What are croutons?
Croutons are small pieces of crunchy bread made by oven-drying, toasting or frying stale bread. They can be added to soups, salads or stews for added crunch and texture. They can come in many forms – sometimes very hard, dried-out pieces that partially rehydrate when scattered over soups or into salad dressing, or finer shards that have been toasted until lightly crunchy and are used warm over dishes.
What kind of bread should I use?
Most croutons are made from wheat bread that’s past its best (often a few days old) and has to be toasted to be eaten. It’s a great way of using up crusts of bread and giving them a second life rather than wasting them, but you can make croutons out of any bread-based products, like baguettes, brioche, focaccia, bagels and more. Sourdough works well as it has a good flavour and has a lighter, larger crumb than sandwich bread – it lends itself to being toasted.
Tips for making croutons from scratch
Size and shape
- As a general rule, you want croutons to be smaller than bite-sized so you can enjoy all the different textures in a dish together, but they can be slightly chunkier if you prefer larger croutons on salads or soups.
- Aim for 2-3cm cubes if you’re cutting them from a loaf of bread. Or, you can tear the bread into chunks for a looser texture if you prefer. Keep the crusts on for extra crunch or remove them for more consistency.
- Croutons are usually small cubes, but you can be quite loose with the shape as long as they are an equal size so they toast evenly.
Olive oil vs butter better?
- Olive oil is a great place to start when you’re making croutons. You want a good-flavoured oil as it soaks into the bread, so you will taste it in the final crouton. Avoid flavourless or old oils that can impart undesired flavours to you dish. Cold-pressed rapeseed, avocado, peanut or olive oils work well.
- You can use melted butter to make croutons, but it can turn golden brown quite quickly, adding a nutty, toasted flavour. The milk solids can also burn easily, so keep a close eye on the croutons. Clarified butter or ghee works well, but will have a stronger flavour than other oils. If you’re frying your croutons rather than baking them, you can use a mix of oil and butter for crispness and flavour. Keep tossing the croutons in the pan to ensure they crisp evenly.
- You can also use beef drippings, chicken or other animal-derived fat, but these will hold a lot of the flavour that can be overpowering, depending on what you’re using the croutons on.
How to get crispy croutons
- You will get crunchier croutons if you bake them, as the heat of the oven will dry them out as well as toasting the edges making them golden. You can also grill or fry them, but they might be slightly softer in the middle – lovely on a tomato salad, but won’t keep as long as drier baked croutons.
- If you’re baking your croutons, make sure they are well-spaced-out on a shallow tray to ensure they crisp evenly and they don’t steam, causing them to become soggy. They also need to be in a single layer and not touching. If you’re frying the croutons, toss the pan regularly to make sure they crisp evenly. Keep the heat medium-low to make sure the croutons crisp before any smaller pieces start to turn too dark.
- The larger the holes in the bread, the more water will evaporate during cooking and more oil will get into the middle of the croutons. You'll have crunchier croutons throughout. Firmer bread like baguettes, if baked at a lower temperature for a little longer, make excellent croutons for soup as they don’t hold as much oil and can absorb other flavours in the final dish.
- To make sure the croutons are evenly coated in the oil, toss them in a bowl with the oil first or on a baking tray using your hands. This will create evenly golden, crispy croutons.
- Classic flavours include finely chopped herbs, garlic, chilli or lemon. Whisk the flavourings into the oil, then toss in the croutons to evenly distribute.
- Try finely chopped rosemary, crushed garlic and lemon zest, or chilli, crushed fennel seeds and oregano.
- Smoked paprika and some mixed seeds make excellent croutons for tomato-based and heartier soups.
- Avoid any liquid flavourings as they can soften the croutons, but any dry spices and herbs work well.
- Chopped nuts like walnuts or pine nuts and seeds like sesame, mustard and fennel add interesting textures and flavours.
- You could also try grating some cheese onto the croutons for the last 5 minutes of baking until melted.
How long do homemade croutons last?
Depending on how dry and crisp your croutons are, they will last for up to a week in an airtight container, but will be at their best for the first two days. You can refresh them in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up again if you like.
Can you freeze croutons?
Croutons don’t freeze very well as they won’t retain their crunch when defrosted, but you can freeze small pieces of leftover bread to make croutons another time. Add torn pieces or cubes of bread to a sandwich bag or container in the freezer. Keep adding to the container if you have a few heels of bread to use before you make croutons. Defrost for a few hours at room temperature, then toss in the oil and bake as normal. This is a great way of preventing waste or using up the last of the bread if you have some having around, but not enough to use straightaway.
What can I serve croutons with?
- Croutons add an extra element to dishes, especially ones that perhaps are a little flat in terms of texture, like smooth tomato soup. Adding a few crunchy croutons can make even the simplest dishes seem more appealing. Try our smooth and creamy cauliflower soup with smoky, spicy chorizo & garlic croutons.
- They can also bulk out a dish like salad with croutons to make it a little more filling. We’ve made sourdough croutons with a little parmesan for extra umami in this next level Caesar salad.
- Not just for lunch soups and salads, croutons also have a place on the dinner table: try garlic bread croutons on a chicken & tomato bake.
- If you fancy making croutons a little differently, you can also grill fish fingers until crisp and scatter over salads and soups, like in this pea & pesto soup with fish finger croutons.
- Try making pan-fried croutons just before making an omelette for a quick and easy lunch or dinner with our pick & mix omelette recipe.
- For a great dinner party starter, try this watercress & celeriac soup with goat’s cheese-topped baguette croutons.
Check out our guide on how to make croutons for serving suggestions, flavouring ideas and even more delicious recipes.
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