By definition, store-bought bread crumbs are old and stale. So, why use them (or worse, serve them to guests)? For the best bread crumbs, regardless of their ultimate use, always purchase the freshest bread possible and, within twenty-four hours of purchase, if not eaten, make dried bread crumbs or croutons. The good news–homemade dried bread crumbs and cubes freeze perfectly when stored in doubled, well-sealed freezer bags. And there’s no need to thaw them– just scoop them straight from the freezer as you need them.
Whether making croutons, stuffing, crumbs to cover fish, boneless chicken or shrimp, or a savory topping for freshly cooked pasta or a bubbling gratin, the flavor and aroma of bread crumbs and cubes made at home is unbelievably better than the store-bought stuff.
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Preheat the oven to 375º F. Slice the bread into 1-inch slices and lay them in a single layer on a wire cooling rack set on a shallow, baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until light golden all over. Turn off the heat and let the bread remain there until dry and very crisp, about 15 minutes. (If your oven runs hot, leave the door ajar while drying.) Remove from the oven and, when the slices are cool, crush them and drop into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process the bread until the crumbs are coarse or fine, depending on which type you want. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and use as directed in your recipe or store them in an air-tight canister for 1 week at room temperature or in the freezer, in doubled, heavy-duty freezer bags.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Cut the bread (including the crust) into 1/2-inch slices, then stack two slices and cut them lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips. Cut these strips into 1/2-inch cubes. Continue until you’ve cut the entire loaf this way. Place the bread cubes on a shallow (not-too-dark) baking sheet in a single layer and bake until the cubes are dry and light golden all over, about 10 minutes. (If still somewhat soft, leave the cubes in a turned off oven for 10 to 15 minutes, with the door ajar. When done, the cubes should feel dry and hard. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use bread cubes as desired or allow them to cool completely before storing them either in the freezer or in an air-tight canister for 1 week, at room temperature.
Bread cubes and crumbs can be frozen for at least 2 months in doubled securely sealed plastic bags. To use, just scoop them from the freezer.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, reduce the heat to medium and stir in the sliced garlic. Sauté the garlic, pressing on the slices with the back of a wooden spoon to help flavor the oil. Cook the garlic, until golden and crisp, being careful not to let it burn. Using a slotted utensil, remove the garlic slices and set them aside, for now.
Raise the heat under the pan to medium-high and add all the bread cubes. Sauté the cubes in the hot oil, until golden on all sides, tossing frequently give them even exposure to heat. Chop the fried garlic slices and add to the skillet. Stir to combine the bread cubes with the garlic. Cook for a minute or so, remove the fried cubes with the garlic to a bowl. Sprinkle on some fresh ground pepper and the oregano, if using. If desired, toss with the optional grated Parmesan cheese and bake the croutons on a shallow baking sheet for another 5 minutes, in a preheated 375°F oven. Whether or not you use the cheese, let the croutons cool completely, uncovered, and then pile them into a bowl or an airtight tin.
Store croutons, at room temperature covered in an airtight container.