Homemade croutons have much better flavor and texture than the dry, rock-hard varieties you buy at the supermarket, and they’re so easy to make. You can be creative with the type of bread you use, the cooking method, and the seasonings. And since homemade croutons freeze well, you can keep a few different varieties on hand for salads, soups, or any other dish that needs a little textural contrast.
Choose your method:
Depending on the texture you like, you can sauté or bake your croutons. Sautéed croutons have a pleasing crisp-chewy texture and will be irregularly browned. Baked croutons are crunchier all the way through and more uniformly golden.
Choose your bread:
The fun thing about making your own croutons is that you can choose what kind of bread to use: day-old baguettes, rustic airy loaves like ciabatta, English muffins, sandwich bread, rosemary bread, even pita all make interesting croutons. There’s no need to remove the crust. You also get to choose the size you want the croutons to be; I like to cut sandwich bread and pitas into very small croutons (about 1/4-inch dice) and artisan loaves into larger pieces (1/2-inch dice). For a rustic look, simply rip the bread into pieces. Four ounces of any type of bread will yield between 2 and 3 cups of cubes.
Store croutons in zip-top bags or in airtight foodstorage containers at room temperature for up to three days or in the freezer for several weeks. They also keep in the fridge for several days with only a small loss of crunchiness.
Customize your croutons
Try one of these additions to give your croutons extra flavor:
- Fresh herbs, such as thyme leaves or chopped sage or rosemary (stir 1 to 2 sprigs’ worth into the butter just before adding the bread).
- Dried spices, such as pure chile powder, curry powder, crushed fennel, or a spice blend (stir 1/2 to 1 tsp. into the butter just before adding the bread).
- Cinnamon sugar for sweet croutons to use in puddings and custards (omit the garlic and toss the croutons in 1 to 2 Tbs. cinnamon sugar right after cooking).
- Finely grated hard cheeses, such as Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano (toss the croutons with about 3 Tbs. right after cooking).
- Basil pesto, tapenade, or puréed sun-dried tomatoes (mix a dollop into the butter before adding the bread).
- Extra smashed garlic for more garlic flavor (but don’t use minced garlic, which tends to burn during sautéing or baking).