Ok, I know…croutons are those little crisp squares you buy in bags at the grocery store. Mostly boring, right? What if I told you how to build a better crouton? A crouton that would elevate your salads or stews or soups to an entirely new level. Our house is famous for this crouton. The crouton jar is always the first stop for visiting teenagers, or used to be when there were teenagers in the house. I was forced to make these almost every day, there was not a stale baguette to be seen anywhere that wasn’t turned into croutons. These croutons have crispy peaks, and valleys, yummy extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. That is all. They have a crisp exterior and a softer interior (not too much though). I once found my son eating the leftover crumbs left in the pan with his fingers. That batch never even made it to the crouton jar.
What is the secret? Tearing, that’s all there is to it. Who knew it could be so simple?
Don’t ever cut your croutons again. These are torn, not cut. No bread knife needed.
Take a look at the wonderful crispy crouton pictured above. Can you imagine how it would be in a caesar salad? The dressing would melt itself into all those little cracks and crevices, but the edges would stay crisp. That salad would be memorable. These croutons are not going to get soggy in soup, at least not right away, and are perfect for soaking up a sauce but staying crips on the edges.
You can make them with any kind of leftover stale bread (although any kind you slice yourself is best). Sourdough is very nice. What about rye or walnut bread for pumpkin soup or a salad with cranberries? Pumpernickel anyone for a salad with goat or blue cheese? Brioche bread makes wonderful croutons to use in your Thanksgiving stuffing. Tear the bread into small pieces or really big pieces, your choice. I once had a caesar salad at a restaurant in Seattle that had one very large crouton, torn not cut. Delicious, different, and inspiration.
I don’t really have a recipe. Simply tear your bread, stale is good but not required, into pieces. Place on a large baking pan, coat with a generous slug of olive oil and use your hands to make sure the pieces are coated (but not swimming in oil), sprinkle with sea or kosher salt, and bake. I use 375 degrees F for 10 minutes, take the pan out and turn the pieces, then return them to the oven for another few minutes. How long will depend on the size and type of bread, but not usually more than another 5 minutes. They can burn easily at this point. You don’t want the croutons to be completely dried out, there should be some difference in texture within each crouton.
Once they cool, you can put them into an airtight jar and they will keep for a few days, if they last that long.