Savory Saturday: 2 Recipes for Making Croutons at Home

Posted by on Sep 7, 2013 in Food & Cooking | Comments


Croutons: they’re a little but powerful garnish, with the ability to make salads sing, upgrade soup from snack to hearty meal, or add a welcome crunch to your casseroles. They’re also a fantastic way to use up stale bread in your cooking, which gives them a similarity in function if not form to such dishes as French toast or bread pudding. But best of all, making homemade croutons is very easy, and they keep beautifully, so you could bake up a half loaf or more bread and have croutons for weeks to come.

Close up on Croutons

Now, enjoy a primer on making croutons at home, including two ways to make them and some ideas so you can explore the virtually limitless flavor variations.

Where did croutons come from?

The word “crouton” has been active in the English language since the early 1800s. It’s derived from the French croûte (crust), a term in French cuisine since the 1500s, which is derived from the Latin word crusta, which means “shell”. In French, croûton is a diminutive form of croûte. So if you’re so inclined to think of it this way, a crouton is sort of like a junior bread crust. It’s possible that this is how croutons started to be made–clever chefs slicing off the undesirable crust, which would tend to get stale fastest, and re-imagining it as a toasty and tasty garnish.

Don’t confuse an American crouton with croûte, though. That’s more like a slice of a baguette lightly brushed with oil or clarified butter and baked. Not to confuse things, but in French cookery, ‘croûte’ is not only a noun but also a verb, referring to the crust formation process during baking.

While today, most think of croutons as small cubes of bread, they can actually come in a number of different sizes and shapes. Consider, for instance, the large-ish slice of toasted homemade artisan bread that comes on top of French onion soup–that’s a crouton.

Cartoon of Smiling Loaf of Bread

Regarding the bread

Nearly any type of bread, be it a baguette, loaf, or even pre-sliced, crusted or no, can be used for croutons. Slightly dry or stale bread (no mold, please) works best, as it is better able to absorb the butter or oil and flavorings.

If the bread itself is flavored, consider this when seasoning your croutons. For instance, a cranberry pecan loaf might not be the best pairing for garlic and oil, but might work nicely with rosemary.

Even a sweet loaf, such as cinnamon bread, or if you’re feeling zany, even day old doughnuts or cinnamon rolls, can be used to make dessert croutons. These taste great on top of ice cream. Spice these sweeties with cinnamon and sugar.

Great uses for croutons

We tend to think as croutons in simple terms: for salads, soups, or snacking. But there’s a world of flavor waiting for you, if you get creative. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Crush your croutons and substitute them whenever a recipe calls for bread crumbs or panko.
  • Garnish an avocado bowl with croutons on the side to add texture and a few carbohydrates.
  • Use them in a savory bread pudding.
  • Try them on top of, or even mixed into, an omelette.
  • Make dessert croutons (with cinnamon and sugar) and use them to top ice cream or pudding.

Closeup on French Bread Loaf

How to make croutons at home

What follows is a very basic recipe for croutons, with two methods of preparing: baking, or frying. The recipes do not specify what seasonings to add, so you are free to choose your own adventure–here are a few ideas to get you started. If you are adding the spices to baked croutons, add during the step when you mix the croutons with the oil or butter.

Additionally, the recipes below specify instructions for making croutons from an entire loaf of day-old bread, but it can be done with less bread too–simply reduce the amount of butter or oil to the appropriate amount to generously but not excessively coat the pieces.

Garlic Croutons:

Finely chop 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, depending on how garlicky you want your croutons. Lightly saute in a pat of butter over medium heat until the butter begins to brown and the garlic is aromatic and begins to lightly brown. Add to the crouton mixture before baking or frying, and then continue with the recipe as written.

Seasoning in a Measuring Spoon

Herbes de Provence Croutons:

Add 1 tablespoon of herbes de provence mixed with 1 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the crouton mixture before baking or frying, and then continue with the recipe as written. The croutons work perfectly in Provencal cuisine.

Cheese Croutons:

Immediately after removing the croutons from the oven or frying pan, transfer to a heatproof bowl. Sprinkle with extremely finely ground parmesan cheese or any other hard cheese of your choosing. Stir with a wooden spoon to lightly coat and combine.

Sriracha croutons:

Immediately after removing the croutons from the oven or frying pan, transfer to a heatproof bowl. Dot all over with sriracha or hot sauce. Stir with a wooden spoon to lightly coat and combine. It’s all right if the croutons look speckled.

Baked Croutons

Makes 100 or so croutons

Ingredients

1 loaf of day old bread (8 ounces or so)
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil or melted butter
Seasonings of your choosing

Procedure

Step 1:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Step 2:

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and add to a large mixing bowl. Combine with the olive oil or melted butter. Stir in seasonings. Toss with a spatula until the bread is evenly coated.

Pieces of White Bread

Step 3:

Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet in a single layer and place in the preheated over for 15 minutes. At this point, remove the pan from the oven and stir the croutons, ensuring not only that they get turned but that you shift around where they lay on the pan as the oven may not cook all spots evenly.

Spatula Stirring Bread Crumbs

Step 4:

Return to the oven, and bake for 15 more minutes, or until the croutons are browned and crunchy (this may vary depending on the type of bread).

Step 5:

Allow the croutons to cool to room temperature before using. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Bread in a Cast Iron Skillet

Photo via Craftsy member Lalillianna

Fried croutons

Makes 100 or so croutons

Ingredients

1 loaf of day old bread (8 ounces or so)
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
Seasonings of your choosing

Procedure

Step 1:

Place 2 or 3 paper towels on top of a plate and set to the side, near your frying pan.

Step 2:

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a bowl, and stir with any spices you’d like to add, using 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to help it adhere to the bread.

Step 3:

Add enough oil coat the bottom of a frying pan. You may not use all of the oil, but reserve the rest as you may need to add more as the bread absorbs it.

Step 4:

Add the bread cubes. Fry until golden and crisp on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to your prepared paper towel lined plate to cool and blot the excess oil.

Step 5:

Allow the croutons to cool to room temperature before using. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

These hearty morsels have crunch and delicious munch. What’s your favorite food to pair with croutons?