I had lunch yesterday with the woman who wrote the book on toast. No, really: Raquel Pelzel’s book Toast is a gorgeous tribute to charred bread with elegant toppings, so we naturally had a lot to talk about for this story on fancy toast over fancy vegetarian food at New York City’s AbcV. You may think the ubiquitous breakfast-to-dinner dish is just about throwing a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and smearing on a little jam (or other such out-of-the-fridge condiment) on top, but you’d be wrong. Here are some tips on making your toast burn brighter.

Skip the supermarket

As with any unfussy dish, it’s important to use good ingredients, so don’t go for the sweet, squishy, preservative-laden loaves you’ll find on aisle 10. Well-made artisanal bread is best because not only will it taste better, when you buy a whole loaf, you can control the thickness of your slices. If you’re going to pile on a bunch of toppings, go thicker. 

Consider your toasting method

“Toasters are kind of boring because they evenly brown the bread,” Pelzel says (plus, your thicker slices probably won’t fit in there anyway). Your type of bread matters too. For softer, butterier loaves like challah and brioche, Pelzel recommends pan-frying in some butter or olive oil, while she uses the broiler for heartier breads like sourdough and levain. “I like to oil and really char one side of the bread, then just dry out the other side slightly, so you get a nice texture but the entire piece doesn’t feel burnt,” Pelzel says.

Your base matters with toppings, too

There’s a simple rule Pelzel recommends for thinking about what toppings will work with your base. Use juicier toppings on thicker, heartier breads like those sourdoughs and ryes (because they have nooks and crannies for all that liquid to seep into), while thinner slices like rye and pumpernickel work best with schmear-able toppings like ricotta and jams.

Just say no to avocado

Here’s where I’m a hypocrite: I ate damn avocado toast for breakfast this morning, anointed with a touch of lemon, olive oil and chile flake. And it was delicious. But my point here is that you can (and should) get more creative than that. Consider toppings that complement your bread selection, and offer a mix of textures and flavors. But don’t go crazy; three toppings should accomplish all that. Here are a few ideas:

Sourdough + stewed figs + gorgonzola + bacon crumbles

Rye + orange marmalade + pickled beets + tarragon

Levain + kimchi + greens + poached egg

Challah + tahini + toasted sesame seeds + good honey

Pumpernickel + ricotta + sour cherries + granola crumbles

And last but not least, Pelzel offered another brilliant idea: spoon some soup from dinner the night before, like a hearty lentil, over your toast in the morning. Not only is it a good way to use up leftovers, but you won’t get hungry an hour later.