The Laziest Way to Make Croutons Also Happens to Be the Best Way
Store-bought croutons are never quite as delicious as I want them to be. They’re also perfectly square or rectangular. Why does that matter? Because when it comes to bits of bread, uneven surfaces translate to texture. Enter: hand-torn homemade croutons, aka the best salad and soup topper you’ve ever had. They’re tastier, crunchier, and more flavorful than boxed croutons — and you don’t even have to pick up your knife. Here’s how to make them.
How to Make Hand-Torn Homemade Croutons
If you have a loaf of stale bread, you’re halfway to Crouton Town. Any type of bread will work, though I am personally a fan of crusty bakery-style bread because it has the most nooks and crannies. The magic happens when that old bread soaks up oil or butter in the oven. The bread’s staleness actually works in your favor, acting like a sponge for the fat. I won’t mince words here: The more fat your croutons absorb, the more delicious they will be. Fat is flavor!
So, now that we’ve released ourselves from the requirement that croutons should be low-fat, we’re going to want to inject as much flavor as possible into our next batch. Straight and even cuts made with a knife act as a barrier for oil; some will splash onto the surface, but a lot will slide off onto the pan. So instead of slicing the bread into cubes, tear it into irregularly shaped pieces with your hands.
Don’t worry about getting every piece uniformly sized (although obviously try to avoid any pieces that are too large to fit in your mouth). The imperfect shapes and sizes create extra nooks and crannies for the oil to seep into. (If you are working with a particularly crusty boule, make sure that every piece is at least 50% soft inner stuff to avoid tooth-shattering bites.) After you’ve torn the bread, add it to a large mixing bowl and drizzle with oil, salt, and any other herbs or spices you’d like. Use your hands to toss the croutons and gently massage the oil into them. All of those imperfect edges and corners help the fat work its way to the center of each crouton for crunchy, rich-tasting results.
If you’re a fan of crispy bits, this technique is also for you: The tips and ridges of your torn bread will get a little darker and crunchier than the craggy centers, which makes for a fun textural experience!
Once they’re fully seasoned, spread the croutons out on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer, without crowding the pan. Bake them at 350°F in the center of the oven, removing the tray halfway through to toss the croutons and rotate the pan. After about 20 minutes, they’ll be golden-brown, crispy-crunchy on the outside, and tender in the center. Adjust the timing if your bread pieces are super large or small, if you are working with a light fluffy bread like brioche or challah (which will brown faster), or if you like a different texture.
Because I’m a lazy cook, I really love that this method saves me from using (and later washing) a knife. Parents: When you ditch the knife, hand-tearing croutons also becomes a great kitchen-helper task for kids. But what really seals the deal for me is that hand-torn croutons are simply the tastiest, best croutons I’ve tried.
3 Delicious Ways to Use Your Hand-Torn Croutons (Beyond Salad)
- As a soup topper: Is there anything better than crunchy bread paired with hot, creamy soup? Maybe, but I haven’t found it.
- On top of grain bowls: Why not add a little textural contrast to grain bowls? Nobody said that croutons are only for green salads.
- As a topper for meat and fish: Tear your croutons a little smaller (so they’re like XL bread crumbs) then use them to finish a main protein. They’re great with a simple pan sauce — just drizzle meat or fish with a spoonful of sauce, then top with a small handful of croutons. P.S.: Nobody would be upset if you also added a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.