Daisy: In the end, our relationship was just like a sandwich toaster. You know, you just forget you’ve got one. And it just sits there on the top of the cupboard collecting a layer of greasy fudge. And even if you do see it you just assume it’s broken, you think if it’s working I’d be using it all the time, but you don’t and it just sits there. Then one day, you get an overwhelming desire for toasted sandwiches, you know? And you get it down and it works, and you can’t believe it, you know? And then you make every kind of toasted sandwich there is, you have toasted sandwich parties. You make Marmite and cheese, chocolate and…
Daisy: Banana and…
Daisy: Acorns. And then as quickly as the desire comes, it just goes. And then you put the toasted sandwich maker away. And, you know what?
Daisy: You don’t miss it.
Bilbo: So what you’re saying is ‘Don’t hide the toasted sandwich maker away, use him regularly and you’ll get the most out of him’.
Tim: No, she’s saying ‘Chuck your boyfriend, have a sandwich’.
[Spaced episode 5 – Chaos]
I have recultivated an obsession. It is one that festers deep in my soul, occasionally bursting forth with dangerous consequences. There are injuries, weight gains, more injuries and shortages of cheese in my local corner shop. I have realised that I own a Breville sandwich toaster.
My love of the toasted sandwich can be traced back to a single incident in my childhood. Having been raised on cheese on toast (for a certain US based reader, please notice the ‘on’ – a very important preposition) I had often heard of the fabled ‘toasted sandwich’ and assumed it to be a sandwich made with toasted bread. As a lover of melty cheese this seemed to be inadequate, as the toast would have to be super heated to melt the cheese which would then run out the sides – a far from an ideal situation. One day I had been left in the care of my now-departed step-grandmother, a lady of strong food based opinions forged in the 40s and 50s and never changed (the list of food items that she had never tried but was sure she wouldn’t like was quite fearsome in its length and variety), and she decided that toasted sandwiches were the order of the day. Digging around in the depths of the cupboards she unearthed a strange circular device with long handles that looked more like an instrument of torture than a cooking implement. She buttered the inside, used it to slice a circle out of the centre of a cheese sandwich and then dumped it on the gas. A few minutes later a toasted (fried?) disc of bread, sealed at the edges and filled with molten cheese was placed in front of me.
I never looked back.
The key difference between the US style “grilled cheese” and the excellence of the Brevilled sandwich is this sealing process. A grilled sandwich can easily leak, with cheesy goodness (or marmite, jam, peanut butter, bolognese, acorns or whatever filling you have selected) coming out of the sides of the sarnie not only as you munch away, but also as you cook. The sandwich toasting machines of which I am fond seal the edges, making a bready pocket that is more akin to a pasty than a traditional sandwich.
Part two of the joy of the toasted sarnie is getting the outside of the bread right, and to this I turn happily to the US method – frying. To combine the best of both worlds, sealed edges and crispy exterior that’s better than toast (if such a thing is possible. It is) the buttering of my grandmother and my more middle class application of olive oil is important. Rather than the normal light toasting that a dry sandwich undergoes you instead end up with a gentle frying, greasing up your toast at the same time as not turning it into a fried slice – crispness without drowning in fat.
While the circular toaster is a great thing, especially if one is in a forest with nothing but a camp stove, a loaf of bread and bag of cheese for company, the now traditional electric square toasting machine has its benefits. First up – you use all of your bread. The circle-from-square off cut crusts from the circular machine may keep you going as a snack while you await your sandwich’s cooking, but I prefer the anticipation of a whole sandwich than mild sating that second class bread crusts can provide. Also, in the forest situation mentioned above, if one discards the crust it could attract bears, which puts a damper on both the camping and sandwich making experiences. Secondly – you get more sandwiches. They may be smaller sandwiches, and the extra bread may end up being crimped by the toaster’s pocket sealing edges, but you get two triangular delights rather than one sub-Adamski flying saucer. There are places in the world for both kinds, though: a bolognese sauce and cheese toasted sandwich is an excellent thing, but the square toaster generally doesn’t allow you to get enough sauce in to make it worthwhile, as the pocket impressions are seldom all that deep; whereas a toasted cheese, ham and marmite sandwich with enough cheese to fill the circular pocket could a) cause serious burns if not treated with care and b) may actually be too much cheese, or at least too much cheese to justify the addition of the tiny percentage by total volume of ham and marmite. Also, the square toaster requires electricity and a portable generator, when shipped to the woods, will happily make enough noise to scare off any wandering bears.
So, long live the toastie, whatever you put in it. Cheese, ham, ham and cheese – the possibilities are endless.