There are essential recipes and basics that all home cooks and homesteaders should learn. Simple things that we can all make to improve and expand our knowledge and kitchen-horizons.
When I first made a list of recipes that would be a part of my Cooking Basics series, I knew immediately that I had to include croutons. This is a super easy task that takes little time, and reduces your waste by using scraps, stale bread or even bread ends (why does everyone hate the “heel”?) that you may not have eaten otherwise. Buying croutons from the store can be costly, and most of them are covered in artificial flavors, high in sodium and loaded with sugar.
Making your own croutons is one more simple task that will make you feel good about the food you serve your family, the way you use your time, and your ability to use every last bit.
Save Every Bit!
Start by saving bread ends from loaves of sandwich bread, dinner rolls, cut off crusts, bread that has become stale, etc. I save them as I get them, and sometimes it’s literally one piece of bread at a time, but they do add up quickly. I keep a bag of crusts and bits in the freezer, and I just add new pieces as I have them.
Once the bag is full (or I am low on croutons in the pantry, whichever comes first), it’s time to transform these unwanted bits into tasty, crunchy croutons!
Prepare Your Bread Bits
First things first, what do you need?
- Bread odds and ends
- Olive Oil (or your oil of choice)
- Salt (if desired)
- Seasonings (if desired)
Take your bread bits and cube them up based on your crouton-size preference. You don’t need to wait for the bread to thaw, it is actually easier to cut neatly when it is still frozen.
Add all your bread cubes to a large bowl. Drizzle about a tablespoon of oil over the cubes and toss well until coated. If you have a lot of cubes, you may need a little more oil. It’s important to add your oil a little at a time, tossing the cubes. You want them to be lightly coated, but not soggy or dripping in oil. The oil helps them to crisp up, and keeps them from sticking to the pan, as well as holds onto any seasonings you may want to add.
If you like plain croutons, you can skip the seasoning step. I enjoy flavored croutons, so I sprinkle on a little salt, as well as some fresh chopped thyme and rosemary. You can add whatever seasonings you like, however. Like spicy? How about a chili powder crouton? Love curry? Go for it! Think about what you will use your croutons for, what salad dressings or soups you like, and what types of spices and herbs will pair well — then season away! Just make sure you toss them well to make sure your croutons are evenly coated.
Spread your croutons out in one layer on a foil-covered baking tray, and bake on your oven’s lowest setting for about 45 minutes. If you cut your croutons very small, check on them at the 30-minute mark, to make sure they aren’t starting to burn. You want them to have a little color, and be crunchy, but they can be over done and just taste burnt if you aren’t careful.
Once they have reached that toasty-color and are nice and firm (go ahead, sample one or two or seven!), take them out and allow them to cool fully on the tray before putting them in any type of container. If you put them in to a container before they are cool (even with the lid off!), condensation will build inside the container from the heat of the croutons, and you will end up with moist croutons that will just turn into stale bread, or even begin to mold. Yuck!
After they have cooled, store in a cool, dark place with a lid. Enjoy!