Croutons are so simple, yet they literally bring so much to the table. These bits of toasted bread impart little explosions of crunch and flavor to soups, salads, casseroles and other dishes. You can even use croutons to make savory poultry stuffing. There is basically one method you can use to make your own croutons, but there are dozens—if not hundreds—of flavor and texture combinations you can use to create the perfect croutons for your palate.
While you can certainly find and follow a recipe to toast up some fresh, homegrown croutons, you really don't need one. By following the fundamental method for making croutons and adding your own twist, you can concoct an array of crouton flavors.
To make croutons, you need cubes or pieces of bread, some type of oil, and the spices, herbs and toppings you wish to use. Then toast the bits of bread along with the oil and seasonings to bring it all together. With this essential knowledge, you are on your way to whipping up a crunchy, crusty batch.
While you are free to choose which type of bread you most enjoy in crouton form, avoid using a fresh-baked loaf. Day old or slightly stale bread is your best bet, as you want the cubes to be crunchy through and through. Crusty Italian loaves and French baguettes work well. Sourdough lends its own tangy taste to the end product. Specialty breads, such as pita pockets, focaccia or even pumpernickel can produce interesting results, and whole grain is an awesome choice if you are striving to nosh on healthier fare.
Oil options include old standbys such as extra virgin olive oil (“EVOO”), butter or margarine, vegetable oil and even non-stick cooking spray.
You can keep your flavors pure and simple, such as olive oil and garlic powder combination. Or you can zest them up with an array of seasonings, such as salt and pepper, rosemary and thyme, onion and even your favorite shredded cheese.
Before you toast them, coat cubes of your choice of bread with the oil and topping options that best suit your dietary needs and taste buds. An easy way to add the toppings is to use sandwich baggies. Measure your oil choice (about 3 tablespoons per 4 cups of bread) into one bag and your toppings into another. Pour the bread cubes into the oil baggie first and toss until coated. Transfer the greased bread to the toppings bag and shake gently to cover the diced bread with seasonings. Remove from the baggie and toast away.
There are several methods you can use to heat your croutons to toasty perfection. You can bake them in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 350°F for about 20 minutes or in a toaster oven for about 10 minutes. You can also make them in a heavy skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently until toasted on all sides. You can even make them in the microwave: place in a single layer in a glass baking dish and microwave on high for three minutes, stirring after each minute.
Now you know: you can crank out croutons in no time and on the cheap.
What bread and seasoning combination do you love, and which combo do you avoid? Share your thoughts in the comments!