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Crust-o-phobic nation


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So much of the pleasure of bread, for me, is the crust. Given the choice between bread without crust and crust without bread, I think it's no contest: crust rules. Yet, especially in America (well, especially in Asia, but I'm only going to speak for my home country), it's so hard to find crust cooked to a sufficient level of doneness to bring out its true inner excellence.

I'm not just talking about Wonder. I mean real bakery bread, pizza from the best pizzerias, bagels from the best bagel shops. The overwhelming majority of these places underbake their crusts.

You can find me digging through the bagel bin for the one or two bagels that are dark enough for the crust to develop extra flavor and chewier texture -- the ones that everybody else seems to avoid. You can find me asking for my pizza well-done even at the very best places, because on the whole even they underbake. You can find me at the local bakery shop saying "No, no, that one, the dark one on the left, one more over, no go back, yeah, that one."

What's the problem here? Is it an American cultural preference for underbaked, characterless crust? Is it that the bakers want to shave a couple of minutes off their baking times, for some sort of economic reason? Or am I just wrong -- is dark crust actually bad and I'm a freak for liking it?

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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I seem to recall that there's some kind of chemical in dark crusts that isn't found in light ones. Maybe you crave that?

Or maybe most people avoid the crust because they were trained that way by their mothers insisting that they eat the crust. The heel of the bread was the piece always left in the bag on storebought bread, but for homemade bread it's the best part.

I like crust, even though it produces a lot more crumbs than the other pieces.

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Gotta have the crust. The toasty cut your gums, sound like a drum crust.

Its a shame that I its is so hard to find, but a treasure when you do.

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Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

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I put my money on people being trained not to like crust because of that horrible storebought pre-sliced bread crust. Plus, maybe economics for the producers, but I don't know if it actually benefits them significantly or not.

Also, my mom would make a point of buying bakery breads with a little lighter crust, because she would want to heat it in the oven but not worry about burning it... maybe that's part of it for some bakeries? It's like buying produce at differing degrees of readiness depending on when you plan on using it, right? :raz:

Fortunately for me, I can get good crusty bakery bread near me. Plus, it's not behind a counter, so I can make sure to get the ones that have the best crusts (sometimes, on the border of being burnt! Yum! :wub: )

Edited by feedmec00kies (log)

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

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I know how you feel, but I didn't really appreciate it until I started baking my own bread. The first time I pulled a really successful loaf out of the oven, the crust was a revelation - crisp, a gorgeous deep reddish brown color, smelling almost like roasted peanut butter and crackling like a firecracker as it cooled.

I think there are a few reasons why crust-love is not more widespread. A big one is probably how few people buy really fresh bread from bakeries (let alone bake their own). Bread whose primary purpose is to be a long-lasting, soft background is baked differently than when the purpose is to caramelize/roast the proteins in the crust, but if you're used to the one, the other probably seems burnt rather than delicious. Also, if you're inclined to think that the purpose of bread is to neutrally convey other ingredients, bread with assertive flavors and textures would be the opposite of what you want. My BF, for example, finds the crust on my homemade sourdough inappropriate for making sandwiches.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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Yea, crust rules. I'm not sure it has to be baked especially dark to provide a great crust experience (the baguette being a good example -- it is designed to be almost entirely crust), but for most loaves a nice dark crust is requisite.

Some people don't like it, though... Not so much because of the flavor, but because they don't like the chewiness and, sometimes, because the crust hurts their teeth when the bread is cut into slices (this is my wife's constant complaint about the Sullivan Street Bakery pane pugliese that is ubiquitous in NYC restaurants). Personally, I don't mind cutting the roof of my mouth a little to get an awesome crust.

--

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Every kid knows eating the crust puts hair on your chest.

Worked for me. :wink::laugh:

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I love the crust. It is perhaps the reason I bake my own bread (that and the fact that I know exactly what went in it). I'm not sure I have a preference for extremely brown crust over a lighter one. As long as it is crispy chewy and the bread is fully cooked then I'm down with it.

Pizza crust... yeah, I like it crispy chewy. Good pizza crust requires no frilly toppings. When I have pizza brought in, I generally have to cook it some more to get it to my liking, which drives everyone mad because they just want to get on with the eating of it. I like it almost to the edge of overdone. Almost.

Edited by Jane Die (log)
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Every kid knows eating the crust puts hair on your chest.

Worked for me. :wink:  :laugh:

Hey - wait a minute. I was promised curly hair and I ate crusts every single opportunity. My hair hangs lank and straight - won't even take a perm! :sad: Mind you, I didn't get hair on my chest either which is surely a bonus. :raz:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

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Every kid knows eating the crust puts hair on your chest.

Worked for me. :wink:  :laugh:

Hey - wait a minute. I was promised curly hair and I ate crusts every single opportunity. My hair hangs lank and straight - won't even take a perm! :sad: Mind you, I didn't get hair on my chest either which is surely a bonus. :raz:

So was I. And I have more curls than I ever wanted or needed, and I hated and avoided crusts when I was a kid. (I still hate curly hair). I do not like the end crust pieces from Wonderbread or other sandwhich loaf bread, but I'll fight anyone for the heel of a freshly baked loaf or baquette.

I also prefer my pizza crust well done and my bagels too.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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The assumption here is that Americans generally prefer their crusts less crusty or well done. Evidence offered is a preponderance of light crusted commercial breads and pizze. While I am not disputing that the vast majority of these crusts are indeed underdone, I am questioning the assumption that it is because Americans want or prefer them that way. I suspect the true reason is because most Americans don't really care and accept what they are given and what is easiest. Most crusts are underdone, I posit because it is cheaper to produce them that way since it requires less oversight, care and manipulation to do so. A well done crust comes close to being an overdone or burnt crust, which means waste and increased costs.

Me, of course I prefer a more well done crust and don't mind spending more for one that is perfectly done.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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Most Americans just never grow up.

I had a unique culinary childhood compared with that of my peers in suburban St. Louis. Among his many eccentricities, my dad was a stickler for going to a local bakery & buying actual loaves of good crusty rye bread; he always insisted on having some in the house regardless of what else might be around. Of course, as a kid I hated those breads, particularly the crusts, & wanted nothing but soft squishy Wonder.

Somewhere in my teen years my tastes changed. I grew to prefer the ryes & country whites & the like. I developed an appreciation of French bread. The crust became as important as the inside of the loaf.

Thinking back, I can't put my finger on how or why I grew fond of the crust. I can't remember an "aha!" moment like I can for my first taste of calamari or my first real Indian food. I'm not even sure whether it correlated with puberty or the end of orthodonture work, or followed its own course. Maybe you just eventually grow tired of Wonder Bread if you're consistently exposed to an alternative.

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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In honor of your thread I may have to switch back to what had been my original signature on eG:

Overheard at Zabars, where they were selling the delicious Russian Coffee Cake by the Cheese Counter:

A lady waiting for Russian Coffee Cake heard one customer order a piece "from the middle", and another customer order a piece "from the end", and when it was her turn, she said to the counterman "I want a piece of the coffee cake, but I hear some people wanting the middle and some wanting the end, and now I'm having a nervous breakdown - which is better?"

The elderly counterman replied, dryly, "Lady, if you like crust, take from de end. If you don't like crust, take from de middle."

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Maybe this is not the thread to post this in, but as I pine for really crusty bread I tried baking it myself. Bought the baker's stone, put a pan of water in the oven, sprayed the top before baking, etc., etc., but never could get the french type of baguette crust with soft center. What am I failing to do?

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I think you are all being a little too hasty in lambasting Americans for their childish aversion to well-cooked bread and its crust.

Every day in France, untold numbers of people walk into boulangeries and ask for their baguette "pas trop cuite" - "not too dark." One hears this a lot, and on days the boulanger has overcooked the whole fournée, there is always a lot of bread left that would usually be sold.

Of course, there are one or two older ladies or gentlemen who ask for their bread "bien cuit," but the trend is generally the reverse. In my old neighborhood, the boulanger once came out while I was waiting in line; he was maybe 27, and his wife was the one who sold the bread behind the counter. As someone asked for a baguette "pas trop cuite" he launched into a partially joking rant about how these days it wasn't even an issue, that he didn't even cook his bread as long as he would prefer to, because no one bought it when he did.

I think in a sense, lighter bread still has a holdover in the public memory as being more "refined" - epitomized by the city, Parisian baguette, light-crumbed with a honey-colored crust, as opposed to a dark country boule or pain au levain - what used to be called "pain bis" (i.e. grey bread) and which was seen as something for the working classes.

Edited by sharonb (log)
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So much of the pleasure of bread, for me, is the crust. Given the choice between bread without crust and crust without bread, I think it's no contest: crust rules. Yet, especially in America (well, especially in Asia, but I'm only going to speak for my home country), it's so hard to find crust cooked to a sufficient level of doneness to bring out its true inner excellence.

I'm not just talking about Wonder. I mean real bakery bread, pizza from the best pizzerias, bagels from the best bagel shops. The overwhelming majority of these places underbake their crusts.

You can find me digging through the bagel bin for the one or two bagels that are dark enough for the crust to develop extra flavor and chewier texture -- the ones that everybody else seems to avoid. You can find me asking for my pizza well-done even at the very best places, because on the whole even they underbake. You can find me at the local bakery shop saying "No, no, that one, the dark one on the left, one more over, no go back, yeah, that one."

What's the problem here? Is it an American cultural preference for underbaked, characterless crust? Is it that the bakers want to shave a couple of minutes off their baking times, for some sort of economic reason? Or am I just wrong -- is dark crust actually bad and I'm a freak for liking it?

Meh, I've never been a huge fan of a crust that's so hard and sharp it cuts open the roof of your mouth when you eat it... I've always preferred a softer crust, and nice soft, squishy bread. For me the character of a bread comes from the ferment, and the grains and flours used... I'm not a huge fan of bread made with white wheat flour...

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When I was young I did not like the crust on store bought "bagged" bread but I had not problem with the crust on the Italian bread used for subs. I think it's the texture, not the flavor.

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When I was young I did not like the crust on store bought "bagged" bread but I had not problem with the crust on the Italian bread used for subs.  I think it's the texture, not the flavor.

Same here. I was told it would make my hair curly. Still didn't eat it. I always loved French Bread when I was a kid and ate that crust. This was before they started putting it into plastic bags so it could get nice and soggy.

My ex like soft crust and half toasted bread. One more reason for being an ex.

Edited by BarbaraY (log)
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I think you are getting a preponderance of crustophiles here because you're in a place that savours good food in general. I wonder what you'd get if you posted this on some board that has a more general population.

Count me in, I pull out the middle too, and slather butter on thickly. Unsalted, and just warm enough to spread, if the bread is warm, or cold, if the bread is room temp. The best, fattiest, freshest I can get. I like Vermont Dairy. Sea salt sprinkled very gently is nice.

And just so you know, my cholesterol counts are as good as they can get. :biggrin: And don't get me wrong, just like Hillary Clinton, I want both. Butter is my fat of choice but I can certainly get behind a good olive oil.

My kid used to go the a school about two blocks from Vace in Bethesda (MD) and I'd take their pizza crusts home with my and roll them up into a baguette shape, it is yummy with red sauces. It would start rising in the bag and by the time I got home, if I let it rest while the oven was warming, it was perfect. I miss that.

Since we moved the the wild and woolie hills, I've had a lot of fun making all kinds of new, crustyums. :laugh:

“Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!”
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