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Some thoughts on restaurant bread rituals


Fat Guy
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Whether you think it's better is a matter of taste, but as a physiological matter cold is known to suppress taste. Cold temperatures are flavor and aroma concealers. Something that's meant to be enjoyed cold needs to be made, for example, with more sugar than the same item meant to be enjoyed at room temperature, in order to be perceived as similarly sweet. Likewise, there are various off flavors and aromas you don't have to worry about at cold temperatures, but that become apparent as things get warmer. In wine tasting, for example, when tasting a white wine critically, you want to taste it at a temperature in the mid-60s (F), in order to reveal all its flavors, whereas you might serve that same wine at 53 (F) in order to bring the sweetness and acidity back into balance. In other words, in that instance, the higher temperature brings out more flavors and tastes -- I believe that's a factual statement. Whether it does so desirably is more a matter of opinion -- indeed in the case of wine the lower temperature is preferable but not because it has more flavor; rather, because it has less.

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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Okay I'm just back from the refrigerator. Here's what I did just to get a quick read on the issue. I took three equal sized slices off a block of KerryGold Irish butter and put them on three small plates. One plate I left out on the counter for 10 minutes. One plate I left in the refrigerator for 5 minutes, then on the counter for 5 minutes. The last plate I left in the refrigerator for the whole 10 minutes, then took it out immediately prior to tasting.

Just based on this limited experiment, which wasn't very scientific at all, I thought the warmer the butter was the better it tasted. The fully refrigerated butter was like cold fat with little flavor. The one in the middle tasted more like butter, but was mostly one dimensionally fatty. The one that was almost up to room temperature by the time I tasted it had the most pronounced sweet, dairy flavors.

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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Hey FG,

I know you like Tabla's Bread Bar. How do you feel about bread service there?

Downstairs in the Bread Bar, you have to order your bread, which makes sense because that is the central focus of the place. It comes with ghee brushed on it already. The Sourdough Naan comes with a sprinkle of fleur de sel. The bread goes out before the rest of the meal, along with any chutneys ordered, unless specifically requested to accompany the main dishes.

Your gratis starch is a bowl of spiced popcorn at dinner, which I believe is not automatic at lunch but will be given on request.

Upstairs at Tabla, you get some pappadums and two dipping sauces upon seating. You then get bread for the table upon ordering. The amount and variety depends on the number in your party. I don't know whether this bread is replenished throughout the meal automatically or on request. I think it depends on whether you have orderd the 3-course or one of the tasting menus, in which case you will get bread midway through.

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We just got back from a vacation, part of which was spent in south-western France. We ate in one Michelin two-star and one three-star, and between the two of them they would have made FatGuy pretty happy. The three-star (Guerard) offered only two breads, both freshly baked in-house in long loaves which looked rather like strudels when they were presented, warm, to diners on black steel baking sheets: one plain, one with a few olives in it, both spectacular, with thin, very crisp crusts and just the right amount of salt. The two-star (Thierry Marx) is obviously gunning for a third star and therefore offers all manner of dining-room circus acts including, get this, a butter trolley. There were four butters, wheeled over on a cart: sweet, salted, sheep's milk (excellent) and a very soft "beurre a la creme" which was like a light whipped cream-butter mixture with salt, pepper and herbs - not really sure what it was. Each one was set on a square of slightly dampened muslin with the corners folded up over it. The waiter gracefully flipped the corners of the muslin back with his table knives and served the butter like cheese: with two table knives (apart from the soft creamy mixture, which was spooned). Very elegant. And the butters were all delicious.

Edited by emsny (log)
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I hate room temperature butter. It should be cold, and above all should be sliced and deposited on the broken off section of bread rather than spread. Though in general the traditional french way, no butter at all, is better. Warm bread is even worse-camouflage for poor quality and indigestible with it.

Edited by muichoi (log)
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Slightly warm, as opposed to hot, bread is in fact very good and not at all stomach-clogging. As to cold, hard butter sitting unspread on a morsel of bread, it certainly has charms of its own that, for me, evoke childhood memories involving rye bread. For those lacking such memories, warmer butter (though cool enough not to be greasy) is probably more appealing and is certainly more flavorful.

Does anyone know, incidentally, WHY hot bread can cause belly-ache (clearly it is not literally indigestible)?

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"Technically raw"? Surely not.

In some cases yes, or at least not fully baked. Bread retains a fair amount of heat and continues to bake after it is removed from the oven. Depending on the type of bread and size of loaf, it may not be ready to eat for 20-60 minutes.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

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Yes, I can buy the more nuanced term "not fully baked", at least for the center of the loaf, but at that temperature the flour has surely been cooked, no? So - why does it give you a belly ache? I googled around a bit last night, and found nothing useful. Mostly quotations from classical writers such as Galen and from nineteenth and early twentieth century household-management writers.

Moderator: I wonder whether this thread ought at this point to be broken off and placed in the baking forum.

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Most restaurant bread that's served warm is warmed in a bread warmer. It has been baked and properly cooled -- either on premises or by a vendor -- then warmed for service. This standard procedure (there are some exceptions, but this is the way it's usually done) does not present any of the gastrointestinal issues that undercooked bread presents.

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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They do that at Alinea as well. Not with every course, but at various points throughout the meal you'll be given specific bread products to complement specific courses.

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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Unless the bread were integrated into the dish, I think I'd find "bread pairings" annoying, though not having experienced them I can't say for sure. But then I'm the one at the table who almost always opts for plain bread when offered a choice.

On why freshly baked hot bread gives you a pain in the belly, I'm going to post the question on the baking forum.

Edited by emsny (log)
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