This is part of a short summer series covering smart strategies for using leftover staple foods - things like rice, beans, pasta, and so on. Here's what you do when you cook a bit too much and don't know what to do with the rest!
I'm a huge fan of homemade bread. I've made it at home many, many times, to the point that I could basically do it blindfolded, and it's always amazing when you pull it out of the oven, let it cool, and slice it for the first time.
The problem with homemade bread, though, is that it goes dry and becomes stale so quickly. The first time or two that you use that loaf, within several hours of it coming out of the oven, it's amazing. After that... staleness sets in surprisingly quickly, even if you take steps to preserve it. The same thing happens with bakery-fresh bread, too. That's part of the reason that store aisles are stuffed full of bread that's got a lot of extra stuff on it, so it'll last on store shelves.
This doesn't stop me from making homemade bread or picking some up from a bakery every once in a while. I love fresh bread! However, I'm often faced with the remnants of a loaf that's gone stale and dry. You can't just slice it for a sandwich and it's pretty crusty and stale for simply eating it, so what can you do with it?
Here's my repertoire of uses for stale homemade or bakery bread.
Start off the day with some French toast. Stale bread actually makes for better French toast than fresh bread, in my opinion. The dried nature of stale bread seems to soak up the beaten egg very well and makes for a more consistent piece of French toast on the plate. In fact, I'll often intentionally keep aside part of a loaf of bread early in the week for some tremendous French toast for the family on Saturday or Sunday morning.
It's easy. Just beat one egg in a bowl for every four slices of French toast you want to make. For every egg you've beaten, mix in a teaspoon of vanilla, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter cup of milk. Dredge a piece of stale bread through this mix, flip it over in the mix, let it rest for fifteen seconds or so, and then put it directly in a warmed skillet over medium heat. Check the bottom and flip it when it's golden. When the other side's golden, serve it with some syrup. It's amazing, and stale bread makes it even better!
Toss it in the toaster for regular toast. While I don't like using stale, dry bread for sandwiches, I certainly don't mind toasting it - after all, toast is simply dry and slightly crisped bread, right?
Just toss a piece of stale bread in the toaster, brown it thoroughly, and then spread whatever you like on it. I personally love spreading peanut butter on it and then slicing a banana on top of that, but simply spreading some butter on top is delicious with a cup of tea.
Turn it into breadcrumbs, which can be used for countless things. Stale bread is perfect for turning into breadcrumbs, which can be used as a thickening agent in all kinds of dishes as well as a great breading for various dishes.
It's easy. Just preheat your oven to 250 F, place slices of stale bread right on the oven racks, and leave them in there for 30 minutes. Remove them and they'll crumble easily by hand. You can also toss them in a blender or a food processor to make finer breadcrumbs.
I like to use breadcrumbs to thicken soups, to "stretch" things like meatloaf, and to bread mushrooms or fish filets.
Bake the stale bread into croutons for an amazing salad. Another strategy is to simply chop old bread into one inch cubes, put them on a baking sheet, and bake them in the oven for about thirty minutes at around 250 F to turn them into fresh croutons, which are perfect for salads.
You can create a lot of variations on croutons by dipping them in olive oil or adding seasonings - basil, oregano, garlic, and so on. It really depends on what flavors you want to imbue into the croutons.
Use old bread as a topping for French onion soup. Another great use for old, dry bread is to simply put it on top of a bowl of French onion soup. This is a great recipe for French onion soup in which you can use almost any stale bread.
There are few things I enjoy more on a cold autumn or winter day than a bowl of French onion soup with a thick slice of bread on top that's soaked up some of the juices of the soup. It's just amazing.
Jazz it up and bake it into bruschetta. Bruschetta is basically crusty bread with toppings, so bread that's somewhat stale is almost perfect for this appetizer.
Just brush slices of dry bread with olive oil, bake them in the oven at about 300 F for a few minutes, then top them with whatever sounds delicious on bruschetta. (While the bread's out of the oven, raise the heat to 450 F.) I like to used diced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, of course, but add whatever sounds good to you. Once you've topped the bread, return it to the oven (at 450 F) and bake for about seven minutes. It'll be an amazing appetizer or side dish!
Use old bread as the backbone of a breakfast casserole (or strata). My mother in law is master of this type of breakfast casserole, which is basically just dry bread in the bottom of a casserole dish covered with scrambled eggs and other toppings. It's really easy to make - you almost can't go wrong.
Just take a baking dish or casserole, coat it with oil or butter to prevent sticking, and add several slices of bread. For every slice you add, beat two eggs in a bowl (so, if you're using 6 slices, beat 12 eggs) along with whatever savory flavorings you'd like - diced onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, cooked breakfast sausage, and so on. Pour that mix right onto the bread, then top it with a layer of cheese. Stick this in the oven overnight.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 375 F and put the casserole in there, covered. Bake for about 20 minutes, then uncover it and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes, checking the middle for doneness. Serve it immediately for a wonderfully savory breakfast.
Alternately, turn it into a sweet (or savory) bread pudding. Stale bread is just begging to be used in a bread pudding. I can't even count or describe the number of different bread puddings out there; suffice it to say, many of them are just delicious.
A few of my favorite bread puddings include this cinnamon roll bread pudding (for breakfast), this simple cheese and herb bread pudding (for dinner), and this chocolate turtle bread pudding (for dessert). All work great with dry, stale bread.
Make a stale bread salad (also known as panzanella). This is a great use for bread that's already fairly crusty, but has become really crusty due to not being used. If you have a loaf of crusty Italian bread that's become too crusty to use normally, use it for panzanella.
Just chop your leftover bread into one inch cubes. Then, for every four cups of leftover bread you have, add a diced large tomato, 1/4 of a cucumber (diced), half of a dice red or yellow bell pepper, 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, a quarter of a medium onion (diced), 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss all of this together and let it rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes. It's amazing.
In the end, though, my favorite use for old bread is for grilled cheese sandwiches. I vastly prefer older, stale bread for grilled cheese sandwiches. If I'm going to have a grilled cheese sandwich, I'm going to do it right - it's going to be gloriously tasty and cheesy and gooey and buttery and unhealthy - and stale bread does this wonderfully.
I just take two pieces of stale bread and thoroughly butter one side of each slice. I place one of those slices in a hot skillet over medium-high heat, put a few slices of cheese on there (gruyere is my favorite), and top it with the other slice (perhaps slipping a tomato slice in there as well). I peek at the bottom and when it's nice and golden brown, I flip it over, cooking the other side until it's golden brown. Delicious.
Don't let old bread worry you too much. Even if it's dry and a bit stale, there are lots of things you can do with it that will make your mouth water!