My husband, Tony, is home from work through next week. He’s a fantastic cook himself and today he treated me to a bowl of Tomato and White Bean Soup. Feeling a bit adventurous I suppose, he asked if I had any tips on making some croutons, or if we even had any bread appropriate for such a task. Now, this was the second time in less than a week that someone asked me about making croutons. Must be a sign. Bonnie, this is for you!
I received an email from ‘Bonnie’ several days prior to Christmas asking if I could send her some notes about croutons. She had the idea to make homemade croutons and attach a little package to a bottle of my Balsamic Vinaigrette for a few of her Christmas presents. What a wonderful idea, Bonnie! I wished I had thought of that. Anyway, I told her I would get on it and get right back to her with a recipe, but I failed to do it. (Just one of the many things I wanted to get done prior to the big day, and didn’t.) So I am doing it now, after being spurred to action by Tony.
Croutons aren’t health food, you know. Take a look at the nutritional information on a box of packaged ones and you’ll see. Look further and you’ll see a list of a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronouce or begin to know what they are. So, if you are going to eat croutons – and there is something really great about the crunch they lend to a fresh salad or hot bowl of soup – you might want to make them yourself. They don’t take much time, just a few ingredients, and they last a good while if stored properly. It’s a great way to use day old baguette or Italian bread.
Another thing, croutons are loud food. Really crunchy. Rules of etiquette insist on closing our mouths prior to chewing, so make the cubes of bread small enough to fit between the normal person’s bite so they can comfortably close before crunching. Keep in mind too that if everyone at the table is chewing homemade croutons, you’ll most likely be repeating bits of the conversation until the crouton course is finished.
Homemade Crunchy Croutons
4 cups bread cubes cut from day old bread
2 Tbls butter
2 Tbls olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced in half
cracked black pepper
other ingredients, optional – parmesan cheese, italian seasonings, dill, etc.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large saute pan. Add the garlic and swirl it around until it begins to sizzle. Toss in the bread cubes and quickly stir around to distibute the oil/butter onto the bread. Once the pan is nearly dry, sprinkle any optional ingredients onto the coutons and toss/stir until distributed. Remove and discard the garlic.
If you can spread out the croutons in a single layer in the saute pan, do so and slide the pan in the oven to bake until crisp. If there is too much bread to spread out, toss the croutons onto a baking sheet and place it in the oven.
Note that if you are going to eat all the croutons at one sitting, you don’t need to worry that they are completely crisp. However, if you are storing or giving as a gift, the bread cubes must be crisp throughout and cooled completely before placing in an airtight container. If not, the croutons will taste like really bad, stale bread and they will mold easily.
You can make thin round croutons from French baguette and brush them with the oil/butter mixture, add any seasonings and toast them as described above. These make great additions to French onion soup, Caesar salad, etc.