Do you make your own croutons? I'm convinced that the world of cooks is divided into those who do, and those who don't, make their own croutons. I make my own, always have. I've never even bought a box of croutons, though I've certainly eaten them.
When I see a box on the shelf at a friend's I wonder, "How could they? Homemade are so much better!" And when the same friend sees me make my homemade version, they ask, "How could you? The box is so much easier!"
If you do make your own croutons, then I'm preaching to the choir. If not, I implore you to try, just once. It's really so so easy, and they are soooooo good. Especially if you start with a good quality Italian or French loaf bread, or a lovely baguette.
Easy Croutons on the Stovetop
Looking around at other recipes I've noticed that many people make croutons in the oven. I've done that (and still do on occasion); but you do have to be careful if you cook them that way. In the oven it's easy to overcook them, turning them solid brown all around, when what you want it just lightly toasted on the outside, crunchy, but still a little spring in the bread.
The way my mother makes croutons (once at year at least for her famed and fabulous turkey stuffing) is to toast them in a little melted butter in a wide shallow pan on the stove-top.
Tips for the Best Croutons
- It's best to use day old French or Italian loaf bread, but you can dry out the cubed bread in a warm oven for a few minutes if you are working with fresh bread.
- Butter is for the flavor. It can't be beat. You don't need anything else actually. Just butter. If you are working with butter and some good bread, the flavor is just perfect.
How to Make Seasoned Croutons
If you'd like to give your croutons some flavor, toss them with dried herbs or spices once they're toasted and before removing the pan from heat. You don't need much seasoning; a half teaspoon or so will do.
Here are a few ideas for seasonings:
- Ranch seasoning: black pepper, dried parsley, dried dill, and if you have it, powdered buttermilk
- Italian seasoning: dried basil, dried oregano, dried rosemary, and dried thyme
- Smoky seasoning: smoked paprika or smoked salt
- Curried croutons: curry powder or garam masala
- Garlic croutons: mince a clove of garlic and sauté until fragrant in the melted butter before adding the croutons
Storing and Freezing Croutons
While these croutons are best when freshly made and still a little warm from the skillet, you can also cool them completely and store them in an airtight container for a few days on the counter or for up to a month in the freezer.
You can also cut leftover bread into cubes and freeze it for making croutons or breadcrumbs.
Ways to Use Croutons
Use these croutons to top a soup or salad, or for making stuffing. Here are some favorite recipes:
- Easy Tomato Soup
- Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Butternut Squash Soup
- Arugula Salad with Beets and Goat Cheese
- Mixed Green Salad with Pecans, Goat Cheese, and Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
How to Make Croutons
- French or Italian loaf bread, or a French baguette, at least a day old
- 3 to 4 tablespoons butter
Cut the bread into cubes:
Cut the bread into even-sized cubes, about 3/4-inch to an inch wide. A loaf will yield about 8 cups of cubed bread (give or take a couple cups, depending on the size of the loaf).
If the bread isn't dry enough, put it in a warm oven:
Your bread should be a little dry, at least a day old if you are using French or Italian loaf or a baguette. You don't want the bread cubes to be all dried out, just a little dry on the surface so that they brown better, and they hold up better when tossed in a salad or baked in a stuffing.
If the bread cubes are not dry enough, spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in a warm oven (200°F or 90°C) for about 10 minutes.
Brown croutons in butter in sauté pan:
Melt the butter on medium high heat in a large sauté pan. Add the croutons and mix them up in the butter so they get lightly coated. Spread the croutons out in a single layer in the pan.
Then don't stir them until they start to brown on one side. Once they start to brown, use a metal spatula to lift them up and turn them over, so more sides brown. When the croutons are at least a little toasted on a couple of sides, remove from heat.
If storing, let cool completely before putting in an airtight container. Otherwise the steam released from the warm croutons will take away their crunch.