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~ How to Make Croutons & Toasts for Salad or Soup ~

6a0120a8551282970b017ee6636362970dWhenever I teach a class about making salad or soup, I always teach people how to make croutons and toasts, which are culinarily the exact same thing.  I always start by adamantly announcing, "never buy croutons", which gets everyone sitting up at attention.  Then I slice and cube the bread, or, cut some shapes out of bread slices using a cookie cutter.  Less than 10 minutes later, the entire class is munching away, watching the rest of my demonstration and proclaiming homemade croutons to be the best thing since sliced bread.

"Crouton" is our English word for any small piece of plain or seasoned, sliced or cubed, toasted or fried bread used to accompany or garnish soups, salads and other dishes.  It is derived from the French word "crouton" (kroo-tawn) which the French define as a small piece of bread or snack bread that is usually served with drinks.  "Croute" (kroot) is the French word for crust and "en croute" refers to food wrapped in or topped with a pastry crust then baked.

"Toast" really has no place in this post, because technically toast is made by exposing a slice of bread to dry heat -- an open flame, a charcoal or gas grill, or an electric toaster.  It stays there until it's fragrant and reaches the desired degree of brown and crispy.  It is then used to make a sandwich or gets topped with a sweet or savory spread and eaten.  That said, everytime I make and serve my shaped croutons, everyone always calls them "toasts", so I have given up on reprimands and have decided to move on and allow the word toast into my crouton vocabulary.  

Croutons are super-easy to make, plus they are the perfect use for almost any leftover bread (the exception being soft, cottony, white, sandwich-type bread).  My quick skillet method for preparing them produces a crispy, butter-flavored crouton on the outside with a slightly softer "chewy/al dente" center.  This differs from the lengthier oven method for preparing croutons (a low temperature for a longer period of time), which produces a crispy crouton throughout. 

Croutons & Toasts #1 (Both Finished Front View)Once you've added these tasty treats to any salad or served them with any soup, you too will never buy croutons again.

Croutons & Toasts #3 (Bread for Croutons) The bread you choose for making cubed croutons, can be any type of crusty, firm-textured, rustic or baguette-shaped loaf.  It can be plain or flavored. 

The three loaves pictured here are:  a three-cheese semolina bread (front); a sourdough baguette (top), and; a loaf of ciabatta bread (back).

Whatever you choose to use, to make my recipe for cubed croutons, you'll need a 1-pound loaf.

The bread for making shaped croutons, can be any of those pictured above, but I have a couple of homemade favorites too.  Today, I am using my recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~.  Other times I use my ~ Bread Machine Herbed-Pizza-Dough Sandwich Loaf ~ (which is seasoned with garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and black pepper).  I'm making 12, 2 1'2" heart-shaped croutons (using a heart-shaped cookie cutter), and I'll be using 6, 3/4" thick slices of my brioche.  Whatever the type of bread, 3/4"-thick is the "magic" thickness.

To make cubed croutons:

Croutons & Toasts #4 (Cubed Bread for Croutons) ~ Step 1.  I've decided to use the 1-pound sourdough baguette today.  Slice the bread into 3/4" slices and then cube it into 1/2"-3/4" cubes.  This is my favorite size. 

Whatever bread you choose to use, cube your bread as uniform in size as possible, but, if the recipe you are using instructs you to cube the bread smaller or larger than 1/2"-3/4", follow their instructions.

Croutons & Toasts #6 (Melted Butter & Spices in Pan)~ Step 2.  In a 12" skillet (preferably nonstick), melt 2 sticks salted butter over low heat.

To season my croutons, I like to add and stir in 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper, but:

By all means, season your croutons with any type of ground seasoning you want.

Croutons & Toasts #8 (Finished Croutons in Pan) ~ Step 3.  Add all of the bread cubes to the pan.  Increase heat to medium.  Using a large nonstick spoon, gently stir and toss the bread cubes constantly, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.  No melted butter will remain in the bottom of the pan, just a golden brown residue. 

Remove from heat and allow croutons to cool slightly in the pan, 10-15 minutes, to allow carryover heat to continue to crisp them.  Line a baking pan with 3-4 layers of paper towels, transfer croutons to pan and spread them in a single layer.  Set aside to cool completely.  Store, uncovered, up to 1-2 days prior to using in salads or soups.

Croutons & Toasts #9 (Finished Croutons)To make shaped croutons (toasts):

Croutons & Toasts #11 (Toasts in Pan on First Side) ~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet (preferably nonstick) melt 4 ounces (1 stick) salted butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add 12, 2 1/2" shaped croutons.

Continue to cook until the croutons/toasts are golden brown on the first/bottom side.  This will take about 2-2 1/2 minutes, with how they look being more important than how long they cook!

Croutons & Toasts #12 (Finished Toasts) ~ Step 2.  Using a nonstick spatula, flip the shaped croutons/toasts over and lower the heat slightly. 

Continue to cook until shaped croutons/toasts are golden brown on the second side, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Again, it is all about how they look not how long it takes to cook and these look great.

Remove from heat and immediately transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.  Store uncovered and at room temperature for up to one day.  While I often serve these as an accompaniment to a lovely bowl of steaming hot soup, they are equally as delicious served in place of conventionally made toast for breakfast.

Croutons & Toasts #13 (Finished Toasts)How to:  Make Croutons & Toasts for Salad or Soup:  Recipe yields 6 cups of cubed croutons and 12, 2 1/2" shaped croutons (toasts).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife;12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large spoon, preferably nonstick; paper towels; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; 2 1/2" cookie cutter of any shape (optional); spatula, preferably nonstick

Shiitake Mushroom SoupCook's Note:  These cubed croutons and shaped croutons (toasts) really are an easy-to-make treat.  They both have such a wonderful, buttery flavor and crunchy texture they're hard to stop eating -- adults and kids just love them.  Make everyone happy and make croutons and toasts.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 


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