Bread crumbs are good for so much more than just breading chicken and binding meatballs. Spread them over mac and cheese to create a crispy topping, toss them into salads to add crunch or even sprinkle them on fruit or ice cream for dessert.
But whatever you do, don't even think about using store-bought crumbs. Making bread crumbs is a cinch, but according to the chefs and bread bakers we consulted, the real reason to make your own is that packaged bread crumbs simply can't compete with the taste and texture of homemade. Here's how to master them.
"It's all about the bread," chef Gabriel Rucker of Portland's Le Pigeon says. Just about any loaf will do, but quality is everything. Rucker typically uses leftover baguettes, while Amy Scherber of New York's Amy's Bread favors country white. Daniel Leader of Upstate New York's Bread Alone Bakery thinks whole wheat is best but says it's really about personal preference. Whichever you choose, always leave the crust on—it's easier, and the crumbs will be more flavorful.
Bread crumbs are a great use for stale bread, but you can also use fresh bread as long as you dry it out first. Leader recommends cutting fresh bread into small pieces and letting it dry on the counter. Scherber prefers to lightly toast sliced bread in a 200-degree oven. Flip the bread to toast both sides and remember that the goal is to dry it, not brown it. Cool the bread, break it into smaller chunks and then pick your bread crumb-making method.
The Technique: Food Processor
The easiest way to make bread crumbs is in a food processor fitted with a standard blade. Scherber advises working in batches, so you don't overfill the machine, then using the pulse function to break up the bread. How coarse or fine you grind the crumbs is up to you. You can also use a blender, and the same rules apply: Work in batches and stick to pulsing.
The Technique: Crushing by Hand
For a lower-tech approach, make sure the bread is really dry, Rucker says, then break it into smaller pieces and place them in a resealable plastic bag. Set the bag flat on the counter and use the bottom of a frying pan to crush the bread into crumbs. A rolling pin will also do the trick, Scherber says.
They don't have quite the shelf life of their store-bought counterparts, but if stored in an airtight container, homemade bread crumbs will keep for one to two weeks at room temperature or several months in the freezer, Scherber says. She recommends using the smell test, as odor is usually the best indicator of freshness.
Pump Up the Flavor
Once the crumbs are crushed, they're ready to go, but you may want to dress them up a bit first. Rucker likes to toast bread crumbs in a skillet with butter or olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. He also recommends using nut oils, spices and fresh citrus zest. Toasting isn't mandatory, but it definitely helps revive crumbs made from stale rather than toasted bread, Leader says. If you do decide to toast or add ingredients to your crumbs, do it right before you use them, as it does limit their shelf life.
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