So my hubby and I are kind of “bread snobs.” At some point years ago we stopped buying the pre-packaged sandwich bread and started buying the freshly baked, no-preservatives stuff at the bakery. Baguettes, boules, ciabattas – we love them and we have never looked back. The upside of course, is that the flavor and texture are incomparable to the packaged stuff. The crispy crust, the fluffy center – good warm freshly baked bread is one of the best foods out there. The downside to freshly baked bread is that due to the lack of preservatives and packaging, it does not stay fresh-tasting for very long. We found ourselves tossing half of the fresh bread out after a couple of days. Granted, it didn’t taste as good with sandwiches anymore, but throwing it out still seemed awfully wasteful to me, so I started trying to put the 2-day old bread to other creative uses, and wanted to share a couple of them.
There are two things that almost every cook/chef out there has in his or her pantry and they are croutons and bread crumbs. 2-3 day-old bread is the perfect material out of which to create each of these staples. They are super easy to make, and you avoid all of the packaging costs of purchasing them at the store, along with all of the preservatives and flavor additives, by making them yourself at home.
Italian, ciabatta, or French boule are the best types of bread, in my opinion, to use for this purpose.
First, the croutons.
I like to make mine seasoned, but you don’t have to.
Pre-heat the oven to 365. Cut up the leftover bread (with crusts and everything) into bite-sized cubes. Lay them out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil (don’t soak them in it, just drizzle), then sprinkle with some garlic salt, cracked pepper and dried sage (you can also use any other seasonings of your choosing, like basil or oregano), and toss well to make sure the seasonings and oil are evently spread over all of the bread pieces. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, turning over once to make sure the bread is browning on all sides. Obviously, if you like your croutons more or less browned and crispy, you can adjust the baking time.
After they are done, lay them out on a plate to completely cool. When cooled, you can put them in a plastic bag or whatever you want to keep them in. Once you try your own home-made croutons on a salad or a soup, you will never go back to the stale-tasting, packaged store-bought stuff, I promise!
Bread crumbs are even easier to make. Slice the bread about 1/2 inch thick (unless it is already sliced), and cut off the crusts. Bake at 300 for about 30 minutes on a baking sheet – NO OIL added – the point is not really to cook or brown the bread, but to just dehydrate it. Make sure the bread is no longer squishy in the center (if it is, bake it for a little longer). When the bread has cooled off, place a few slices inside a plastic baggie and crush with a meat tenderizer. This will make panko-style bread crumbs. If you want to have seasoned bread crumbs – you can crush the croutons you made earlier!!