My Goals

  • Full, complex garlic flavor

  • Crisp, golden-brown crust

  • Optimal crust-to-crumb ratio

Everyone takes shortcuts in the kitchen, including buying aluminum foil–wrapped garlic bread from the supermarket. And yet once that steamy, squishy, greasy loaf is revealed, regret is inevitable. But even when you take the time to make garlic bread from scratch (most recipes call for slathering a halved loaf with garlic butter and placing it in the oven), success is far from guaranteed. The bread rarely gets perfectly crisp, and most recipes miss the mark with the garlic itself—it’s either muted or too in-your-face. I wanted a toasty, golden-brown loaf with a pleasantly crisp crust and a moist interior. There would be a generous amount of butter, and the garlic flavor would be prominent but not harsh.

I decided to work with supermarket Italian bread. Its fine, plush crumb would hold on to butter, and its soft, thin crust could crisp without toughening.

As for the garlic, I knew that if I wanted full but not biting flavor, it wasn’t just a matter of how much to use but how to treat it. Since heat tames garlic’s harshness, I minced a tablespoon’s worth of cloves and microwaved them with a stick of butter (enough to provide ample richness without turning the loaf greasy) until the garlic lost some of its bite.

For a butter and garlic combination that was easily spreadable but not too thin, we combined the butter in two stages.

Evenly brushing the melted garlic butter onto a halved loaf proved to be challenging: The soft crumb was too good at soaking up the butter and pulled it in like a sponge, leaving some areas saturated and others barely moistened. I decided to melt half the butter with the garlic and then whisk it with the remaining solid butter to make a soft mixture that I could evenly spread—rather than brush—onto the bread.

After being baked with the cut sides facing up, the bread was spotty brown, but the larger garlic chunks jutting up from the surface had darkened and become bitter. I turned to a rasp-style grater to transform the cloves into a fine paste (no large pieces to potentially scorch) that blended smoothly into the butter.

The road to the perfect garlic bread was paved with lots of bread, lots of tests, and lots of note-taking.

Next, I wanted to add depth with the sweet, toasty flavor of roasted garlic. Roasting a head of garlic was out of the question, so I swapped in garlic powder. It’s made by grinding and drying garlic cloves, a process via which a mild roasted flavor develops. The freeze-dried powder contains the active enzyme alliinase, which, when mixed with water, produces allicin, the compound responsible for the characteristic garlic taste. One teaspoon provided just the right amount of roasty flavor.

We came up with a simple way to achieve deep, even browning on both sides of the bread.

But I didn’t stop there. After all, I was going for perfection. That would mean even browning from edge to edge—the kind you get in a grilled sandwich. Well, then why not cook the bread like a grilled sandwich? I slid another halved loaf into the oven, cut sides up, and once the butter had fully soaked in, I flipped the halves cut sides down. I pressed a second baking sheet on top of the bread, panini press–style, and returned the assembly to the oven. The top sheet held the bread flat against the bottom sheet, ensuring even browning and crisping. Sure enough, the bread emerged gorgeously, evenly bronzed. I had reached the pinnacle of garlic bread cookery.

Keys to Success

  • Full, complex garlic flavor

    We combine fresh garlic and garlic powder to create a balance of sweet, roasted garlic notes without having to actually roast garlic.
  • Crisp, golden-brown crust

    Baking fluffy supermarket Italian bread cut side up at a fairly high temperature and then flipping it and placing a second baking sheet on top helps evenly brown and crisp the cut side of the loaf.
  • Optimal crust-to-crumb ratio

    Pressing down gently on the baking sheet helps compress the crumb for a better balance of crust to interior.