A long time ago, a housemate’s girlfriend came up with these almost irresistible homemade croutons by cubing bakery bread and baking it in butter – who cared about the salad? Give us more croutons!
I was recalling those tasty little toasted cubes as my bread box – and then freezer – started filling up with bits of homemade bread (especially the Sweet Honey French) that was starting to go, but too, too good to just toss away.
Of course, all that butter was just WRONG – but it turns out that a good drizzle of nice olive oil, a sprinkling of herbs, and (my secret for a nice bit o’ spice) a whizz or three of Worcestershire sauce, makes for some mightyfine bits o’ bread. I should note that they then make for very nice bread crumbs, should you need them for anything, or, just for therapy, should you feel the need to give a bag of crunchy bread bits a really good WHACKING with your rolling pin (my new tapered French maple pin works a treat for this, by the way). On to the croutons:
•Old bread – I normally save up the last bits of my French bread that isn’t really good for much else and toss ‘em in the freezer until I have enough to make it worthwhile to
cube and toast – maybe two or three weeks’ worth (We are trying to cut down on commercial baking products, so I usually make at least one loaf per week)
•Olive oil – doesn’t have to be great, but you should at least use virgin olive oil – avoid anything labeled simply ‘Olive Oil’
•Herbs – your choice, I use Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
•Worcsestershire sauce – your choice to use or not; it’s kind of on Rich’s list to avoid, but a little used here adds a nice hint of flavor when I’ve added the croutons to a salad, or the crumbs to meatballs or to coat chicken or paillards
The method is wicked simple, just a little time consuming.
Heat oven to 200º to 250º.
Cube your bread and tumble into a large baking pan (I’ve found that the HUGE roasting pan I bought at Costco years ago for turkey is perfect).
Sprinkle the bread cubes with olive oil (maybe two turns around the pan), herbs, and (if you’re using it) Worcestershire sauce, and toss to coat. You don’t need to coat every bit of bread.
Pop into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, then pull out and stir the cubes and oil and herbs around a bit.
Back in to the oven for another 15 or 20 minutes, stir, and decide. I usually go for a third light toasting at this point to get them to this stage of lightly browned crunchy goodness.
Cooled and tucked into freezer bags (if you’re not planning on using them pretty quickly) – you now have a reserve of tasty, toasty bread bits for your salads that aren’t loaded down with extra salt (and flavorings that only your local chemist could love).
And then, of course, there are the therapeutic (and still tasty) bread crumbs…