Q: Where can one buy English toasting bread in the Chicago area? I bought a loaf earlier this year at a store in the Crest Hill area. But since then have been unable to find it in a store. Worse yet I can't remember the name of the store at which I bought the English toasting bread or the brand name.
—Howard R. Hansen, Crest Hill, Ill.
A: I don't know where you can find English toasting bread in the Chicago area. I called Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods, at 1405 W. Irving Park Road in Chicago, and they don't carry it. Maybe someone reading this can help. Email me, dear readers, if you know of a store carrying English toasting bread and I'll forward the information.
To his credit, Mr. Hansen did his homework before writing me. He did an online search for "English toasting bread" and found many mentions to a toasting bread made from the same dough used for English muffins.
"The bread I bought did not have the coarse texture or the open spaces like English muffins,'' he wrote in a subsequent e-mail. "When one is looking for a sandwich bread that doesn't compress between your fingers like standard white bread and doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the ingredients than English toasting bread is a good choice."
Mr. Hansen thought Brownberry's Butter Split Top bread was similar in texture to the English toasting bread he is looking for.
Ajit Patel, a staffer at Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods, was unaware of any substitutes. He described English toasting bread as a bread that toasts up crisp on the surface while the texture remains soft underneath.
My advice is to keep looking, both at your local stores and online, for that elusive loaf.
You might also want to try baking your own. This recipe for "English Muffin Toasting Bread" comes from the King Arthur Flour Co. Web site (kingarthurflour.com). It is based on an old recipe by James Beard.
P.J. Hamel, a web producer for community and education who writes and edits the baking blog for the Norwich, Vt.-based flour company, says the recipe has more to do with English muffins than English toasting bread but she described the loaf as making the "best toast ever."
"Its craggy holes capture melting butter, while its texture offers a toasted slice with soft interior, and crisp-crunchy exterior," she wrote on the blog.
Hamel told me this loaf is so easy to make that it is "everyone's first bread recipe and has been around at least since the 1970s."
Give it a try, Mr. Hansen. Even if it's not exactly the same, nothing beats a freshly-baked homemade loaf of bread — toasted or not. (Just to be safe, Hamel sent me a link to a King Arthur recipe for a classic white sandwich loaf. "It's not squishy," she said. Try this one, too: http://bit.ly/aPJFNk
English muffin toasting bread
Yield: 1 loaf
A recipe from King Arthur Flour Co.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
cornmeal, to sprinkle in pan
1. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and instant yeast in a large mixing bowl.
2. Combine the milk, water, and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat to between 120 to 130 degrees. Be sure to stir the liquid well before measuring its temperature; you want an accurate reading. If you don't have a thermometer, the liquid will feel quite hot (hotter than lukewarm), but not so hot that it would be uncomfortable as bath water.
3. Pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Beat at high speed for 1 minute. The dough will be very soft.
4. Lightly grease an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan; sprinkle the bottom and sides with cornmeal. Scoop the soft dough into the pan, leveling it in the pan as much as possible.
5. Cover the pan, and let the dough rise till it's just barely crowned over the rim of the pan. When you look at the rim of the pan from eye level, you should see the dough, but it shouldn't be more than 1/4-inch over the rim. This will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour, if you heated the liquid to the correct temperature and your kitchen isn't very cold.
6. Remove the cover, and bake the bread in a 400-degree oven for 22 to 27 minutes, till it's golden brown and its interior temperature is 190 degrees. Remove the bread from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Let the bread cool completely before slicing.
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