A fragrant loaf of garlic bread is the best way I know to please a crowd. While it bakes it perfumes the neighborhood, broadcasting such deeply nostalgic signals that it can send the staidest grownup straight back to childhood.
It is both easier and harder to make a great loaf of garlic bread than it once was. Easier because these days you can readily find a great loaf of bread to begin with, and harder because the influx of cheap, imported garlic has made finding good garlic increasingly difficult. Look for garlic that looks young and fresh, and squeeze it to make sure it isn’t shrinking inside its skin. You don’t want old garlic because when it starts to sprout it gets nasty and very bitter, and ruins everything it comes in contact with. You know the terrible taste I’m talking about. If you can’t get your hands on good garlic, the only remedy is to go through your garlic, clove by clove, removing the bitter green sprout in the center. It’s painstaking work, but it’s worth it.
There are four other tricks to making great garlic bread.
1. Use a lot of garlic, but cut it fine and really cook it for a while so it’s not raw and biting.
2. Melt the butter–don’t just soften it—and brush it liberally across the bread. When you think you’ve used enough, use more.
3. Bake it twice: Once to get the bread warm and completely infused with the garlic butter. And again, at a higher temperature, to toast it to crisp, golden crunchiness.
4. Garlic bread should taste most of garlic and butter, but I love the complex flavors and spring-like look you get by adding lemon zest, parsley, or chives. But my favorite addition is a quarter cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese, added just before it goes under the broiler, which makes this truly, decadently, delicious.
Better Garlic Bread
1 loaf sturdy French or Italian bread
1 stick sweet butter
1 head garlic
Salt, to taste
Zest from 1 lemon (optional)
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or chives (optional)
Cut bread and preheat oven: Begin by cutting the bread in half, lengthwise (a serrated knife helps). Preheat oven to 350⁰ F.
Prep garlic butter: Peel and very finely mince the garlic. (For an easy way to peel garlic, drop the cloves into a pan of boiling water for 10 seconds, which will loosen the skins.) Melt a stick of sweet butter, and add the garlic.
Slather bread: Slather the garlic butter onto the bread, cut side up, with a brush. Let it soak in. Use it all, and evenly spread the bits of garlic all over. Now is the time to salt it if you want to, and to sprinkle on the zest.
Bake: Bake the loaf, cut sides up, 15 minutes. Take the bread out now and do the final step just before serving. Turn the heat up to broil. Add cheese, if using. Broil for about 2 minutes, watching carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. Sprinkle with herbs just as it comes out of the broiler and serve immediately.