Croutons

Bag of frozen croutons
Frozen croutons

Croutons are often a lovely addition to a soup. They give a texture and some carbohydrates if they are needed. If you serve them in a bowl then folks can add as many or as few as they prefer.

The trouble with croutons is making them. Usually, when you think of them it’s all a bit too late and you don’t have any suitable bread and myriad other reasons why you just won’t bother.

The freezer is your saviour here. I keep a bag of pre-cut croutons in the freezer for just such occasions. You can make them in about 15 minutes with almost no effort.

Whenever I have leftover homemade bread (either from the breadmaker or handmade) I cube it up into croutons. My preferred size is quite rustic, about 1.5cm (⅔”) square. I also trim the crusts as they can go quite crusty and hard. Leave them on if you prefer. Keep a poly bag in the freezer and add croutons every time there’s some leftover bread.

Croutons don’t keep well when cooked. They can dry right out and become overly firm and crunchy. You need to serve them within 10-15 minutes of being ready.

If they are larger sized I find they have a nice crunchy outside but a slightly softer centre which is the preferred texture as far as I am concerned. I also prefer white bread croutons as I think that is nicer than some of the denser types of bread.

Method

  1. They defrost in 10 minutes in a warm kitchen, if you spread them around, while the oven is warming to about 180C.
  2. Put them in a big enough bowl and add a glug of some vegetable, or olive oil if it’s not too strong.
  3. Stir them around so they absorb the oil, adding more if you need it. When you cook them any excess will come out.
  4. Spread them on an oven tray and put them in the oven for 5-6 minutes till they look a golden brown but not too dark
  5. Put them in a serving bowl lined with some kitchen paper to absorb any excess

Bread – Easy and Simple To Make

Baked Bread
Baked Bread

This is my normal non-sourdough bread. I like the overnight fridge proving as it is much better for the gluten, flavour and crumb of the bread. The is quite a wet mix so is very delicate even when proved. It tends to make a flatter loaf but I find it has a good crust, crumb and flavour.

This bread is little effort in terms of time preparing or working on the dough. The elapsed time is quite long because of the slow prove (which benefits the flavour etc) so some planning is required. I like to make the dough in a mid-evening, removing from the fridge in the morning when I get up. This allows me to bake the bread by about midday.
Ingredients
  • 350g strong bread flour
  • 150g Spelt wholemeal flour
  • 10g salt
  • 7g sachet of dried yeast
  • 365g about room temperature water
Method
  1. Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl keeping the salt separate from the yeast. I put the yeast in first and the salt last and this works fine.
  2. Add the water.
  3. Baked bread showing crumb
    Baked bread showing crumb

    I use a dough hook on my Kitchenaid to mix it till it’s a decent dough, this only takes about 2-3 minutes. Otherwise, mix with the fingers of one hand till it is a dough and all the dry flour has been incorporated.

  4. Leave it for about 30-60 minutes at room temperature until it has risen by about 50%. It may take longer depending on temperature. This is the autolyse and helps the gluten and flavour.
  5. Now put it in the fridge to prove for about 8-12 hours. Overnight works for me.
  6. Remove from the fridge and knock the dough back into the bowl.
  7. Leave it out for about an hour in the morning. Then shape it. Tip it onto a well-floured work surface and create the shape you want by gently handling the dough. Then place on a well-floured baking sheet or into a dusted banetton to finally rise before baking. This will take an hour if warm or probably 2-3 hours if the dough was in the fridge, depending on the room temperature.
  8. Preheat your oven to the maximum temperature, usually about 250C (fan). If using a baking stone put it in at the beginning so it gets really hot. (Or you can bake in a Le Creuset, using it as a Dutch Oven)
  9. If not using a Dutch Oven approach, boil a kettle of water and put an empty dish in the bottom of the oven. A few minutes before you put the bread in the oven fill the dish with boiling water to create a moist atmosphere in the oven.
  10. Score the bread with a razor or sharp knife as you prefer before baking. I often leave uncut as the bread is very soft.
  11. Either place the baking sheet in the hot oven or gently put the loaf from your banetton on your hot baking stone (take the stone out of the oven to do this.) Turn the oven down to about 220C (fan)
  12. Bake for about 30-35 minutes. I like to have a darker crust so I turn the oven back to the maximum temperature for the last 5-8 minutes depending on colour before removing the loaf to a cooling rack.