The Baker: Homemade Croutons

Saturday December 12, 2015

When I worked at the restaurant, one of the responsibilities of the baker was to make croutons every morning in time for lunch. The croutons were made from the day old bread leftover from the night before. Since there was always leftover bread, this was a good way to use it up. The best croutons were made from the French bread, which had a sturdy crumb and could be flavored any which way to complement any soup of the day or Caesar salads. We always had a container of melted butter, so we would use a large brush and just drizzle the cubes. Here I use a combination of olive oil and melted butter, but you can use one or the other exclusively. When the croutons began to have an aroma, I took out the baking sheet and then squeezed the fresh garlic over the top and any cheese or herbs. Then I would take the large metal spatula and toss the whole thing. A few more minutes in the oven to take off the raw edge of the garlic and they were done. Just cool them on the baking sheet. The line chef then transferred them to a plastic tub and put next to the salad station.

Fresh croutons, while a simple preparation, really add to a finished dish a crunchy texture with almost a melt in your mouth quality from the olive oil, a contrasting shape, and nice flavor. The usual way is to cube the bread, any size you wish from small to large, but some main dish salads or an appetizer pate are very nice with a full slice of baguette. The baguette size is excellent with cheese instead of crackers. Keep in a tin for parties. The crouton is also used as the base for stuffings. You can use this method with cornbread, ciabatta bread, country breads of any type, or even a whole grain baguette or rolls.

Ingredients

1 loaf day old French bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning or herbes de Provence, or a single dried herb such as basil or dill
Grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, optional

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the rack on the lower third position.
Using a serrated bread knife, remove the crusts and cut the bread into ½ inch by ½ inch cubes. You will have at least 4 cups.  If you prefer larger or smaller croutons, just be sure to make your cuts as similarly as possible to help them bake evenly. Transfer he cubed bread to a parchment- or foil- lined baking sheet (for easy clean-up) in a single layer. Drizzle the bread with the olive oil and butter combination.


Using your hands or a flat metal spatula, gently toss the croutons and make sure they are evenly coated.
Bake for 15 minutes until they crisp up and begin to brown. Toss cubes several times during baking. Remove from the oven and then sprinkle with garlic and Italian herbs. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven (toss with the Parmesan if using) and let cool on the pan before serving. Homemade croutons, stored in a plastic container or a plastic bag, last up to one week unrefrigerated.

How To Prepare Bread Cubes for Stuffings

Day-old bread is best, unless the recipe calls for fresh crumbs.  If you do not have some, cut into 3/4-inch cubes from fresh bread (it is your choice whether to remove the crusts or not)  and place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Place in a preheated 300º oven until crisp, but not browned, about 10 to 20 minutes.  Alternately, place the cubes on an ungreased baking sheet and leave on the kitchen counter, uncovered, to air-dry 8 hours to overnight.  When assembling the stuffing, prepare the onions, nuts, and fruits the same approximate size as the bread cubes.  Never use raw meat of any type; cook sausage, giblets, or oysters well before mixing.  The internal temperature will not be high enough to cook anything, so sauté onions.

Old Fashioned French Bread for Croutons

My old friend Bunny Dimmel always made fresh bread in her bread machine and kept it in the freezer just for croutons, bread puddings, stuffings, and stratas. She knew how to plan ahead.

Ingredients

1 3/8 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups bread flour

4 teaspoons gluten (optional)

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 1/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Instructions

In a bread machine, set crust on medium or dark, and program for the Basic or French Bread cycle.  Place all the ingredients in the pan according to manufacturer’s instructions; press Start. After the baking cycle ends, immediately remove the bread from the pan, place on a rack to cool to room temperature before slicing. Use day old for croutons. Makes 1 bread machine loaf.

caesar salad

To Shape French Baguettes and Bake in a Home Oven

Makes 2 baguettes

Ingredients

1 recipe French Bread

Cornmeal, coarse semolina, or farina, for dusting

1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon of water, for glaze

Instructions

Make the French Bread dough on the Dough cycle; press Start.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease two thin 2-inch wide baguette cradles.  At the end of the cycle when the dough has risen, the machine will beep.  Turn off the machine, immediately remove the bread pan from the machine, and turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into 2 equal portions.

Flatten each portion into a thin 10-by-6-inch rectangle with the palm of your hand.  Starting at the long end, roll each up, using your thumbs to help roll tightly.  With the side of your hand, define a depression lengthwise down the center of the dough.  Fold over and pinch seams to seal.  Gently transfer, seam side down, to the prepared pan.  No dough will hang over the ends of the pans.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until fully double in bulk, about 30 minutes.  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425º, lined with a baking stone or tiles on the center rack (this will give you the best crust).

Brush the surface of the loaves with the egg glaze beaten with a fork until foamy.  You can sprinkle the loaves with sesame or poppy seeds. With a small, sharp knife, slash the surface 3 or 4 times on the diagonal, no more than 1/4 inch deep.  Place the pan directly on the stone and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the surface of the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger.  Remove the loaves from the pans immediately to a cooling rack.

Excerpted from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2002, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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