Growing up in Central Texas there was really only one type of bread. “Light bread” as my dad called it probably hailed from the famous Pullman Loaf developed for the American passenger railway and evolved into the sandwich bread we know today.
Absolutely contrary to every European baking tradition, light bread was, well, “light” and airy, minimal to soft crust, and a cloud-like, slightly swirled interior. It was easy to eat with the only challenge being the “heals” – the one-sided crusty ends on the loaf.
This loaf is soft and the perfect platform for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bologna, cinnamon toast, and trim off the edges and you can make cucumber sandwiches for a formal tea service.
The American toaster was built specifically to accommodate the sandwich loaf. Today, toasters have much wider and deeper slots – a salute to the fact that light bread is no longer the most common bread sold in the supermarket.
And, although I like crusty European loafs that you can thump and hear a dull echo, cover with Irish butter, and eat with a soft cooked egg – I still have an incredible connection and appreciation for light bread.
Mrs. Baird’s Bakery
I remember when I first moved to Dallas for medical school you could drive in the mornings up Central Expressway along the site of the now George W. Bush Presidential Library and smell the aroma of freshly baked Mrs. Baird’s Sandwich Bread.
Alone in Dallas, the familiarity of Mrs. Baird’s brought me back home to my childhood, the Baird Ranch outside Iredell, summer sausage sandwiches with red onion and mayonnaise, and my dad using it to sop up the drippings from a broiled steak.
The Perfect Side for Chicken Fried Steak
But if there was one iconic use of light bread, it has to be as the accompaniment to chicken fried steak. Often called “Texas Toast” – this thick cut light bread is slathered in butter and toasted on the flat top. It is the most common bread served along side chicken fried steak in Texas small town cafes.
When toasted it forms the perfect gravy soaker and actually becomes a side on its own much like a Yorkshire pudding would be along side an English roast beef.
The most novel approach to this is at Jake & Dorothy’s Cafe in Stephenville, Texas where Kerry Roach still serves the toast flat on the plate, covered in gravy, with the steak on top. This is my favorite CFS in the world and my attempts to recreate it have not been able to hold their own, but I’ve included my modern version here.
6 round steak cutlets, double passed through the tenderizer at the market at 90 degrees
Chicken seasoning, to taste
3 TBS Batter Binder, see note
2 eggs, slightly scrambled
2 cups whole milk
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp 16-mesh black pepper
1/2 cup Ever Crisp, see note
Toast, cut into triangles
Allow the steaks to sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes.
Heath canola oil to 350 to 375 degrees either in a cast iron skillet or electric frying pan. The goal here is pan frying, not deep frying. The oil should at a depth only slightly thicker than the steaks.
Season with chicken seasoning lightly on both sides and then sprinkle on a very light coating of the Batter Binder.
Whisk the eggs and milk together in a shallow pan. Whisk the flour, black pepper, and Ever Crisp together in a separate shallow pan. Dredge the steaks one at a time in the milk and egg bath and then dredge in the flour. Be generous in working the flour into the steak, but then shake off any loose bits.
Gently place the steaks in the oil and fry them on one side until they are slightly brown and then flip them over. Continue cooking until this side is slightly brown and flip them over one more time to finish cooking. Be careful – it is easy to overcook them but make sure there are no light areas of flour.
When done, remove to a wire rack in a slightly warm oven. The Ever Crisp will allow you to cook all of them in batches if needed and they won’t get soggy or lose their crust.
Put two triangles of toast on the plate, cover with cream gravy, and place the steaks on top. I also serve them with ketchup.
Note: Both Batter Binder and Ever Crisp can be found online on Modernist Pantry.
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