Stale bread not just for the birds

The bread box in our household tends to be a place to shove the leftover baguette, the unused hamburger or hot dog buns and storage for the butt end of bread pieces that no one wants.

Left: Having humble roots

Left: Having humble roots

The bread box in our household tends to be a place to shove the leftover baguette, the unused hamburger or hot dog buns and storage for the butt end of bread pieces that no one wants. During the summer months, they become food for the birds but during the winter, these bread pieces tend to accumulate in the breadbox. Rather than toss them out I have learned to give stale bread new life!

Stale bread doesn’t necessarily mean bad bread. If the bread is mouldy, you’ll want to toss it out, but if it’s just old and dry, it can be handy kitchen ingredient that can be used with a number of recipes or it can be the main attraction.

Bread passed its prime, can be rejuvenated to Panzanella, an Italian Tuscan bread salad. Just cube the bread, toss it with tomatoes, lettuce, basil, other fresh vegetables and liberally dress with lemon-garlic vinaigrette.

Use stale bread for your favourite French toast recipe. Day old bread is ideal for this Sunday brunch item because it will absorb more of the custard mixture than fresh bread. When you have old bread, you can also by-pass the boxed stuffing packages in the grocery aisle. Simply cut up your stale bread into small chunks, and then mix it with your favourite meat stock and chopped vegetables. The stock will make up for the bread’s lack of moisture.

If you find yourself with a chunk of stale bread and no immediate use for it, just freeze it for later.

Those butt ends of sandwich-style loaves, the ones that have a tendency to get pushed around and ignored until there’s not another slice of bread left in the house can be added to the frozen stash as well.

Just make sure to slice up any bread before you freeze it, as it’s a lot easier to do so when the bread’s at room temperature than when it’s a big frozen block. Keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer, freezing extra bread as you accumulate it, and you’ll find you may never have to waste a slice of bread again.

Here are my top three things to do with these stale or few days old bread.

Bread crumbs

When life gives you stale bread … make breadcrumbs! Cut whatever leftover bread you are using into chunks. If you wish, you can remove the crusts, which will give you a more consistently textured crumb. Spread the chunks out on a baking tray and place in a 200°F oven for 30 minutes or until they are thoroughly dried out and turning a bit golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Use a food processor to grind the cooled chunks into crumbs (takes about 1 minute on high and you may need to pulse it a bit to get things started). Pour the crumbs into freezer bags, date and freeze until ready to use. You can keep it in the freezer for up to three months and there’s no need to thaw frozen breadcrumbs before using.

Breadcrumbs are an amazingly versatile ingredient. Mix them with hamburger to add extra texture to meat loaf or meat balls. Mix them with seasonings (herbs, spices, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, etc.) and use them as a topping for casseroles and other baked dishes to add a crunchy textural dimension.

Dredge meat or vegetables in flour, then egg, and finally in bread crumbs before pan frying or baking chicken and fish. The bread crumbs form a crunchy barrier, keeping the food moist and not letting too much oil in. And what many might not know is that bread crumbs can be great alternative for a sauce thickeners! Bread crumbs can be added to any sauce recipe in place of corn starch or flour.

Croutons

Adding crunchy homemade croutons to a garden salad transforms what can be a dinner afterthought to a dinner showpiece and in doing so, you’re almost always using up stale bread that might otherwise wind up in the trash.

Quick to make and long-lasting to store, homemade croutons are fresher (can be made in small batches), less expensive and lower in fat than off the shelf variety.

To make croutons, simply cube bread , drizzle with seasoned butter or oil, and bake until crunchy. White bread is normally used for croutons but if you are making a nutritious and vegetable-rich soup consider using wholegrain bread. You can also try sourdough bread, rye bread, baguette bread or another kind.

You can add all kinds of herbs, spices and other seasonings to homemade croutons to contrast or match with the soup or salad. For example, if you are making a gingered pumpkin soup recipe, you might like to add some ginger to your croutons to enhance the ginger flavour. You can use flavoured oil to make croutons or roll them in grated Parmesan cheese to jazz up plain Caesar salad. Use your imagination and you can make some really tasty croutons.

Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding is an old fashioned dessert that has humble beginnings in 13th century England. This pudding was made specifically to salvage bread that would otherwise have been thrown away. It was first known as a “poor man’s pudding” as it was made from stale bread that was just moistened in water, to which a little sugar, spices and other ingredients were added.

Today, fine chefs were not content to simply soak the bread in water; instead they use a rich custard mixture of milk or cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and spices. Sometimes even nuts, chocolate, fruit zests, alcohol, candied, dried or fresh fruits are added for more flavour and texture. The result is a rich, creamy, decadent dessert that has shed its humble roots to become a featured dessert item in trendy establishments.

Garlic croutons

6 slices old bread, cubed

3 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic powder and a pinch of salt OR 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix melted butter, garlic powder/salt, and parsley flakes until garlic powder is dissolved and mixture is clump free. Toss butter mixture with cubed bread in a medium bowl until cubes are evenly coated. Spread coated bread cubes on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes and check to see if they are dry, crispy, and golden brown. Stir the croutons around and bake for an additional 15 minutes until done. Store croutons in air-tight container or Ziploc bag.

Bread pudding

6 slices day-old bread

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

4 eggs, beaten

2 cups milk

3/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream (optional)

Maple syrup (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Break bread into small pieces into an 8 inch square baking pan. Drizzle melted butter or margarine over bread. If desired, sprinkle with raisins. In a medium mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Pour over bread, and lightly push down with a fork until bread is covered and soaking up the egg mixture. .Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly tapped. Serve with whipped cream and maple syrup.

Panzanella (Tuscan bread salad)

Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette (recipe below)

9 cups day-old country bread, torn into large pieces

2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, large dice

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

2 medium English hothouse cucumbers, halved lengthwise and cut into large dice

1 packed cup fresh basil leaves, torn into large pieces

Combine half of the vinaigrette with all of the bread, toss to coat well, and set aside at room temperature to marinate for about 10 minutes. When the bread has marinated, add remaining vinaigrette and all other ingredients and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using clean hands, mix together until well incorporated. Let rest at least 15 minutes to let flavours meld, then serve at room temperature.

Lemon-garlic vinaigrette

This basic dressing can be used to top anything from bread salad to grilled chicken or fish.

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tablespoon lemon zest

3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

6 white anchovies, rinsed and thinly sliced (optional)

Place lemon juice in a nonreactive bowl. Whisking continuously, add olive oil in a thin stream until well blended. Add lemon zest, garlic, and anchovies (if using), and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.

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