Once I started baking my own bread I began to get very sentimental about the slice or two that got stale before it was eaten. I would try my best to use it up, which resulted in a freezer full of French Toast pieces that still haven’t been eaten.
Recently I was making a family recipe for Italian Wedding Soup (recipe to come) which is our traditional meal for Christmas eve. As I was putting the finishing touches on I remembered that my aunt would always serve it with homemade croutons.
An hour before dinner was to be served I called my Yiayia to get the recipe and twenty five minutes later the croutons were done. In fact they smelled so good and were so tasty that half of them were eaten up by family walking through the kitchen before I could serve them.
I find store bought croutons to be too hard and crumbly. When you make your own you control the texture. You can take them out of the oven while they are still a little chewy (my favorite) or you can bake them until they are good and crunchy (my husbands preference). Croutons hot from the oven smell and taste great. They are a favorite finger food of my daughter and we often take them with us as a snack in place of crackers or other savory snacks. When served along with a bowl of olives and a few cheese slices they can make for a quick and delicious appetizer. And they can turn a simple soup into a heartier meal. All this with an end of bread that was about to be thrown away.
So here is what you do according to my Yiayia.
Start with bread. Here I have several different types of bread, and baked them all together. I tried left over beer bread, sandwich bread and a light wheat bread that I make. This was sort of an experiment for me and if it is your first time you may want to start with one kind of bread as the cook time can vary depending on the bread that yo start with.
Set oven to 400 degrees.
Slice and dice the bread. Keep in mind that smaller croutons will bake faster and get crunchier more quickly. Larger ones will stay chewy longer and take longer to bake.
Season. I usually use a garlic powder and Italian seasoning. I’ve also added grated Romano Cheese. I season pretty heavily (as in I hand my daughter the bottle and let her shake and pour for a few minutes). You can make them as flavorful or as mild as you like and there is a big range of what tastes good here so experiment to see what tastes good.
Pour seasoning over diced bread and mix with a spoon or with your hands.
Melt butter. You can use olive oil alone but I usually start with butter and then add some olive oil if they still feel dry.
Recipes I get from my Yiayia are always a bit vague. When I asked her how much oil or butter to add she says simply “You just go by the feel.” And though this is a bit intimidating, I followed her advice and was able to do this successfully. So I’ll give the same advice to you. Slowly pour butter or oil over diced bread. Stir with a spoon or with your hands. You want the bread to feel coated with butter or oil but not soaking. Sort of like buttering popcorn. For this batch I used a whole stick of butter plus a few splashes of olive oil. Experiment to see what you like.
Spread evenly on parchment and bake. I stir and turn them two or three times throughout baking. This large batch took about 40 minutes, smaller batches with smaller croutons will take less time. Test one every few minutes and see if you are happy with the texture, if you want them crunchier then keep baking.
Remove them from the oven, let cool a minute so you don’t burn your fingers and then enjoy.
Of the varieties I made here the beer bread croutons turned out chewy with a great texture. The wheat bread was also good with a heartier and crunchier result. The sandwich bread in this batch was quite thin, I over cooked it and it became too dry. The lesson here was, try to keep your croutons equal in size or some will be over done.
If for some reason you don’t use them all up smash or grind them and keep as bread crumbs.
Olive Oil or Butter (melted)
Seasoning (Italian Seasoning, garlic powder, grated cheese, or anything else you like)
1. Set oven to 400 degrees.
2. Dice bread into crouton size of your choice.
3. Mix in seasoning
4. Stir in melted butter or oil until coated.
5. Bake on parchment paper until desired texture usually between 20-40 minutes.
6. Cool and enjoy.