Bread is my favorite food and garlic isn’t far behind it—marry them into garlic bread and it’s my idea of nirvana. The essential link between garlic and bread is garlic butter. I used to make it with a heavy hand, pounding raw garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle. The result was powerfully delicious but also overpowering to everything else on the menu. I’ve made a lot of garlic bread since then and have found that if I simply sauté the garlic first, I can get the fresh garlic flavor and aroma I crave—and still taste the rest of the meal.
I always make the same garlic butter, but by deciding whether to reheat a whole loaf of bread or broil slices, and by choosing a thin-crusted Italian loaf or a thick-crusted peasant bread, I can get two distinctly different results.
Method 1: Reheat a loaf in a wet paper bag
A quick spray moistens the bag.
Heat the oven to 400ºF. Make diagonal slices in a 1-pound loaf of bread at 3/4-inch intervals, stopping short of the bottom crust. Slather some of the garlic butter into each cut.
Slip the loaf back into the paper bag it came in (or use a torn paper grocery bag; avoid those with printing or plastic on them). Wet the entire bag with a spray bottle or a very fast pass under the faucet.
Pop the package into the oven until it smells of popcorn and the crust is crisp, 10 to 15 minutes.
Make a potent—not pungent—garlic butter
Garlic butter should be filled with fresh garlic flavor, not big chunks of garlic. I can avoid these chunks by mincing the garlic very finely with a chef’s knife (this works best if I add the salt to the garlic as I mince) or better yet, I’ll make the garlic into a paste with a garlic press, a Microplane grater, or a mortar and pestle.
I also sauté the garlic in a little olive oil to soften its flavor. This only takes a minute or two, and I watch it closely to make sure the garlic doesn’t start to brown and turn bitter. After sautéing, I pour the garlic and hot oil over cold diced butter; there’s just enough heat to soften the butter to a spreadable consistency when I mash it together.
Another way to moderate the pungency of the garlic is to introduce other flavors. The sauté is a good time to add spices (I almost always include black pepper) or dried herbs so that their flavors can meld with the garlic as it cooks. Other additions, like fresh parsley, are better left uncooked; you should wait to mix them into the butter at the end.