Lauren Groveman a recipe for delicious living

Home-Dried Breadcrumbs and Croutons

(June 1, 2006)

Barbara asked Lauren:
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Thanks SO much for the recipe for homemade chicken fingers. I can tell, just by reading the instructions that this might just get my kids “unhooked” from fast-food chicken nuggets. (I’m hoping!) Anyway, I’m wondering if you have any preferred “brand” of dried bread crumbs and, if so, how long do they stay good? The ones I have are in a tall canister and, because I haven’t used them in a long time, I’m not sure how to tell if they’re still OK to use in your recipe. Also, once I assemble the chicken fingers, can they be frozen? And, if so, should they be cooked or uncooked? I’m wondering if I could make a big batch and freeze some for another day. (Can’t wait to make the duck sauce!!)

Lauren says...

Actually, Barbara, I don’t use store-bought breadcrumbs (or croutons for that matter). Now, now, before you roll your eyes and think “this girl’s over-the-top with her love of cooking,” rest assured that I don’t actually “make” the bread that I use for crumbs (unless some of my homemade bread happens to be hanging around for a day or so, after baking.)

Here’s why I make them at home: I just can’t see choosing to use anything “stale” when cooking for my family and friends. And, a canister of breadcrumbs or a bag of croutons that’s been sitting on a shelf, first in the supermarket and then in a pantry at home, possibly for years is, by definition, stale. So, although the dried texture of store-bought crumbs is fine, their taste and aroma (to me) fall way short. The only way I’ve found to get all three elements: crumbs with a savory taste, perfectly dried texture and an enticing aroma, is to make the crumbs at home. Truthfully, until you’ve smelled and tasted the difference between store-bought breadcrumbs and croutons and the ones made at home, there’s no way to actually “know” the difference. But, trust me, once you’ve experience this difference, it’s very hard to ever go back.

So, here’s what I do: Making dried breadcrumbs at home is such an easy process. On a day when I have some time, I’ll purchase several best-quality (freshly baked) long, crusty Italian bread loaves (always with sesame seeds). I slice the loaves and then I toast the slices in the oven, until dry and golden. Then, I grind the slices in the food processor (or I just pulse them, for crumbs with a coarser consistency) and freeze the crumbs, stored in doubled, heavy-duty freezer bags. To use them, just scoop the crumbs from the bag, straight out of the freezer. (For croutons, you’d cut the slices into small cubes and then toast them in the oven. Then the dried cubes get sautéed or, once cool, you’ll simply store these “unflavored” croutons, in the freezer. When you want dried croutons, with a fresh taste, you’ll take some out of the freezer and sauté them.)

Oh, and I don’t recommend freezing uncooked chicken fingers. However, it’s fine to cook them and then put them in the freezer; just don’t let them get quite as golden in the pan (cook them over lower heat). Once “just” cooked and only light golden brown, remove the chicken fingers from the pan and drain them on paper towels. Once cool, you can either refrigerate the chicken fingers for a couple of days, or freeze them, in layers, in a covered container, separated by sheets of wax paper. Reheat them straight from the fridge (or freezer) on a shallow baking sheet, drizzled with a little melted butter, in a preheated 375°F for about 15 minutes (20 to 25 minutes for the frozen ones), or until hot and crisp and they become a deeper shade of brown, being careful not to allow them to overcook. Turn them over once, while reheating. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Ok, here’s the official recipe for Home-Dried Breadcrumbs and Croutons. (I urge you to try this--you won’t believe the difference!)

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Make Dried Crumbs & Cubes....From Fresh Bread

Yield: 2 to 3 cups crumbs or toasted cubes (may be doubled)

Bread Crumbs & Croutons By definition, store-bought bread crumbs are old and stale. So, why use them (or worse, serve them to guests)? For the best bread crumbs, regardless of their ultimate use, always purchase the freshest bread possible and, within twenty-four hours of purchase, if not eaten, make dried bread crumbs or croutons. The good news--homemade dried bread crumbs and cubes freeze perfectly when stored in doubled, well-sealed freezer bags. And there's no need to thaw them-- just scoop them straight from the freezer as you need them. Whether making croutons, stuffing, crumbs to cover fish, boneless chicken or shrimp, or a savory topping for freshly cooked pasta or a bubbling gratin, the flavor and aroma of bread crumbs and cubes made at home is unbelievably better than the store-bought stuff.

    For crumbs or cubes:
  • 1 large, fresh loaf Italian bread (preferably with sesame seeds on top), crust kept intact (or more, as needed)

1)To make coarse or fine bread crumbs: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Slice the bread into 1-inch slices and lay them in a single layer on a wire cooling rack set on a shallow, baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until light golden all over. Turn off the heat and let the bread remain there until dry and very crisp, about 15 minutes. (If your oven runs hot, leave the door ajar while drying.) Remove from the oven and, when the slices are cool, crush them and drop into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process the bread until the crumbs are coarse or fine, depending on which type you want. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and use as directed in your recipe or store them in an air-tight canister for 1 week at room temperature or in the freezer, in doubled, heavy-duty freezer bags.

2) To make dried bread cubes: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the bread (including the crust) into 1/2-inch slices, then stack two slices and cut them lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips. Cut these strips into 1/2-inch cubes. Continue until you’ve cut the entire loaf this way. Place the bread cubes on a shallow (not-too-dark) baking sheet in a single layer and bake until the cubes are dry and light golden all over, about 10 minutes. (If still somewhat soft, leave the cubes in a turned off oven for 10 to 15 minutes, with the door ajar. When done, the cubes should feel dry and hard. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use bread cubes as desired, or allow them to cool completely before storing them either in the freezer or in an air-tight canister for 1 week, at room temperature.

    Timing is Everything:

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  • Bread cubes and crumbs can be frozen for at least 2 months in doubled securely sealed plastic bags. To use, just scoop them from the freezer.

For Crispy Garlic Croutons: 2 cups dried bread cubes

  • 1/2 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thin
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon of oregano crumbled (optional)
  • 1/4 cup grated best-quality Parmesan cheese (optional)
1) To flavor the oil: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, reduce the heat to medium and stir in the sliced garlic. Sauté the garlic, pressing on the slices with the back of a wooden spoon to help flavor the oil. Cook the garlic, until golden and crisp, being careful not to let it burn. Using a slotted utensil, remove the garlic slices and set them aside, for now.

2) To sauté the croutons: Raise the heat under the pan to medium-high and add all the bread cubes. Sauté the cubes in the hot oil, until golden on all sides, tossing frequently give them even exposure to heat. Chop the fried garlic slices and add to the skillet. Stir to combine the bread cubes with the garlic. Cook for a minute or so, remove the fried cubes with the garlic to a bowl. Sprinkle on some fresh ground pepper and the oregano, if using. If desired, toss with the optional grated Parmesan cheese and bake the croutons on a shallow baking sheet for another 5 minutes, in a preheated 375°F oven. Whether or not you use the cheese, let the croutons cool completely, uncovered, and then pile them into a bowl or an airtight tin.

3) To store croutons:
Store croutons, at room temperature covered in an airtight container.
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Lauren Groveman recipes have been featured in many national magazines and local newspapers. Her books "The I love to Cook Book: Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking for Family and Friends" and "Lauren Groveman's Kitchen, Nurturing Food for Family and Friends" are available through Amazon.com. Lauren hosts an hour-long, "live" weekly radio show, Food Family & Home "Matters," on 1460 WVOX.

For in depth information on Lauren Groveman as a writer, teacher, TV & radio host, as well as her recipes and cooking tips visit her website at www.laurengroveman.com

Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.