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That Damned Elusive Club Sandwich

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Dear James MacGuire: Thank you for your generosity. For years now, I've tried to replicate the perfect, irresistible club sandwich, based on César Ritz's recipe, which Four Seasons hotels, from Toronto and Chicago to Milan, Lisbon and Paris have been serving for ages.

I know all about the ingredients (bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, lightly hard-boiled eggs, grilled herb-inflected chicken breast, mayonnaise) and the layering sequence but, despite numerous attempts, our home-made club sandwiches are invariably soggy. mushy and tend to fall apart. This prevents cutting them up in the small triangular sections (a fourth of a freshly baked, square-shaped wheat loaf) which are so essential to their enjoyment.

I'm Portuguese and have a vast variety of different breads to work with. Our "pão de forma" - a snow-white wheat loaf used for tea sandwiches and butter-soaked toast - comes in many shapes and compositions, allowing us to choose different combinations of rye, barley and wheat, as well as percentages of husks.

A perfect club sandwich is toasted on the outside but is soft for about 75% of its thickness and doesn't sog because of the mayo or the tomatoes. But, even though we dry out the tomato slices and lettuce, the results are always disappointing.

I'm sure it's a question of the bread's age. Too fresh (or wheaty) and it's too soft and absorbent. Too old (or chewy-wholewheat) and it's too ungiving and chewy.

Do you have any pointers on this matter? How should bread be aged according to the kind of sandwich desired? How should it be toasted? In the oven? Grilled? In an electric toaster?

I should add that we Portuguese always have a loaf or two standing by in a cotton bread bag, as many of our culinary preparations (like "açorda" or the slices of 3-day-old bread we put in our minty stews) depend on older bread. That's why it's so infuriating we aren't able to make a decent club sandwich!

Any help you (or other eGulleteers) could offer would be very gratefully received. Thank you!


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"They seek it here, they seek it there, those foodies seek it everywhere, is it in heaven or will we find it in hell, that damned elusive club sandwich"............

I must say that as a commis garde-manger at the Montreal Ritz Carlton (apparantly Escoffier was present at the opening...) c1971 there was no such angst, soul-searching......

Sandwiches are difficult, because truly artisanal breads can seem too dense and chewy when used for a sandwich full of other chewy things. That said, you might want to seek-out a pan bread ( American=pullman loaf) which has been fermented using a "sponge". All too often, pan breads are not given the respect they deserve. Instead, they are quickly fermented using a straight dough, all too often using excessive high speed mixing and oxydising dough " improvers".

The added acidity of a sponge ( or at least a longer straight dough fermentation) will give structure to the finished loaf, so that it won't be too mushy and yielding. 15% to 20% whole wheat flour will also add some structure, and improve the keeping qualities as well as the additional water that doughs with a bit of whole wheat will absorb ( part of the problem of bad bread is that if you try to "age" it somewhat so that it can be toasted, it is completely finished by the next day).

I am truly shooting from the hip with the following guidelines, but remember that they're only guidelines:


250 g Unbleached untreated white flour

5g fresh yeast

5g salt

150 ml water, approx.

----Knead, cover, and allow to ferment for 3-4 hours at room temperature, or 1 hour at room temperature and overnight in the fridge


600g white flour

150g stoneground whole wheat flour

15g fresh yeast

15g salt

1 whole egg

40g butter

20g sugar

200ml water

250ml milk

+ the sponge( from above)

-Try to calculate the ingredient temperatures so that the finished dough is approx 25 C. Knead well, remembering that the dough should be supple and elastic ( "Masas duras, masas seguras" has never been a good idea, especially here...) cover, and allow to ferment for 3 hours total, folding the dough gently over itself after the first 1 1/2 hours.

-Divide as necessary to accommodate the available molds. Butter the molds, shape the dough pieces into sausage shapes, put into molds, cover and ferment until ready for the oven ( approx 60-75 minutes)

- Bake at about 220 C until done. Bake well and remove from molds promptly to avoid softening and shrinkage.

-Wait for 24 hours before toasting

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