Oh, the poor heel. For some of you, this is the best part of the loaf, but for many more, it's easily the most unloved section. It doesn't matter if it's a loaf of hearty sourdough or a baguette, the heel always seems to end up neglected. Next time you have the bookend of a loaf left over, think twice before tossing it — you might be surprised by just how much it can do.
It's true — eaten as is, the heel certainly doesn't prove as soft and enjoyable as those middle slices, but that's okay. Like any good story, a loaf of bread needs a beginning and an end. The heel of any loaf of bread does its best work not on its own, but when transformed or used as an ingredient in other recipes.
Sometimes a single heel of bread is all you need, while on other occasions, a collection of these bookends can make for some clever upcycling. I keep any extra pieces in a resealable bag in the freezer. That way, they're right there when I need them.
1. Use it as a thickener.
Hold on to your heels for soup! No matter what kind of bread you have in the kitchen right now — whole-wheat, rye, white, or just about anything else — all you need is a single slice or two to work as a thickener for soup or stew.
2. Make it into bread pudding.
Whether you're in the mood for something sweet or want a savory side to go with dinner, transform those leftover heels into bread pudding. You'll need more than a few ends, which is one reason I like keeping a stash in the freezer. From there, you've got a lot of leeway — the bread can be fresh, frozen (and defrosted), or even a little stale, and any variety or a mixture of a few kinds can be used. Breads like brioche, challah, sourdough, and rye all work for bread pudding.
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3. Grate it into breadcrumbs.
Wait until the heels start to get just a little stale, then run them along a grater (large or small holes — it's up to you) to make your own breadcrumbs. While all type of bread can be used to make breadcrumbs, your best options are crusty breads, like baguettes and sourdough and country loaves.
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4. Turn it into a panzanella salad.
Sure, you could use your extra bread heels to make croutons, but one step better is using them as the base for a panzanella salad. If you can't find the bright summer tomatoes used in the classic version, create your own version using a variety of the seasonal ingredients you can find at the moment. Roasted beets are sounding really good right now!
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5. Use it to soften brown sugar.
Even if you're dead-set against eating that heel of bread, there's still a way to put it to work. No matter what type of bread you have handy, a single heel slice will work its magic to soften that container of hard brown sugar sitting in your pantry.
More on This Surprising Tip: 4 Ways to Soften Brown Sugar (and Keep It That Way)