For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.
These yummy bites are a sort of combination of two different recipes: (1) The delicious chewy morsels served at Cracker Barrel, where I waited tables during my college years, and (2) a recipe for “Celestial Croutons” (known to enhance the magical properties of any recipe) in my much-treasured copy of Jana Kolpen’s The Secrets of Pistoulet.
The resulting amalgamation is one of my favorite things to whip up on the fly to serve as companion goodies to homemade soups and salads around the Red Kitchen. And man, oh man, do they make your house smell great! Five minutes in the kitchen, and it smells like you’ve been working in there all day.
The best croutons come from either (1) stale sourdough bread (this is how Cracker Barrel makes them) or (2) English muffins (a delightful discovery I made when the only bread I had around the house was uber-fresh and not dry enough to withstand an oil bath without going soggy). It’s also good to have two options in mind if you’re shopping at a discount, low-variety store because you never know what you’ll come up with in the bread department. You can use regular stale bread; it just won’t be as good. 🙂
I lucked out bigtime this week when I spotted SOURDOUGH ENGLISH MUFFINS on the rack at my local Kroger in
packages priced 10 for $10. I admit it–I was sneaking around at the regular grocery store and not ALDI or Save-A-Lot that day.
So, don’t be shocked if you don’t see sourdough English muffins at the discount joint, but it really doesn’t matter because any of the above options will make generally fantabulous croutons.
And here’s how. Begin by chopping 2 English muffins (tops and bottoms) or a handful of dry bread slices into large, rectangular chunks. Or, if you’re feeling swept away in a magical mood, you can take Jana Kolpen’s advice and whip out any teensy cookie cutters you have and make little stars-and-moons-and-whatnot shaped croutons (hence, “Celestial Croutons”).
While you’re chopping the dry bread, warm a small
saucepan over medium heat with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle some garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and thyme into the oil. (Or, depending on what you’re serving the croutons with, you can experiment with sage, rosemary, savory or other spices. I just like thyme the best.)
Once the oil and spices are warm (only takes a minute or two), drop the chopped bread all at once into the pan and begin stirring immediately with a wooden spoon. (This will help distribute the oil among all of the pieces and avoid having some pieces that are entirely drenched in oil and spice. This is why dry bread works better than fresh–you get a few extra seconds of grace period before that starts happening.)
Keep saucepan at medium heat, stirring bread occasionally. When pieces begin to brown, remove from heat and set on a cool burner until ready to eat. Sprinkle with dried chives if desired. Don’t overcook the croutons or they’ll harden up
like storebought ones. If croutons get finished long before their companion dish, you can always cover the cooling saucepan with foil to hold in moisture.
My two-year-old, Jamie, could smell the bread cooking in his playroom and begged for samples. He never begs for any food that doesn’t have a cartoon character or Star Trek picture on it, so I was a bit floored.
Needless to say, I wasted no time setting him up with a little plate of croutons with some ranch dressing to dip them in. He approved. (See adorable photos of Jamie enjoying his croutons below…)
Jamie also wants you to know the flavor quality is enhanced if you eat them off of an Elmo plate (which has to be pulled out of the sink and washed on demand) instead of the already-clean Spiderman plate in the drawer…