When I was younger, I bought a box of croutons and after tasting them, never repeated that action – but I have since been subjected to store bought croutons over and over at friend’s houses and events. I have to admit, it’s nice to have that little crunch in the salad but it can be so much better!
Croutons take just minutes to make: use a leftover bread, olive oil, a little garlic if you’d like, a few herbs, maybe a sprinkle of cheese – they cost only pennies and taste AMAZING. Why would anyone want to pay more for a packaged variety once they know how quick and easy it is to make them?
There are two methods:
- Pan Frying – requires a little more attention and the croutons absorb more oil but taste the best, in my opinion. They are crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside – something that always appeals to me.
- Oven Method – takes a little longer, but uses less oil, and doesn’t have to be watched as intensely. These turn out hard and crisp, a little more like store bought.
Storage: Homemade croutons, stored in a plastic container or a plastic bag, last up to two weeks unrefrigerated. The baked seem to store a bit better, and the sauteed ones last just a few days. Don’t worry, though, about storage – they’re always gone way before then! Plus, you can make as few or as many as you’d like.
Size: For either method: Cut bread into cubes or rectangles – just stack and slice. Anywhere from a half inch to an inch or so is a great size, so go petite or large – it’s up to you.
Have your ingredients ready:
- Oil: I prefer to use olive oil, but any oil to your taste is fine.
- Herbs: Good herb choices are basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano parsley or chives. You could use garlic powder.
- Cheese: Any hard cheese is a good choice, so don’t feel limited to just Parmesan.
- 3 cups of cut up bread
- 1/2 cup of oil, plus more
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2/3 cup freshly grated cheese (optional)
- Herbs of your choosing
Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. Add the oil , garlic and bread crumbs. Saute, allowing them to crisp, tossing frequently to prevent burning. This takes about 10 minutes for the above amount, but far less if you’re just making a few.
You may need to drizzle with more oil. When finished, add in a few herbs and cheese, if you’d like, and remove promptly from pan. They’ll continue to cook if you leave them in the hot pan.
Remove your garlic when it’s browned, before you add the bread, if you’re concerned about dark bits, like the photo above. (Or add it later, after the croutons are well on their way to browning.)
Oven Baked Croutons:
- 3 cups 1/2-inch cubes day-old bread
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2/3 cup freshly grated cheese (optional_
- Herbs of your choosing
Preheat oven to 350° F
In a shallow baking pan toss bread with oil. Toss bread with cheese and bake in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, 20 – 30 minutes, or until golden. Toss with herbs of your choice when you remove the pan from the oven.
Money and Time Saving Strategies:
For pricing, remember to use your coupon matching sites for your local stores. My favorite is Pocket Your Dollars in my area, but every store has a group of enthusiastic couponers who can point you to the best bargains. Don’t be discouraged if your prices are higher at first – just keep shopping the best sales and follow the strategies and you’ll get there! Check under Saving on Basic Ingredients for more detailed information and storage hints – use <control f> to search each page to bring you to the item you want to check out.
- Bread: Use your heels or leftover bread of almost any type. I often throw bits and pieces into the freezer for bread crumbs and croutons. I do think a good sourdough or artisinal type bread (like my Crusty Bread) is really best, but it’s hard to go wrong. If the bread is too hard to cut but is still good, just pop it in the microwave, wrapped in a damp cloth, for about 20 seconds. Since I use what would have been tossed in a normal household: Free
- Olive Oil: My strategy for buying olive oil is to look for sales and combine with coupons. I look for about 8 cents an ounce (a tablespoon) so cost for this recipe is about 25 cents. Save the good stuff for drizzling and finishing. A quarter cup is about two tablespoons: 16 cents.
- Cheese: This is a variable here and completely optional. Your choice and your price here. If you do buy what I call “near” deli cheeses (because they are usually located by the deli,) you’ll find coupons (on the brand’s site) and hang tags and can often pick it up reasonably. Grab those hang tags even if you aren’t planning on buying it the same day – the expiration dates are often months out, and you can wait for a sale. When the sales finally happen, there often aren’t any hang tags. 3/4 cup is about an ounce and a half, grated. Cost varies, between 40 and 70 cents.
Put your Own Spin on It:
- I also like to use garlic infused olive oil, but you can use plain olive oil or any other flavored olive oil you like. Heat the 1/4 cup oil in a small sauce pan over low heat. Once the oil is warm add 2 whole cloves of garlic that have but crushed but not chopped. You want the whole so you can remove them later. Allow to sit in the warm oil over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and remove the garlic cloves. You can use it now or store in the fridge. Warm if it solidifies by leaving on the counter or microwaving for just a few seconds.
A really good crouton in minutes with no additives (well – that depends on the bread!) and great flavor? I’m happy with that!