Toast is the bedrock of breakfasts across the world, from jam and butter spread on bread, to avocado tartines, to lush, eggy French toasts. But the Japanese—culinary alchemists in turning the simplest foods into creations of grandeur (think lava-like omurice and raindrop cakes)—have a version that takes the humble treat to lavish heights, in a dish called Shibuya toast.
Shibuya toast (sometimes called honey or brick toast), is essentially a slab of white bread or pain de mie hollowed out in the middle—imagine an emptied-out half-loaf of Wonder Bread—drenched in butter and honey, then roasted in the oven until crispy and caramelized. Hot off the oven, the center is hollowed out, primed for filling with a bouquet of sweet treats. From macerated strawberries to whipped cream clouds, spheres of ice cream to cubes of fried bread, cheddar cheese shavings to Ferrero Rocher shards and Pocky sticks, everything and anything can go in a brick toast. A drizzle of honey, condensed milk, or melted chocolate gilds the lily, resulting in a luxuriant cardiac arrest of a bread bowl that belongs in the same realm of waffles and pancakes—dessert masquerading as breakfast.
Though the origin of Shibuya toast remains unclear, most sources credit restaurant-cafes and bars in the Shibuya district in Tokyo to be the vanguards of the dish in the early 2000s, hence its name. With plates piled high with ornately garnished bread loaves, these establishments attracted late-night karaoke-rs and weekend brunchers in equal measure. But the dish can be found beyond just Japan.
Across Asia, cafes like After You in Thailand and Taiwan’s Dazzling Cafe have made a name for themselves selling crispy-on-the-outside, pillowy-on-the-inside honey toasts, appealing to Japanophiles across the continent. Even beyond Asia, the dessert has honeyed up to restaurants and ice cream parlors across the world, from N.Y.C.’s Morgenstern’s brûléed version topped with two globes of raw milk ice cream, to Toronto’s Petit Potato with their monstrously messy honey toast towers, sure to collapse at first spoonful (but perhaps that is the point). All across the world, the appeal of honey toast is tantalizingly palpable.
While Shibuya toast might strike you as simply a pretty, Instagrammable food item, don’t let its looks fool you. It does taste good. Lusciously good. Strip away the extravagance, and you’ll find at its core all that is loved about toast, but amplified. There’s the satisfying crackle of a crispy crust, with bits of moist, milky, butter-soaked white bread on the inside, bringing to mind the caramelized, carby comfort of French toast, that pairs classically well with cream, fruits, or ice cream of any sort. And maybe it’s that last point that makes honey toast win all our hearts, because at its core, the combination of soft, silky bread and velvety, cold ice cream, is one that we’re all familiar with—think bread pudding, Italian brioche con gelato, or ice cream sandwiched between pandan bread, sold in streetside pushcarts across Singapore and Thailand—just with a touch of opulence.
So when it comes to toast, Shibuya toast stands tall above the rest of breakfast-desserts, a hulking, honeyed, dessert tower of bread and bliss.
—Yi Jun Loh
- Cook time 8 minutes
- Serves 2
loaf brioche, or Japanese milk bread (5 to 6 inches long)
unsalted butter, melted
plum, sliced into segments
scoops vanilla ice cream
honey, for drizzling
- Heat the oven to 350°F.
- Prop the half-loaf of bread on its end, cut side up. With a knife (I find a serrated steak knife works best), cut a square out of its center, hollowing it out, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all four sides and the base.
- Pull out the square of bread, slice into 1/2-inch cubes, and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, sugar, salt, and cinnamon, if using. Brush butter mixture onto and inside the loaf. Add the cubed bread to the bowl and toss in the remaining butter.
- Place the loaf onto a parchment-lined sheet with the cut side facing up. Scatter the bread cubes onto the tray as well. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.
- It’s time to assemble the honey toast tower! There are no set rules for going about this, but I filled the loaf cavity in this order: bread cubes, ice cream, fruit, jam, then honey. More bread cubes, fruit, and jam on top of (and around!) the toast. Spear with forks and serve.