It happens to all of us, eventually that once-lovely loaf of bread is depleted down to the last few slices that nobody seems to be adventurous enough to consume. Possibly due to their striking similarity to discarded bits of drywall, or maybe that newer, better loaf is just too tempting and soft to resist. More often than not, these unsung heroes of the bread world are cast into the composter or rubbish bin without a second thought. The really lucky ones end up as a meal for some privileged manner of wild animal or sea bird.
But thrifty cooks know not to discard these gems, they can be a great ingredient for many different types of simple dishes everyone will love. From appetizers to dessert, bread has been a staple for thousands of years, and for good reason. It’s one of the most versatile treasures to be found in almost any kitchen. Even gluten-free varieties and dietary specialties can be substituted for almost any recipe. A good habit is to wrap up the last few old pieces in cling film and toss them in the freezer for a couple weeks until you have enough to recycle them into a dish of your choosing.
The only rule when cooking with past-date or stale bread is to look closely for any signs of mold. Bread that’s as hard as granite is fine, but mold is a deal breaker and should be avoided at all costs, especially when cooking for young children. Mold doesn’t usually appear until your bread is well past its best before date, but organic varieties can have a much shorter shelf life and should be monitored more closely.
Be it white, brown, wholegrain, spelt, pumpernickel or unleavened, don’t throw away the frowned-upon end pieces or slightly non-sandwich-conducive squished bits, try some of these simple and low-cost recipes to transform them into something brand new and mouth watering.
Perfect home-made Croutons
Perk up your next salad or soup with these little gems, you can add whichever spices you love best, and feel free to use flavored oils and experiment by mixing different types of bread together.
– 2 cups diced bread cubes (include crusts)
– 1/8 cup olive oil
– 1/8 tbsp salt & pepper
– 1/2 tsp garlic powder
– 1/4 tbsp dried rosemary & thyme
– Additional herbs and/or spices of your choosing and mix it up!
1. Pre-heat oven to 375˚
2. In large bowl, mix all ingredients together, ensuring all the bread cubes are coated with some of the oil and seasoning
3. Line a baking tray with parchment paper (skip this step if using a quality non-stick tray)
4. Spread the bread cubes evenly in one layer across the pan
5. Bake 15-20 minutes, being sure to flip the bread cubes around with a spatula every 10 minutes or so. (Timing may be slightly more or less depending on the dryness of the bread being used, so monitor closely every 5 minutes)
6. Let cool and store in an air dry container
Croustini may sound like a posh word, but it simply means “crisp bread”. Very common when used for appetizers, tapas, and even as home-made chips. The process is almost exactly the same as making croutons, and they are great topped with your favorite savory preserves, pates, or anything else that your guests and family may fancy. Makes a great and healthy snack for kids when served with fruit, yogurt or cottage cheese. Very simple to make and guests never fail to be impressed when they learn you’ve made them yourself. For a perfect accompaniment to pasta dishes, sprinkle each slice with some fine shredded asiago or parmesan cheese just prior to popping them in the oven.
1. Slice your bread into ½ inch thick slices, you can do this on the bias, or if making for children, use their favorite shaped cookie cutter.
2. Brush each croustini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper if you choose, or a mixture of dried herbs and/or garlic
3. Bake using the same process as the home-made croutons, only it is not necessary to flip the slices over unless desired
4. Let cool and store in an air-dried container
Basic bread Pudding
Bread pudding is one of the great comfort foods. It’s simple and very budget friendly. Most of the ingredients can be found in every kitchen, and it’s so versatile, it’s very easy to adjust to any taste. This recipe is for a basic version which is lovely on its own, but you can personalize it in so many ways by adding dried fruit, chocolate, different flavor extracts and even your favorite liqueurs. Best when served warm and with one of your favorite sauces or preserves.
– 3 ½ cups Milk (full fat preferably, but 2% is fine)
– ¼ cup butter or margarine
– 1 cup brown sugar
– 8-10 slices stale bread, sliced in large cubes or torn into chunks
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– ¼ tsp salt
– 3 eggs
– 1tsp vanilla
1. Pre-heat oven to 325˚
2. Bring milk and butter/margarine to a gentle boil and remove from heat to cool until room temperature then whisk in eggs
3. Pour over bread and mix in sugar, spices and vanilla. If adding liqueur, add at this stage
4. Using your hands or a large spoon, mix to ensure all the bread is coated and immersed
5. Let sit for at least one hour to allow the bread to absorb the custard
6. When all bred is soaked, this is the time to add extra ingredients such as chocolate chips and/or dried fruits
7. Pour into a sprayed casserole dish or smaller individual portions
8. Bake for approximately 90 minutes, depending on the density of the bread and the range of ingredients added
9. Test in the centre using a cake tester. If it comes out clean, removes from oven and let cool before serving