Cheese on Toast: a comforting dish for St. David’s Day

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Hapus Dydd Gŵyl Dewi!

For those of you not familiar with the Welsh language, I’ve just wished you a Happy St. David’s Day.

St. David’s Day, March 1, celebrates Wales’ patron saint. The Cymry (Welsh people) often celebrate the day with dinners, parties, and music.

Which brings us to “baked cheese”: caws pobi, a.k.a. Welsh Rarebit, a.k.a. Welsh Rabbit.

Or, in plain descriptive terms, melted cheese on toast.

So, which is it – rarebit, or rabbit? After as much research on the subject as I cared to do, I conclude that each has its place in the culinary lexicon.

Welsh Rabbit was the first translation, “rarebit” appearing later – perhaps in response to the fact that Welsh Rabbit might be considered a slur.

Centuries ago the Welsh, trying to make a hardscrabble living in their rocky land, were often quite poor. Englishmen considered rabbit “poor man’s meat,” and poked fun at the Welsh for not even being able to afford rabbit – often substituting the more readily available baked cheese on toast for meat. Thus, Welsh Rabbit – cheese on toast.

And what about rarebit? Apparently it was a “nicer” name, concocted by those more sympathetic to the Welshman’s plight. So, while Welsh Rabbit is the true and original name for cheese on toast, Welsh Rarebit is perceived as a kinder, gentler title.

But enough history – let’s enjoy one of the ultimate examples of comfort food. If you celebrate St. David’s Day, enjoy. If you don’t, enjoy anyway; what’s not to like about cheese on toast?

First, the toast. One of my favorite toasting breads is English Muffin Toasting Bread, a no-knead classic.

First step – combine the following in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, or in a small saucepan:

1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

Heat to between 120°F and 130°F. 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.

Whisk the following in a mixing bowl:

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon instant yeast

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.

The dough is smooth, but not even close to forming a ball.

Notice its temperature; the dry ingredients have cooled the liquid, but the dough is still pretty warm. That’s fine; it’s going to rise quickly.

Lightly grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan, and sprinkle the bottom and sides with cornmeal, if desired, for that authentic English muffin experience.

Scoop the soft dough into the pan, smoothing and leveling it as much as possible.

Cover the dough, and let it rise until 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, say, 1/4″ 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.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Uncover the risen bread, and bake it for 22 to 27 minutes, until it’s golden brown and its interior temperature is 190°F.

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.

See that nice, craggy texture, perfect for trapping melting butter… or cheese?

Next up: cheese on toast.

Slice the loaf into 3/4″-thick slices. Your goal is toast that’s golden brown on the outside, but still a bit moist within.

You can toast all the bread beforehand and keep it warm in a 200°F oven while you make the melted cheese. Or just toast however many slices you want, right before serving.

Next, the cheese.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat.

Stir in the following:

3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 teaspoon prepared mustard, optional
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
a pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

Whisk in 1/2 cup beer or ale, stirring vigorously to avoid lumps.

Don’t like beer or ale? A dry white wine is good, too, adding a touch of fondue flavor. If you’re after something completely non-alcoholic, substitute 1/2 cup milk.

Place 3 to 5 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour into a bowl or measuring cup. Use the lesser amount for a thinner sauce; the greater amount for thicker. Gradually whisk 1 1/4 cups milk (skim, low-fat, full-fat, evaporated, half & half, or light cream, your choice) into the flour.

Why not just add all the flour to the melted butter up front, you ask? Because you’d need more than 3 tablespoons melted butter to absorb all that flour; this allows you to reduce the fat content a bit.

Add the milk to the saucepan, whisking continually to avoid lumps. Cook until very hot, but not simmering.

Gradually stir in 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, again stirring constantly until the cheese is melted. Reduce the heat to low, and stir the sauce occasionally as you ready the toast. This amount of melted cheese is enough for 6 servings.

At last! Here comes the best part:

Butter the toast, if desired. Place each piece on a plate, and pour on the cheese sauce.

Serve hot. A tiny sprinkle of paprika adds visual interest.

But wait – there’s more!

Did you ever hear of a Kentucky Hot Brown?

This over-the-top sandwich, created by Fred K. Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel in 1926, pairs toast and cheese and… well, let me just show you.

Put a slice of toast in an oven-safe dish. Cut a Roma tomato in half, and position one half on each side of the toast. Place some roast turkey (traditional) or cooked chicken (variation) atop the toast.

Pour cheese sauce into the dish. LOTS of cheese sauce. The original recipe called for 2+ cups of sauce for each serving. Made with heavy cream, no less.

Garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the sauce is bubbly and browned. Cross two strips of cooked bacon on top.

Eat. Swoon. Diet tomorrow.

Read, make, and review (please) our recipe for Cheese on Toast.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. marcin

    Wow. That is truly beautiful. The toast. The cheese. And, omygosh, the tomatoes and bacon. Wow. Methinks I will celebrate Saint David’s Day from here on!

    I’m with you, Marcin. Great day to celebrate, anyway, March 1 – winter’s on the way out, but it’s still cold enough for comfort food. PJH

    Reply
  2. Esther

    I confess… I’m English, not Welsh…. However! Here in the UK, Welsh rarebit is usually made so thick that it stays on the toast, and usually you put it under the grill again to get it all brown and bubbly. Like a Kentucky Hot Brown, but without the extras, and a paste like sauce!

    I know, Esther – I was reading my English cookbooks prior to writing the blog post, and saw that was the true way of making this. I chose an Americanized version here – all good, right? :) PJH

    Reply
  3. kjmarquis

    Oh my, you had me at the rarebit, then taking me to a Kentucky Hot Brown!! Oh dear….if I hadn’t just had some teeth pulled…well. This is going to be my very first official soft food!! The rarebit, then this weekend when I can chew I am so going for the Kentucky Hot Brown!! What could be yummier than English muffin toast with cheese sauce, chicken, tomatoes and BACON.. Waaa, (I’m singing with delight, can you hear it?). KAF I tell you this all the time YOU TOTALLY ROCK!! Love each and everything I make, very rarely a failure and if there is, it is always my fault!! Keep it up!!

    Well, sorry about your teeth, but glad we could give you something to look forward to as you recover. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  4. sally14

    The recipe for Kentucky Hot Brown is good but not great, it’s in the way is assembled (I live in Kentucky and have been around this delightful concoction for years). It should be assembled thusly, bread, turkey, cheese sauce ….but… then you place slice tomatoes on next, not on the side, sprinkle with parmesan (the parmesan on top of the tomatoes raises the taste to a new level), top with bacon and broil. The cheese sauce should be warm when you assemble so just needs to be browned, not warmed through (because you put A LOT of sauce on top) and also the already cooked bacon won’t get overdone.

    Thanks, Sally – always good to hear the real skinny directly from the source. I was following the Brown Hotel’s instructions, but your version sounds better! :) PJH

    Reply
  5. Susan

    This was the first dish I made in Home Ec (many) years ago. We had a tea and invited our mothers. I have a lovely memory of that day and how proud I was to serve this to my mom.

    Fast forward to only a few years ago, my son dearly loved KY Hot Browns and the first time I made them I remember thinking, why this is a fancy Welsh Rarebit.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane, we may one or the other for dinner!

    Hope you enjoyed one of these for dinner, Susan – comfort food, for sure! PJH

    Reply
  6. waikikirie

    Looks yummy!!! Funny, I was just thinking about the English toasting bread. Will add this to my vacation cooking list. ..(I can feel my hips spreading as I type…teehee) xoxox

    Exercise, exercise… the secret to enjoying that extra slice of toast! PJH

    Reply
  7. garnet

    OMGosh this is just what I need today-a big old plate of comfort and yum! Since I didn’t plan ahead I will pick up a nice loaf of fresh bread at the bakery. I have Vermont cheddar, some beautiful tomatoes, and bacon from my butcher so I am ready to go! Happy St. David’s Day!

    Happy (and tasty) St. David’s Day indeed! Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  8. peaceland

    This looks so delicious! Sounds so fancy this way. I’ve eaten the cheese sauce with dried beef added, all my life. You know all the “strange” things it’s called, I just call it a favorite! I think I’ll make some English Muffin bread and give my Mom a call to stir up her specialty!

    Reply
  9. dogmom04

    What great timing! I’ve started reading a new series based in Kentucky, by Abigail Keam, and her protagonist makes Kentucky Hot Browns in nearly each book in the series. Glad you pinned this recipe as I’ve never looked for it here, and I’ve been wanting to Google the “recipe”. My kind of comfort food– melted cheese and toast with anything else on it… :)
    I agree with you – comfort! Elisabeth

    Reply
  10. Ruth

    My mom added a can of tuna and it’s still my favorite comfort food. She didn’t drink so made a white sauce and added cheese…or not. Delicious either way. Her mom came from the island of Guernsey and taught her to make it.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      I love, love, love the tuna version too. I make a big batch and eat it myself over a couple of days. ~ MJ

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