or a savoury. A classic was devils on horseback, which was bacon wrapped around chicken liver, and there were angels on horseback, which was bacon wrapped around a prune. And Welsh rarebit was a savoury, and there were Scotch woodcocks (lightly scrambled eggs on toast spread with anchovy paste), too. But because no one knows what savouries are, my publishers were not very impressed with the idea.
But what I think we’re going to do is stick to simple and easy and do a book on tips, tricks and hacks. Questions I’m frequently asked.
What was your favourite toast growing up?
It wasn’t toast, but it was biscuits. My nanny would take us to the beach and she always brought along a packet of Marie biscuits. She would butter them and sprinkle them with hundreds-and-thousands. It became a ritual. She’d butter one and give it to me and butter another and hand it to my brother. But I would always be anxious that if I ate mine too slowly, I wouldn’t get the last biscuit in the packet. I was so convinced that there wasn’t an even number of biscuits in the packet and one of us would be short-changed!
Finally, I haven’t been able to stop eating toast because of your book. What are you currently obsessed with eating?
My husband makes his own yoghurt, so we always have a big pot of yoghurt. I tend to turn it into pudding. Add a spoonful of compote or jam and add yoghurt and a sprinkle of nuts. So yoghurt is what I frequently work with.
In the mood for toast? Check out a few recipes from Bliss on Toast.
Bliss on Toast is available online and in bookstores.