There are a few fundamental principles for making great garlic bread. Here are those that we suggest:
You can’t start out with bad bread and have good garlic bread. The bread needs some substance to it; light, fluffy bread doesn’t work.
We went to the store and bought several breads. We also baked homemade breads. What worked best were the French and Italian loaves shaped as torpedoes, not too big around since we were cutting them lengthwise. We also used baguettes cut into rounds for garlic bread topped with cheese or tomatoes.
If you use big, rounded loaves, cut the bread into thick slices, 1 to 1 1/2-inches thick.
Our recipes are for one-pound loaves. If you use larger loaves, increase the ingredients proportionately.
The garlic should be rich and nut-flavored, not harsh and pungent. Spreading the bread with minced garlic was way too strong for our tastes. Roasting the garlic first yielded a much milder garlic. With milder, roasted garlic, we could really load it up: We used up to eight cloves of roasted garlic for each one pound loaf of bread.
We liked butter much better than olive oil for this purpose. We spread it evenly on the bread, softening it first or mixing it with the garlic to make a garlic butter. About one-half cup butter for a one pound loaf of bread was about right.
We read recipes that recommended temperatures from 350 to 500 degrees. What we wanted was a bread that had some crunch on the top and was soft on the inside. The super-high heat, 500 degrees, was too much; it burnt the edges before allowing the tops to dry out and become crunchy. With a little experimenting, we settled on 375 degrees. At this temperature, the tops dried to a crunch but the inner bread was warm and chewy. Ten to twelve minutes was right for plain garlic bread.
For basic garlic bread, we topped it with only garlic, butter, and just a touch of parmesan—2 or 3 tablespoons, just enough to add a little flavor. But garlic bread is perfect for explorations into other toppings. We added tomatoes, spinach, more cheese, and even sandwich spreads with some wonderful results. But there is a trade-off: you can’t bury the bread in toppings without losing some of the crunch. We found that spreading the toppings short of the edges of the breads made a nice compromise and left the edges still crunchy.