Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fast Homemade Croutons



The Kitchen Riffs household rarely buys croutons.  Store-bought croutons usually are too dry and crunchy and often have a weird aftertaste.

Besides, I never want more than a handful or two of croutons — and then only occasionally.  So the half-used package ends up shoved to the back of a pantry shelf, only to be discarded six months later.

Still, sometimes a salad or a soup cries out for a crouton garnish.

Well, no need to make a special trip to the store.  There’s an easy, quick solution that uses ingredients you probably have on hand.


Recipe: Homemade Croutons

This recipe can be made from whatever sliced sandwich bread you happen to have in the kitchen. Obviously, white bread will taste different from whole wheat — or rye or pumpernickel or whatever grain. But the croutons will still taste good.

The recipe yields enough croutons for 2 to 4 servings, but you can easily scale it to suit your needs.

Ingredients
  • 3 – 4 slices of bread diced into cubes
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons olive oil (or melted butter; or a mix)
  • 2 – 3 cloves of garlic diced finely (optional)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried herb of choice (optional; I like thyme)
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cut off crusts from each slice of bread (optional). Dice bread into cubes (most bread slices are about 3/8-inch thick, so that means 3/8-inch squares).
  3. Peel garlic by placing individual cloves on cutting board. Place flat of large knife on the clove, and tap firmly and sharply with your fist (not enough force to crush). Peels should slide right off. Dice garlic finely.
  4. Put garlic and olive oil (or butter, if using) in a small saucepan. Turn stove top to medium, heat until oil begins to simmer. Lower heat to lowest setting; allow oil to simmer for 2 – 3 minutes (you’re infusing the oil with the garlic flavor).
  5. In a bowl, toss bread cubes with the hot olive oil, salt and pepper (to taste), and herb of choice (if using) until each cube is well coated. Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and place in oven.
  6. After 10 minutes, turn croutons over (I just toss the baking pan and hope most of them land on a different side). Continue to bake until done. Usually this means another 5 – 15 minutes (15 – 25 minutes total). Fifteen-minute croutons will be fairly soft; 25-minute ones crunchy, but not nearly as crunchy or dried out as store-bought croutons.
  7. Serve on salad, soup, or anything else that suits you. Leftover croutons are a nice snack.
Notes
  • I often store loaves of bread, well wrapped, in the freezer. (Yes, the bread does lose some quality, but not a lot.) Dicing frozen bread is easier than dicing fresh, and it doesn’t take any longer to bake.
  • I generally use “pure” olive oil (the cheap stuff), on the assumption that the subtle scent of extra virgin will get lost in the heat of baking. But certainly use extra virgin if you prefer. I opt for more oil rather than less because it adds more flavor (although also more calories), but this recipe works with less oil.
  • I always use garlic when I make these croutons (I like garlic) and rarely use the optional herb. But the herb makes a nice change of pace, so you may want to experiment with a few different ones. Chives are nice. I could see adding ground cumin and coriander for garnishing a soup that contains those spices.
  • The Gourmet Cookbook says you can make croutons by frying unseasoned bread cubes in ¼-inch oil (heat until almost smoking). This is supposed to take a minute or so, which certainly is fast. I haven’t tried this method because it seems like more trouble than baking, but you might want to experiment.
  • This is one of those recipes that you make only to complement something else you plan to serve at a meal. Later this week I’ll be putting this recipe to work when I call for croutons to garnish split pea soup.
The Kitchen Riffs Daily Bread

Our daily bread is the 100% whole-wheat loaf sold under the Arnold or Brownberry labels. It's the same bread, same packaging but the company that makes it uses different labels in different regions of the country.  Both labels are owned by Bimbo Bakeries USA, which is a division of Grupo Bimbo (headquartered in Mexico).

The whole Arnold/Brownberry label thing is confusing. Why don’t they just call it Bimbo Bread?

Well, maybe they have their reasons.

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