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12/02/2015

~ How & Why to Make: (French-Style) Breadcrumbs ~

IMG_8614Buying store-bought breadcrumbs is like buying a store-bought pie crust.  It's an all-too-convenient time-saver in a very busy world, but, when you get down to brass tacks, there's no tasteful way to compare the two.  Economically, the cost differential is comparable to spending a hard-earned dollar vs. finding a shiny penny -- it's extreme.  While, whenever I need them, I always make my own fresh breadcrumbs in the food processor, up until a few years ago, I was a full-blown buyer of dried, seasoned and unseasoned breadcrumbs -- Progresso or 4C.

Images BreadCrumbs-1These are good products.  I am not criticizing them.  If you are not inclined to dabble in "the easy art of making  breadcrumbs", I recommend keeping one or the other in your pantry. Both companies sell the coarser, crispier, and lighter-textured Japanese panko breadcrumbs too, but, since making panko is a different process (the bread is baked via electric current, which yields a crustless loaf prior to the drying process) I'm leaving it out of this European-style breadcrumb discussion today.

IMG_8580Meet the breadcrumbs that changed my outlook on all breadcrumbs:

IMG_8571Thanks to a friend who hailed from Chicago proper, I was introduced to Gonnella French-Style breadcrumbs in the early 1990's. Not a commercial bakery, for over 125 years, this company has been making their breadcrumbs made from their own hearth baked breads, purchasing no outside products.  Thanks to the internet, you no longer have to know someone in Chicago to get them.

Gonnella French-style breadcrumbs are as close to homemade as you can buy!

Prior to American sliced-white bread, and the American bastardization of all bread in general, in old-world Europe, when a French or Italian chef or cook needed breadcrumbs, they would reach into their 'stale bread basket' -- a basket where they kept 2-3-4 day old bread (not moldy bread). He or she would pick up a crusty, now-hardened loaf and use a meat mallet to pulverize it -- those were real-deal unadulterated, dried breadcrumbs.  Because the bread was hearth-baked in-house, the crumbs were delicious and the quality was consistent too.  I'm using the French and the Italians as examples because their breads are loved and recognized by all. 

What's the difference, or, is there a difference between French and Italian bread?

IMG_8538In the present-day bread world, there is little or no difference -- most people distinguish the two by shape because bakeries often use the same dough recipe to make French baguettes and Italian loaves.  In my baking-bread-at-home food world, yes, there are a couple of noteworthy differences.  Sans the shape, when I bake French baguettes, I get out special U-shaped pans with little holes poked in them for circulation, a spray bottle of mineral water, and, put a bain Marie (water bath) in the bottom of the oven to keep the air circulating around the bread moist. IMG_8541When I bake Italian loaves, I put a pizza stone in the oven.  While my recipes for both are similar, my French bread is a bit sweeter, while my Italian bread is a bit saltier, and, I often add some oil to my Italian bread too.  While both breads emerge crusty, I describe my French bread as having a thin crust with a delicate, soft center and my Italian bread as having a thicker crust, with a chewier, soft center.  

I will also add, at great risk of starting a border-war amongst bread bakers: the art of baking an old-school French baguette is much harder to master than baking a rustic loaf of Italian bread. 

 And you thought this was going to be a boring post!

6a0120a8551282970b019b00c63e74970bBoth French and Italian bread, homemade or high-quality store-bought, makes great homemade breadcrumbs, but, I am here to tell you that breadcrumbs made from a loaf of French brioche (an enriched yeast dough containing milk, butter, eggs and a bit of extra-sugar) is extraordinary.  With the holiday season upon me, I always find myself cooking a few seafood and vegetable dishes that get topped with breadcrumbs, and, having brioche breadcrumbs on- 6a0120a8551282970b015391cb26eb970bhand in my kitchen genuinely and seriously takes them over-the-top. Don't be a doubter, these breadcrumbs do make a difference.

Let the brioche bake itself!

Because I love brioche, I developed a recipe for making it in the bread machine, and, it has received nothing but accolades.  Just click into Categories 5 or 15, to learn ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~.  Because I am a very good bread baker in general, I've adapted other recipes for the bread machine too, and, they're available in the same Categories.

Also worth mentioning:  making your own breadcrumbs from any type home-baked bread will render them devoid of all artificial flavors, additives and chemicals.  They are, sigh, all-natural.

IMG_8556Let's make my super-easy buttery brioche breadcrumbs:

IMG_8552 IMG_8561~ Step 1. Remove the crust from a 1-pound loaf of 2-day-old brioche (my brioche was baked, cooled to room temperature, wrapped in plastic and left at room temperature for two full days).  You will have 13-14 ounces of bread.  Cut the bread into 1/2" slices, then 1/2" cubes, placing them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper as you work. Preheat oven to 220-225 degrees.

Note:  Whenever I make any type of breadcrumbs from any type of bread, for color and consistency, I always remove the crust.  That said, the option to leave the crust on is yours.

IMG_8575~ Step 2.  Bake on center rack of oven for about 45-60 minutes*, or until cubes are crunchy, dried out and slightly browned.  Turn oven off, crack door open and allow to cool to room temperature, in the oven,  about 1 1/2-2 hours.  It is also ok to let them sit in the opened oven for several hours or overnight.

*Note:  If you are not using my brioche recipe, this could take a shorter or longer period of time.

IMG_8597 IMG_8591~ Step 3.  In 1-2 batches, place the cubes in work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Starting with a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, then, turning motor on for about 10-15 seconds, process to crumbs. Transfer to an airtight container.  Breadcrumbs can remain at room temp for about 2-3 days, in the refrigerator a month, or in freezer 4-6 months.

You will have 2 cups of amazing French-style breadcrumbs!

IMG_8604 Whether you make mine (left) or buy theirs (right)...

IMG_8626...Vive le France!!!

IMG_8610How & Why to Make:  (French-Style) Breadcrumbs:  Recipe yields 2 cups of French-style brioche breadcrumbs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; food processor; food-storage container w/tight fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b017ee6316515970dCook's Note:  During the holidays, I tend to serve quite a fit of seafood. One of my favorite uses for my French-style brioche breadcrumbs is as a topping for my ~ Festive Seafood Gratinee (Gratin de Fruite de Mer) ~.  Just click into Categories 3, 11, 19 or 20 to get this delicious over-the-top recipe!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2015)

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