Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homemade Croutons (Perfect for Salads, Soups & Stuffing)

Homemade Croutons Recipe (Perfect for Salads, Soups & Stuffing)

When was the last time you made a new recipe you couldn't stop snacking on? A recipe so easy and delicious you felt like smacking yourself upside the head for using the store-bought version for years. Been awhile?

Well, I have something you must try: homemade croutons! These are nothing like the overpriced, MSG-laden crumble-into-dust-at-the-slightest-pressure croutons you're used to from the grocery store. 

Imagine biting into a teensy bread cube that's warm, garlicky, slightly buttery (from the cooking oil), crunchy on the outside, and slightly chewy on the inside. That's what homemade croutons taste like straight out of the oven. In other words, heavenly and hard to resist.

I kept reaching down to sample the goods while photographing this batch and ended up eating so many croutons that I couldn't get a final "yield" measurement for the recipe. 


See the empty space on the sheet pan in the first picture? Looks like intentional food styling, right? Nope. That's what I ate from the pan. I have no regrets.

If you love crunchy savory snacks like kettle chips (me, me, me!), pretzels, or popcorn, feel free to pour these into a bowl and munch away. They're that good! Let's be real, you'll probably want to make extra just for snacking.

Easy Homemade Croutons Recipe

Homemade Croutons are Quick, Easy & Frugal

If I haven't sold you on the deliciousness factor yet, then surely you'll appreciate how simple and cost effective croutons are to make at home. For starters, you can use a fresh loaf of bread, leftover stale bread, or even a collection of bread butts (if you're the type that cuts off the crust) to form the croutons. Talk about frugal!

And when it comes to the cooking oil and seasonings, there's room for tons of variation. I typically coat my croutons in genuine extra virgin olive oil when I plan on using them for homemade stuffing since I'll be using plenty of butter later on, but you can also use butter, organic virgin coconut oil or avocado oil. Heck, even a quick homemade pesto would work! 

The best part? It only takes about 30 minutes in the oven for the bread cubes to transform into crunchy, golden goodness. No need to babysit them like you would on the stove-top. Pop them in the oven, set the timer for ten minutes, give them a stir, go another ten minutes, one more stir, then take them out at the 30-minute mark. 

Depending on the size of your bread cubes and the heat of your oven, it may take a shorter or longer amount of time, so that's why it's good to check them twice in between.

Easy Homemade Croutons Recipe

Best Ways to Use Croutons in a Recipe

When they're hot and fresh out of the oven, my favorite way to use croutons is on salads--specifically, Caesar salads. This little garnish transforms any salad from hum-drum to ah-mazing in seconds! Trust me, you will never want to go back to the store-bought stuff.

As the croutons cool they'll start to crisp up all the way through, which makes them perfect crunchy nuggets to plop into a hot bowl of soup for a bit of texture. Think French onion soup (no need to slice & toast baguettes), creamy tomato basil soup, or kielbasa sausage & vegetable soup

However, my favorite way to use oven-baked croutons is as a base for homemade stuffing (or dressing, as it's also called). In fact, I prefer stuffing made with croutons rather than breadcrumbs. I like the chunkier texture and it makes fixing stuffing a breeze! 

Especially around the holidays. I can make the croutons ahead of time with whatever bread I have on hand rather than spending $5-7 for two packages of stuffing mix at the store. One less thing to do when you're multitasking multiple dishes is a beautiful thing. 

Easy Homemade Croutons Recipe

Can I Make Croutons With Gluten-Free or Grain-Free Bread? 

Yep! Just so long as the bread is sturdy enough to be sliced and cut into cubes without crumbling apart.

If you're looking for homemade gluten-free or grain-free bread recipes to try, here are two with lots of positive feedback:

How to Make Homemade Croutons
Learn how to make a quick & easy batch of homemade croutons that will knock the socks off any store-bought brand and save you money! They're perfect for toppings salads and soups and as a base for homemade stuffing.

6 cups of cubed bread (I used one large crusty loaf)
2 tablespoons of cooking oil (I used extra virgin olive oil - butter, coconut oil & avocado oil are also good options)
1 1/2 teaspoons of granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons of onion powder
1 teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning (or your favorite mix of dried herbs)
1/8 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
Sea salt, to taste (I love THIS)
Black pepper, to taste

Recommended Equipment
large cutting board
serrated knife
mixing bowl
large rimmed baking sheet
wooden spoon

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut your bread 1-inch cubes (this is approximate - you can just eyeball it) and place in a mixing bowl. Pour the cooking oil onto the bread cubes and toss with your hands until all the pieces are coated evenly. Measure in your desired seasonings (I used granulated garlic, onion powder, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, sea salt & black pepper) and toss the bread cubes again to distribute it evenly. 

Spread the seasoned bread cubes evenly across a large rimmed baking sheet and pop into the oven. In ten minutes (this is where I use a timer so I can go do something else) open up the oven and give the croutons a stir with a wooden spoon. Let them bake another ten minutes, then give them a stir again. (This is to ensure they're toasting eventually and to prevent burning if your oven runs hot.) 

After another ten minutes (30 minutes total in the oven), the croutons should be golden and crispy on the outside with a bit of chew in the middle. If not, put them back in for another 5-10 minutes (or until they're ready), making sure to keep an eye on them. Serve immediately in your favorite dish (I love salads or soups) or cool completely and store in an airtight container. By the next day the croutons will be extra crunchy so if you like them a little chewy on the inside, plan on using them the same day.

Notes & Tips
  • Feel free to adjust the level of spices or cooking oil to your taste. You could certainly make them more buttery by adding a bit more cooking oil or even ramp up the taste by using fresh herbs like rosemary or parsley and spices like minced garlic!
  • If you have an extra large baking sheet, you could do more bread in one batch. Six cups was the max for mine in order to give the bread a bit of space to crisp up. You can also do multiple batches if you're making a bunch to use for stuffing.  

I'd like to hear from YOU! 

Have you ever made homemade croutons? What's your favorite recipe that uses croutons?

Easy Homemade Croutons Recipe

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