I don’t use TikTok. Maybe that’s bad, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Still, there are occasions when a TikTok cooking wave is so powerful that it still makes its way to me via friends and colleagues—that’s when I know a product or recipe is really worth investigating. Such was the case with a toaster from Japanese tech company Balmuda, which has apparently been breaking the internet. The idea of a bunch of Gen Z teenagers obsessing over toast is… actually comforting to me, somehow. As a bread enthusiast, it’s exciting to consider that maybe toast, of all things, is what can bridge the generations and bring peace to our broken nation. We’ll see what happens.
On a general note, a great toaster is hard to find, even though, ironically, most people own one at home. Banks used to give them out to clients opening new accounts; people love gifting them at weddings, not to mention the fact that you can get one on Amazon for around $20. Despite their ubiquity in American kitchens across generations, I’m going to have to say what my Toast Army™ already knows: Most toasters are fucking horrible. I like a good, browned, crunchy toast—not charred and not floppy, but existing at the intersection of perfectly firm and pliable. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but most toasters seem to want me to go through nearly two full toast cycles to get there—”there” being dry, overdone remains of what was once bread—leaving me staring into the abyssal toast bay until the toast simply “looks fine.” I’ve found this to be true everywhere from cheap, shoddy toasters to state-of-the-art smart ovens. We deserve better, and we all know it.
Blessedly, I got my hands on one of these internet-famous Japanese toasters, and I can now provide an honest (and enthusiastic) review of this magical toaster.
What makes the Balmuda different from the POS currently in my kitchen?
The main thing that distinguishes the Balmuda is that it uses steam technology—you literally pour a thimble of water into a slot in the toaster before turning it on—to hydrate the bread in order to allow the exterior to get crispy while preventing the middle from drying out. As for the actual toasting, precise temperature regulation takes the bread through a controlled journey from low-heat steam toasting to mid-temp goldening to higher temp browning, all within three or four minutes. Nota bene, Nobel prize committee: This seems like important and unique technology that could revolutionize toasters everywhere.
The Balmuda is amazing because it’s squarely a toaster for people who love toast. It’s not your classic toaster oven that’s equally amenable to everything from Pop Tarts and Toaster Strudels, to non-uniformly-cut bagels and bootleg sideways quesadillas. No, the Balmuda is, first and foremost, for toasting baked goods—whether that’s slices of bread or classic pastries. To this end, the people behind this appliance have whittled toast down to a science.
The Balmuda has five settings: sandwich bread mode, artisan bread mode, pizza mode, pastry mode, and oven mode. These are pretty self-explanatory, but sandwich bread mode—which would be my nickname if food writing were a professional sport—is meant for thinner breads and muffins, which artisan bread mode uses slightly higher temps to penetrate denser, more grain-forward breads. Oven mode can get up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning you can also cook small dishes and bake cookies.
Does it actually make better toast? Is it worth the hype?
Yes, this thing is amazing. The first time I used it, I was toasting a slice of a fantastic seeded batard I got at my favorite local bakery, and the result was my ideal piece of toast: crunchy on the edges, with a little give towards the center and some spring in the crumb. It was pretty mind-blowing. I had to make another slice just to confirm the result was real. You know, for science.
From what I heard about the Balmuda, a lot of the hoopla was coming from how it handled shokupan, i.e. Japanese milk bread, a fluffy, high-rising loaf usually made using whole milk and milk powder. (I’ve never made it, but this recipe from King Arthur likely slaps if you want to investigate further.) Milk bread isn’t too common in the U.S., but Asian bakeries often have it, as do other international stores. I tracked down a loaf, calling the bakery to make sure I could get it unsliced; then, I picked it up and toasted a big, honkin’ piece. The soft, pillowy bread became delicately toasted on its borders, and the outer layer of the crumb browned, but it remained airy within. It was magical. Behold the velvety beauty below.
Another test I did was with pizza (coincidentally from the fabulous nighttime restaurant in the same bakery where I got the seeded batard). I’m a pizza-in-the-toaster skeptic, for numerous reasons. All pizza is different, and requires different heating techniques; my preferred method for New York or Neapolitan-ish pizza is to heat in a wok or on a skillet with a little bit of oil, and then cover it at the last minute, to steam the cheese. I have done this many times, and it’s as close as I’ve gotten to eating the pizza fresh in a restaurant. The pizza setting on the Balmuda heats at a pretty high temp, meaning that the crust and cheese should get pretty toasty (hehe), pretty quickly. In the end, I was very happy with the results: a crispy-bottomed slice with gooey cheese and chewy, funky crust. It was an excellent day-later version of what I'd had the previous night in the restaurant. It was perhaps not as precision-perfect as the wok/skillet method, but it was definitely crispier and more moist than baking it in my regular oven.
TL;DR: The Balmuda is a masterpiece of toaster technology. Unlike other toasters and smart ovens, it sets its sights on doing one thing and doing it perfectly; it even has an oven setting if you need it, elevating this machine from a niche appliance to an essential kitchen tool (that is, if you love toast). Without naming names, the Balmuda makes significantly better toast than the very expensive smart oven I have, and at a fraction of the price.
Metallica was obviously talking about the horrors of overdone toast and our eternal quest for the perfect toaster in “Blackened,” where James Hetfield sang, “Darkening in vain, decadence remains/ All is said and done, never is the sun/ Never.” After years of longing, I hope they one day may know the perfectly chewy, caramelized toast from the Balmuda.
Pick up the Balmuda toaster on Amazon.
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