In our house, no matter what else is on the menu on Friday, we have challah. Actually we don’t have to be at home to keep this tradition, as the floor mats in our car will attest.
It is wonderful, eggy bread, but if we do not finish the loaf during the weekend, the challah left on Monday are leftovers only a mother could love. The challah remains this morning were no exception. Luckily as I drank my coffee, I came upon a tweet with a link to an article from one of my favorite food writers, Ruth Reichl, about how to make "better" breadcrumbs.
Normally, following a link in a Monday morning tweet means I’m procrastinating, but this was serious research. I have leftover pasta and bits of several different cheeses on hand. Hopefully, the Reichl-style super breadcrumbs will take tonight's macaroni and cheese to new heights. I do believe this is a much better use for my stale bread this week than croutons or French toast.
Even if I don’t use all the breadcrumbs for the mac ‘n cheese, she promises that I’ll have golden morsels that will keep frozen “almost indefinitely.” There is nothing I like better than using up leftovers and learning a new technique at the same time – a double mitzvah (good deed) as my own mother would say. Homemade breadcrumbs also save money and hopefully taste better than any store-bought version I might find.
This is real time blogging, as I followed Reichl’s breadcrumb-making instructions, determined to show you the results no matter how they turned out. It may not be as exciting as live reality TV for you, but it was suspenseful for me.
Reichl insists that the blender is better than the food processor for grinding bread evenly. So, even though it is a hassle to pull my blender out of storage and the food processor sits ready on the counter, I went for the former. I cubed all of the pieces.
Those that weren’t quite stale enough I “pre-baked” for about 20 minutes in a 200 degree oven and the rest I put directly into the blender.
After blending, I baked the breadcrumbs at 350 degrees until they were golden brown, as she suggests. The final step was drizzling a bit of olive oil, gently spreading it through the breadcrumbs and cooling them down before storing them. They looked excellent and once I mixed them with olive oil, had a lovely sheen and a fruity aroma. I will use some tonight (on the mac ‘n cheese) and freeze the rest in an airtight container.
Although Reichl’s directions are clear, they are not very detailed. Here are my 3 tips for using her breadcrumb-making method.
Breadcrumb Tip 1
If you put too much of a dry ingredient in a blender all at once, you’ll burn out the blender motor. I started with half a bowlful of bread cubes, but immediately realized that was too much for the blender to handle. I ended up using the “ice crusher” setting first, followed by a few whirls on “chop” for about a cup of bread cubes at a time.
Maybe a heavy duty blender can do more at once, but my “just-average” Cusinart blender could only do small batches. A food processor can take on the entire load of bread cubes without a problem. Was it worth the hassle to use the blender? I’m not so sure.
Breadcrumb Tip 2
Don’t assume that Reichl’s directions to toast the breadcrumbs “about 20 minutes” at 350 degrees mean that you can leave the breadcrumbs unattended. I set my timer for 10 minutes and used a spatula to mix them at that point, then cooked them for another 6-8 minutes, turning them once more. If I hadn’t turned them twice, I think they would have toasted unevenly and some would have burned.
Breadcrumb Tip 3
Drizzling the breadcrumbs with olive oil at the end requires very little oil and a gentle touch. Start with very little and mix it in well before deciding whether you need more. I probably used ½ - ¾ teaspoon of oil for about 3 cups of breadcrumbs.
How do they taste? Tune in after I make the mac ‘n cheese tonight and report back.
The breadcrumbs are fabulous! I mixed them with grated cheese, spread them on mac 'n cheese, and baked the casserole at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the pasta and cheese were bubbling. The cheesy breadcrumbs were out of this world.