We are lucky to have a European style bakery a few miles from our home, and they make the most wonderful artisan breads. I bought a loaf to have with our soup the other day, but our plans changed, and I had to put off making the soup.
The next day, I discovered that the extreme low humidity in our house had sucked most of the moisture out of the bread, enough that it would have been to unpleasureable to eat.
So around here, that means it is time to make the croutons! If you have never done it, it is incredibly easy, and once you've had homemade ones, those store bought just won't measure up.
This is a good project to do when you are doing other things in the kitchen, because the prep is quick and easy, but you have to stir them every 5- 10 minutes depending upon the bread that you use.
This was a loaf of Italian, but I also use loaves of French, or Bagettes, Pumpernickel (really good ones!), and sourdough is another favorite. You can use any of your favorite breads, but the chewier, more rough textured breads make the best croutons.
I never slice bread at the bakerys or grocery store, and if you are intentionally using a loaf for croutons, I find it easier to not have it presliced. But that is just my own personal preference.
First I slice the bread into chunks (see all of the crumbs from it being so dry? I could go ahead and make some of my own bread crumbs by using a food processor or blender, but I've got plenty right now),
Then I cube it. We like our croutons a little on the large size because we use them more in clear broth soups than on salads. .you can't imagine how good chicken or beef broth is soaked into a herbed crouton, and have it melt on your tongue! Just set the spoon aside to eat the noodles after you soak up the broth! Oh! And can you see me in this photo? I'm there!! At least a little of me is! ;-)
Next melt a stick of butter or if you prefer, margarine. I use unsalted butter, but again, that is personal preference.
Add your favorite herbal combinations, taking care not to overpower the croutons. Remember that you want a subtle flavor that won't conflict with the flavors of your soup or salad ingredients.
I used some of my own poultry seasoning blend, with some plants from my garden, some freshly ground black/white & Red pepper combo, plus some dried parsley from my garden. Other yummy combos are garlic powder, garlic powder with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, oregano & thyme, or Italian seasonings with garlic, or your favorite warm, earthy, savory herbs. Don't be afraid to experiment!
Using a whisk, blend the melted butter and herbs together, to keep it from separating, and while continuing to whisk, slowly drizzle the melted butter over the bread cubes, a little at a time. Stop to stir and distribute the herbal butter through the cubes. (Do you know how hard it was to hold the heavy saucepan and drizzle butter with on hand, while taking the picture with a large camera, with the other?)
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Spread the croutons in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet or jelly roll pan that has low sides.
Bake for 45 - 60 minutes, depending upon the bread used, stopping to stir it, every 5 - 10 minutes, to brown evenly. Watch carefully, because you don't want them to become hard. You want them crunchy, that will melt in your mouth.
These will be going into a container to be put in the freezer because I'm going to be making a soup that won't need croutons. You can also store them in air tight jars, or ziplock storage bags if you are going to be using them within a short time.
I hope that you enjoy your croutons! If you have any problems, or questions, I'd be more than happy to help you if I can. If I don't know the answer, I'll help you find it
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