Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Magic croutons, quarters, and the day-old bakery cart

In my grocery store, the day-old bakery cart is very sad and forlorn, pushed into a corner of the store against a wall and far away from the fresh breads that are so lovingly displayed in the center of the aisle. 

All breads baked here start their lives as equals, but some of them never get bought. Maybe they're smooshed in the middle, or ripped a little on the edge, but for whatever reason, they miss their chance at culinary usefulness and get passed over on a whim of the masses.

Then, a couple of days later, without warning, these unsuspecting loaves are whisked away from their pretty, cozy baskets and plopped onto a cold metal cart, away from the self-righteous just-baked breads that are still warm and smelling freshly of yeast. They're made to sit all by themselves in the corner, like the kid who just puked in the lunchroom. 

Well, day-old breads, I see you and I reclaim you, even though shopping at your cart makes me feel a little like a hobo. I don't care! I love you because you're usually still pretty fresh, and because you're so deeply discounted, and because you make the best damn croutons known to man. 

Actually these croutons have caused a couple of my friends to dissolve into a kind of rapture that I didn't realize crispy bread cubes could produce. One friend hoarded a bowl of them in her lap during brunch and ate every last one. 

These miracle croutons start with a loaf of bread that's gone slightly stale, which you could either achieve at home by waiting a few days before using the bread or by hitting up the day-old bakery cart at your own grocery store (and saving some money along the way). The loaf I used was marked down to just a quarter! I like using bread-bowl type bread, but anything like it--a baguette would be good--would work.

Can you believe this cost 25 cents? I love America.

Cut the bread into one-inch-ish cubes and drizzle the cubes with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Toss them around to coat. I also like to sprinkle them with about a half-teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon (ish) of garlic powder, but I don't really measure. Or try adding any herb you like, like sage or oregano. 

Do these look an inch wide? Or a half-inch? I can't decide. 

Bake on a cookie sheet in a single layer in a 350 degree oven. After about 10 minutes stir them around. Stir them again after another 10 minutes. Start testing them then, too. They should be mostly, if not totally crispy, although full croutony-ness will come after they cool. My last batch baked for 25 minutes.

Wait for them to cool completely before packing them in a container, or use immediately. 

Other recipes where day-old bread is best: Bread pudding, grilled cheese, and French toast. 

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