Cooking “The Goldfinch” Part 1: Rye Toast with Poached Eggs

by Cara Nicoletti on December 20, 2013


These days there are really only four things going on in my life. The first and biggest is finishing my first draft of Voracious, which is due in less time than I can even bring myself to type out—are the walls closing in or am I just imagining that? God it’s hot in here.

When I’m not writing the book, I’m working at my other job which is especially fun this time of year. There are lots of rib roasts to be tied and crown roasts to be frenched and stressed out customers to pressure into drinking snowshoes while they wait for their obscure Christmas birds to be trussed. When I’m not working on the book or at the shop I’m here with you guys, talking about food and books and food inside of books and how not to ruin Christmas. In any spare time I have left there is only one thing I’m doing: training for a triathlon.


Just kidding! Any moments I have away from recipe testing and writing and researching and meat-cutting these days are spent reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch as slowly as possible, re-reading sentences and entire pages twice, three–sometimes four times, and of course, obsessively making note of every single mention of food. Tartt is a master at making the food her characters eat say something about who they are, and that talent has never been clearer than in The Goldfinch. I know a lot of you are also reading this book right now, let’s cook our way through it–no spoilers, I promise. First up, Theo’s mother’s favorite breakfast: rye toast with poached eggs and black coffee.

We walked along in silence. My mind was whirring busily on my own troubles (had Tom’s parents got a call? Why hadn’t I thought to ask him?) as well as what I was going to order for breakfast as soon as I could get her to the diner (Western omelet with home fries, side of bacon; she would have what she always had, rye toast with poached eggs and a cup of black coffee) and I was hardly paying attention where we were going when I realized she had just said something.
-Page 16


Sourdough Rye Bread:
Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes
NOTE: This is not a quick loaf of bread–it takes three days to ferment in order to give it a really delicious tangy sourness. It’s worth it, though, I swear.

1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup bread flour
½ cup lukewarm water (90-100F)

1 cup warm water (105-115F)
1 Tablespoon molasses
¾ cups rye flour
¾ cups bread flour

¾ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 ½ Tablespoons (or 1 Tablespoon + 1 ½ teaspoons) vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon caraway, ground
1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
¼ cup rye flour
1 ½ – 2 cups bread flour

Egg Wash:
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon cream
large flake salt for sprinkling


Day 1: Make the starter by whisking together the yeast, flour and warm water in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and let the starter sit at room temperature for 24 hours. It should be very foamy and smell good and fermented.
Day 2: Make the sponge: Whisk water and molasses into the starter, add flour one cup at a time, beating in between each addition to form a smooth batter (it will be very wet). Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic, let rise at room temperature for another 24 hours.
Day 3: Place sponge in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add yeast, oil molasses, salt, ground and whole caraway, and rye flour and mix until well combined. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time and mix until a soft dough forms. Once the dough has come together switch to the dough hook and knead on speed 2 for 5-7 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic and springs back at you when you press your finger into it. Place the dough into a large well-oiled bowl, rubbing some of the oil on the top of the bread to keep it from oxidizing. Cover the bowl with plastic and let it rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Deflate the dough and turn it onto a well-floured surface. Shape into a loaf and place it into a Dutch oven lined with parchment paper and dusted with flour. Cover Dutch oven loosely and let the loaf rise again for 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.


Twenty minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 450F. Brush loaf all over with egg glaze and sprinkle with large flake salt. After 20 minutes of preheating the oven to 450F, turn it down to 375F, cover your dutch oven and place the bread in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes with the lid on, then 10-15 minutes with the lid off, or until the loaf is crusty and golden and makes a hollow noise when you tap it (center should be 190F on an instant read thermometer). Allow bread to cool on a cooling rack before slicing it to toast.

I’m not going to give you directions on how to toast your bread because COME ON. But to poach your eggs fill a sautee pan or skillet with water (I like to use these instead of a deep sauce pan because the egg doesn’t have as far to fall). Add 1/4 cup of white, white wine or champagne vinegar (this helps the whites firm and adds a nice flavor to boot). Do not let your water come to a boil. To poach an egg you want your water very hot but not boiling, or even simmering. You want it to be at that moment where all of those bubbles are forming at the bottom of the pan and steam is rising from the surface. Crack your egg into a ramekin, and create a whirlpool in the water with a spoon. Gently lower your egg into the water and let it cook for about 20 seconds. After 20 seconds you can start very gently nudging the whites up around the yolk. If the egg is sticking to the bottom of the pan just use a spatula to loosen it. Cook for about 3 minutes–the whites should look cooked but you should still be able to see the yolk wiggling around inside. Lift out with a slotted spoon, place on a paper towel to drain excess water, season with salt and pepper and serve on top of your rye toast. Wash it down with some black coffee.


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If there’s a literary food scene you want to see come to life be sure to leave me a comment and let me know! Or take a peek in the Recipe Index.

Leave a Comment

Susan Corson December 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I finished the goldfinch way too quickly. It was hard not to. But the night I finished, I started right back up at the beginning again. It was too hard to let go. Thanks for another beautiful post!


Seymour Salett December 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Cara, I had poached eggs on toast this morning, my usual Sat. morning breakfast with my family. My daughter Debra also had that breakfast . It didn’t look /taste as well as your recipe looks like it will taste.
You’ll have to join us one of these Saturday breakfasts , sooner than later. Maybe even cook those eggs and make that bread .


Anne Green December 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Poached eggs on toast have never looked so good. Well done on your great photos (and words of course). Haven’t read Donna Tartt’s book as yet but you make it sound like another must read to add to the list.


Kat December 31, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Good lord, this looks delicious. I’m not even usually a fan of poached eggs, but I might have to try this with homemade rye bread.

(Also! I would love to see you tackle some of the food scenes in Claudine at School/Claudine in Paris by Colette someday :))


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