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In praise of soft, squishy bread


Fat Guy
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I think it has become something of a foodie axiom that soft, squishy bread -- especially white bread with a Wonder-bread-like texture and near-complete lack of crust -- is the enemy of good bread. Good bread, the axiom runs, is hearth-baked, crusty, chewy, weighty.

I have some sympathy for this view. When traveling in the American South, for example, I find that it can be difficult to find any bread with meaningful crust. This is changing a little bit, especially in any town large enough to support a Costco, but still whenever I return from a road trip to the South one of the first things I need to eat is bread with real crust.

However, to me, the cult of crust goes too far. Because there are some situations in which soft, squishy bread is the right bread for the job.

For example, hamburger and hot dog buns. Try as I might, I can't convince myself that a hamburger is better on "good" bread -- unless it's the kind of good bread that's soft and squishy, like brioche or an English muffin. Hamburgers are great on the soft, squishy white rolls they sell in American supermarkets -- they just are. Martin's potato rolls are good too, and squishier still.

Another example is the Parker House roll. For pure eating pleasure, served hot with butter, Parker House rolls give even the best artisanal hearth breads a run for their money.

The soft, squishy onion roll, served at old-style kosher dairy restaurants like Rattner's, are amazingly good. You can often find a reasonable facsimile coming out of the baked-on-premises department of a good supermarket.

As an accompaniment to barbecue, of course, soft bread is a must.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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FG, maybe you are fortunate in the States about the provenance of your soft squishy bread,however commercial English soft, squishy bread is a step too far (check out the baking method)

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I had my doubts when I read the subject, but you really do have a point.

Does anyone remember Silvercup Bread in Chicagoland?

I don't know if it existed in other cities.

It was soft squishy bread with an amazing delightful chewy lush crust but it was all soft too.

Cadilac bread. Crazy good.

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I won't go so far as to sing the praises of Wonder bread. But brioche, challah, a proper hard roll (which isn't very hard), Parker House rolls, onion rolls...yeah, I'm with you. I've never seen a burger on crusty bread, but a burger on a kaiser roll is awful.

BLTs, dainty tea sandwiches, tuna salad on toast, and tomato & mayo sandwiches wouldn't be the same without Pepperidge Farm white bread.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Meatloaf with butter on white Wonder Bread. Doesn't get much better than that. It's just not the same on whole wheat.

Hamburgers on anything less squishy than a kaiser roll just don't work. The hamburger and any toppings just squirts out the back. In fact, I'm not all that fond on any sandwich on bread with a really hard crust for the same reason - filling loss.

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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When I was a kid growing up in North Louisiana, we called this stuff, universally-regardless of brand, "light bread." Looking back on it, I did eat a fair amount of homemade bread made by various bakers (grandmothers, aunts, mother, etc) and none of them were ever trying to emulate the stuff.

Also, we had light bread on the table for virtually every meal. Now that I think about it, maybe this is where my "this would be great on a sandwich" thoughts come from when I am eating foods not really meant to be put between two slices of bread. With squishy bread available on the table at all times, all manner of things might have ended up between the bread. For example, many of you might have never had the pleasure of passing a Fried Chicken Skin Sandwich between your lips and trust me, you are all the poorer for it. What about Peanut Butter, Mayhaw Jelly and Chee-Wees-trust me, you can only enjoy this combo on light bread. It just won't work on anything sturdier.

The nice thing about squishy bread is that it serves to deliver, but not to interfere-much in the same way that tortillas are used in most of latin America (though, admittedly, good tortillas have a hell of a lot more flavor than a good piece of "Bunny Bread (local brand in South LA))." You can put almost anything on white bread and the bread won't interfere with your brilliant combination of ingredients. Now that I think about it, it may be one of the most subtle and brilliant achievements of the bakers art.

And hamburgers on weird bread suck. Word.

Edited by Mayhaw Man (log)

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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...go shopping, buy white bread, bring bags into kitchen,

take squishy, fresh, wonderfull white bread and make PB & J eat sandwich,

put away groceries.

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

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Also, we had light bread on the table for virtually every meal. Now that I think about it, maybe this is where my "this would be great on a sandwich" thoughts come from when I am eating foods not really meant to be put between two slices of bread.
My family did this too, there was always a stack of bread on a lunch plate, and alongside (sigh) was a tub of Parkay margarine. Any casserole can become a sandwich filling.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Soft squishy bread is perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches made with American cheese. It's also nice wrapped around large squares of dark chocolate.

Yes, and soft, squishy bread is perfect for toasting. I can't imagine breakfast at a diner without toasted white bread.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I'll give you the barbecue.

But that's it.

There is good, plain white bread, you know, for hotdogs, burgers, sandwiches and stuff. I mean, it doesn't go straight from Wonder bread right to 7-Grain, with a brief stopover at crusty. There are other options. Homemade sandwich bread has soft crusts, as do sandwich breads from many bakeries, and Pepperidge Farm sliced Italian makes good sandwiches.

I guess it's all in what you grew up with. My grandmother owned a restaurant, and they baked white bread for sandwiches, toast, etc. I never even had a bite of what she called "that ol' cotton bread" until I was about nine or ten years old. I'll never forget that sensation.

You can get good, plain, white bread that has at least SOME texture, and doesn't just disintegrate into gummy Elmer's white glue in your mouth.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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It's the only thing for a proper bacon sandwich. I also favour plastic bread for the much maligned fish finger sandwich.

I usually keep an emergency loaf in the freezer, don't normally like freezing bread but can't really make the stuff any worse! Handy for emergency bacon butties or toasted sandwiches - the plastic texture makes a good seal.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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I guess it's all in what you grew up with.  My grandmother owned a restaurant, and they baked white bread for sandwiches, toast, etc.  I never even had a bite of what she called "that ol' cotton bread" until I was about nine or ten years old.  I'll never forget that sensation. 

You can get good, plain, white bread that has at least SOME texture, and doesn't just disintegrate into gummy Elmer's white glue in your mouth.

Then again, remember that phrase "better than sliced bread." Being able to go into a store and buy a loaf of whatever the bread was (and, at least where I grew up, you probably touched a bread sign when you walked in the door as the door pushes on small country groceries were, more often than not, sponsored by a bread company-"Evangline Made," "Bunny Bread," "Wonderbread," etc.) at some point in the 1930's a seriously modern convenience for homemakers who already had to work, on average, 8 hours a day just to keep food on the table and the house clean. I think that this probably had much to do with the popularity of light bread in rural areas. After all, sure, baking is fun for some people (and some people are intuitively better at it than others) but when you had to do it a couple of times a week as a necessity, it probably wasn't nearly as entertaining-especially when coupled with the fact that it had to be baked in an oven that might have not exactly had an accurate or dependably easy to deal with heat source. Remember, until The REA many people in North America were dealing with wood or coal fired stoves and the fact that those stoves had to be stoked, watched, and pampered to keep an even baking temp. meant that sliced, store bought bread was a real convenience. Wonderbread might not have been the best bread on Earth, but the price was (and is) within the reach of all but the most modest budgets and it was easy to deal with.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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And hamburgers on weird bread suck. Word.

Also tomato sandwiches.

You bet.... White bread is primarily the vehicle to transport the mayo and summer-ripe, jucy tomatoes to my mouth, while I remain somewhat clean-- usually. It's also the only proper bread for that flattened, grilled cheese sandwich, or a BLT.

"Fat is money." (Per a cracklings maker shown on Dirty Jobs.)
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What other bread can be completely compressed and rolled, slice by slice (or the whole loaf), into twigs or balls? What other bread can be the base of the truly addictive, nasty,"Bacon Rolls" that a Greek grandma (not mine) used to make for her hoards of grandchildren, and hangers-on?

Yeah, squishy is sometimes good.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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What other bread can be completely compressed and rolled, slice by slice (or the whole loaf), into twigs or balls?  What other bread can be the base of the truly addictive, nasty,"Bacon Rolls" that a Greek grandma (not mine) used to make for her hoards of grandchildren, and hangers-on? 

Yeah, squishy is sometimes good.

Also, when balled around the hook properly, you can even catch fish with it when there aren't any shiners or nightcrawlers handy. It's great stuff.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Steven, have you actual seen a hamburger served on crusty bread? That sounds like an abomination.

In the 1970s, there was a bar in Greenwich Village called Kettle of Fish that was renowned for its ovate burgers served on a slit length of French bread. Of course the burger you got was so huge that this was about the only thing that would hold together once you started eating it. An early example of oversizing, perhaps. My crowd thought it worked very well; a case could be made that we were simply young, hungry & foolish.

I still hate burger rolls that disintegrate before you're halfway through, leaving your hands nothing to grasp but grease, cheese and ketchup. I don't favor crusty rolls these days, but the roll needs to be appropriate to the burger.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Steven, have you actual seen a hamburger served on crusty bread? That sounds like an abomination.

In the 1970s, there was a bar in Greenwich Village called Kettle of Fish that was renowned for its ovate burgers served on a slit length of French bread.

Now that I'm staring at my original comment, I realize that one of my favorite sandwiches is a hamburger po-boy.

That's basically a couple of hamburger patties on a crusty French loaf.

Now, in my defense, a hamburger po-boy isn't really a burger at all. It's an entirely different beast.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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What other bread can be completely compressed and rolled, slice by slice (or the whole loaf), into twigs or balls?  What other bread can be the base of the truly addictive, nasty,"Bacon Rolls" that a Greek grandma (not mine) used to make for her hordes of grandchildren, and hangers-on? 

Yeah, squishy is sometimes good.

edited because I couldn't spell.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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I had my doubts when I read the subject, but you really do have a point.

Does anyone remember Silvercup Bread in Chicagoland?

I don't know if it existed in other cities.

I grew up eating Silvercup bread, baked in Queens, N.Y. The bakery is now Silvercup Studios.

Butter and jelly on squishy white. Not peanut butter... regular unsalted butter ... (Never even tasted peanut butter til I was an adult :blink: I've often wondered if this was a Jewish thing because I never ever saw it in anyone's house where I grew up. I've since made up for this deprivation and really like PB with sliced bananas ... on soft bread, of course.)

Ilene

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Parker house rolls, overnight refridgerator rolls, pain de mie -- I love "plain" white bread. It's fun to cut in into appropraite-sized squares, squidge it down into muffin tins , brush it with butter and bake until you have these cunning golden cases. I've made quichelettes in these things, poured in the creamed salmon, ratatouille and so on.

But Wonder and it's globby ilk? Fie, and I don't care it that makes me sounds elitist. I have eaten exactly one bite of one PBJ in my life, when I was about four. That lethal texture almost caulked up my throat. I think shredded Wonder could be substituted for clumping kitty litter.

I do agree about cheap hamburger buns, if they're toasted and pressed flat. A burger on too-substantial bread isn't fun to eat.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

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1912-2008

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It sounds like in most of the above cases for the use of white squishy bread that the bread is serving as a vehicle to deliver the goods. Be it hamburgers, hot dogs, left overs... the bread is serving as the delivery method more than providing taste.

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