A great way to save money and avoid waste is to use your old hamburger or hot dog buns to make your own croutons. Not only will you save yourself a couple of dollars for a box of croutons and avoid throwing out those last few buns that you never got around to eating. You’ll also find that homemade croutons are a lot tastier than the sad little bread bits you find in the stores. They are really simple to make even if you don’t cook very often with just a few ingredients.
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The first step in making croutons is to cut up the buns into little squares. I generally make them a bit bigger than you find in the stores. Using a sharp knife, first cut equal strips in the bun in one direction while holding the bun slices together, then carefully cut in the other direction to make squares. Press gently to avoid crushing the bread. If you find things crumble, your knife is probably too dull.
After you have equal squares, now is the time to add the fat and the spices. Salt is nearly a must to get a good flavor. In my case, I used olive oil for the fat and salt, garlic powder, and rosemary as spices. I used on the order of a teaspoon of each spice per pan of bread (each pan being three hamburger buns). Other choices for fat would be butter or vegetable oil. Other choices for spices would be pepper, parsley, thyme, oregano, chili powder, or seasoned salt. You could use a bowl, but to save dishes, I just put the bread squares on a cookie sheet in a pile, drizzled with oil (maybe a tablespoon or two for a pan of bread), then sprinkled on the spices. I then worked the bread around gently to spread out the oil and the spices and coat everything as evenly as I could. After coating, spread the pieces out as much as you can. You want to give them room to release water and get radiant heat from the walls of the oven to toast.
Next, place the bread in an oven and bake at 300 degrees F (150 deg C) for about 15-20 minutes. You want to bake slowly to get the whole pieces firm rather than just get a toast on the top and a soft middle. Avoid the urge to turn on the broiler and give them a little toast since they’ll burn really quickly. They’ll darken naturally with time with the oven on bake. Pull out your croutons when the pieces are relatively firm and starting to get a golden brown. Don’t overcook or they’ll turn bitter.
At this point just let them cool on the cookie sheet and then bag them up and put them on the shelf. Make sure you wait for them to be cool or they’ll turn soft again in the bag. I usually just use the bag the buns came in. The hardest part is getting them into the bag, since people will start snacking on them after smelling the delicious aroma filling the room. If you end up with just a few after the hoards descend, just start again when you have another set of old buns and guard them more carefully next time.
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