Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tried and True - Croutons

Crunchy food is fun.  Crunchy food tastes good.  Some people don't like crunchy peanut butter but in general it seems that crunchy foods are quite popular.  Which is why the following words appeared on the package of the "Sweet Butter Premium Croutons" I bought at the grocery store last week.   "Our crispy, crunchy toppings add taste and excitement to salads and more!"

Who could resist?   Only $2.00 for five ounces of excitement -- about 2 1/2 cups of little cubes containing wheat flour, malted barley flour, various minerals like niacin and riboflavin, high fructose corn syrup, whey, canola or sunflower oil, wheat gluten, dehydrated butter, nonfat milk, calcium propionate, calcium peroxide, calcium sulfate, ascorbic acid, salt, sugar, butter oil. soybean oil, natural flavors, turmeric and extractive of annatto (for color) and more.  Here they are.  I have to admit, they didn't taste too bad.  Just a little of that "fake flavor" aftertaste.   Kids might like these better than homemade, at least at first, because they are used to that extra sweetness and saltiness and "natural flavor".  Plus they do look good - all golden brown and toasty.

Maybe it is because I have recently turned 60 and am jaded as well as hopelessly old fashioned and frugal in my food tastes.   But I just don't need that much excitement - at least not from my croutons.  So I make my own at home.  I personally find that quite pleasurable, if not exciting. 

I made two kinds of crouton - the cubed kind and the sliced kind.  All you need to try this is a loaf of good french bread (or other good artisan type bread with some substance.  Smooshy bread just won't do here) and a little olive oil or butter.  A clove or two of garlic is optional.  The list of ingredients for the cubed croutons is:   wheat flour,  yeast, salt, olive oil and fresh garlic.  The components of the sliced kind are wheat flour, yeast and salt.  Water of course was used to make the bread.  Lanesboro water, because I made it myself.  We can talk about that another day.

Cubed croutons - excellent with all kinds of soups or salads. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut or tear bread into little bite sized cubes or pieces.  Is is ok - even preferred - if the bread is stale.  If you find day old bread on special snap it up so you can make croutons (or french toast).

Pour olive oil into a bowl - about 1 tablespoon for each heaping cup of bread cubes.  If you wish, smash a clove or two of garlic and let it sit in the olive oil for an hour or two beforehand to infuse the oil with garlic flavor.  Fish out the garlic and save it for another use.  Add bread to oil and quickly stir around so olive oil is uniformly distributed.  Place on a baking sheet in one layer.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crunchy.  If you want, turn off the oven and leave bread inside a little longer to ensure that it dries out completely.
Store in tightly sealed bag or other container at room temperature for a week or two - if they last that long!

I admit the homemade croutons are not as flashy looking as the storebought kind.  But they won't let you down.  Plus they are not as spendy.  And I think they taste better. 

Sliced croutons - use in soups or as a base for cheese, pates or other snacks or appetizers.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice bread about 1/2 inch thick.  Place in one layer on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake about 10-12 minutes, or until bread is crispy.  Optional - brush with a little olive oil after baking. Cool.  These can be stored in a tightly sealed bag or other container for a week or two.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you posted this how-to. I watched my girlfriend (the kind of person you'd want to be stranded on an island with-she can do anything with a few ingredients) make croutons just a month or so ago and was so blown away I didn't catch how she did it. Now I can try it myself. I think those bigger croutons will be phenomenal when it's pumpkin soup season!