Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Modern problems - making toast on a conveyor toaster.

I travel a fair bit for my work and so often find myself in hotels.  This week I'm visiting Perth and am confronted with the upward pressure that the mining boom is putting on prices as tiny little three star hotels have prices normally associated with 4 star comfort.  This time, I've struck gold in terms of the price being commensurate with the amenities.  I've been reminded of some of the challenges of living on the road.

© divacultura 2013
I've written before about that particular dilemma of filling the kettle in the bathroom sink.  As you can see from this photograph, this is one of the challenges I am having.  I might end up taking the kettle into the shower with me to fill it!

This morning I was struck by another problem which is often encountered anywhere that bulk, self serve breakfast - otherwise known as the "buffet" - is being served.  It is another one of those modern problems that I'm sure you'll recognise - turning bread into toast in one of those conveyor belt toasters.

Yes, as I write this and remember to my experience this morning, I can see the nods of recognition around the world and hear the cries of "oh yes!" also signalling recognition.

The conveyor belt toaster seems like a good idea  You put your bread in one end, it travels between two elements designed to turn both the upper and lower sides of the bread into toast.

Now, perhaps I should take nothing for granted, check my assumptions, and make sure we all have a shared understanding of the word which is central to this discussion: "toast".  By toast I mean bread that has been browned on both sides and in the process of browning has become warm/hot.  When eaten, toast is crisp/crunchy.  When spreading butter on toast, the butter should melt and you should hear the sound of the knife scraping on the crispy toast.

So, if my definition of toast is accepted as universal, then what is the expectation we share when bread is put into a toaster?  Well I don't know about you, but I expect that the bread will be turned into toast, in accordance with the above definition.

That's not controversial or contentious is it?

So I approach the bread this morning at the buffet and take a look at the toaster.  It's a conveyor toaster.  I sigh.  I place the bread at the start and send it on its journey through the elements.  Out the other end comes....no, not toast, but warm bread.  The colour is exactly the same as what went in, that is, bread colour - it has not been browned; the temperature is warm but there is no crunch or crispness.  This is not toast.  It is merely bread which has been heated.

A grey-haired woman tells me urgently to "put it through again - it needs to go through again!" No kidding!  It's not toast yet.  But I am wary.  I do want toast, but I know what happens now, I put it through again and I get two squares of charcoal and the fire brigade standing by and comments from the grey-haired woman like "ooh, you can't eat that - it'll give you cancer! Charcoal is carcinogenic you know!"

I put the warm bread through again and I get charcoal.

I speak to the waiter.  He looks at me as thought I'm speaking Martian.  He then shrugs and says the magic words which I knew he would say: "It's set for raisin toast."  So just checking in here, raisin bread will achieve a state of toast at a lower temperature and in a shorter time than white or grain bread due to its sugar content.  If the conveyor toaster doesn't take account of this, raisin bread will turn to charcoal and the fire brigade will be called every time raisin bread is put in the toaster.

A dilemma?  Well I don't see the problem.  It seems to me that the hotel simply needs to be honest about what the objective of the toaster really is instead of continuing to pretend that the toaster exists for the purpose of turning bread into toast.  Clearly the objective of having a toaster is to make charcoal.  If we examine the process of creating charcoal, the various materials available and the efficiency in the process, the dilemma of what settings to use on the toaster is resolved!  Forget about the raisin bread and set the toaster to optimise creating toast for white and grain bread.  Doing this means charcoal is created on one trip through the toaster instead of two.  It's much more efficient.  Charcoal production is up.  Everyone wins!

If I want my toast to be black rather than brown, I'll slather on the Vegemite.

I hope you find this post useful.  Having clear definitions of things can avoid so many problems.  For example, I never would have faced the great Portuguese accommodation scandal as to whether a mini toast (that I would normally eat pate on) could be classed as "toast" for the purposes of charging for bed and breakfast.

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