Stale bread is a given in most households; even the best-intentioned foodies will occasionally find themselves staring down a rapidly drying loaf of white bread with no idea how to cope. Throwing away food isn’t just a waste of money — it’s a downright shame. (See also: Waste Not, Want Not: Stop Throwing Away Your Food!)
Bread is a varied and delicious staple that is delicious fresh and yet still incredibly useful when past its due date. In fact, one of the better supermarket/bakery deals that can be had is bags of day-old bread. A bakery near my house sells large bags of day-old bread for approximately $2, and it includes things like scones, cinnamon rolls, and raisin bread. Perhaps I could bake these things on my own for less, but considering what an untalented baker I am, these leftover bags are a real bargain. Check with your local bakery to see if they sell or even give away their day-old extras — you might even be able to make an entire meal out of a freebie bag of bread.
Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your leftover loaves.
1. French Onion Soup
You can have French onion soup without a cheesy toasty topper. Well, OK, you can, but no one will want to eat it. Try Alton Brown’s recipe for the perfect French onion soup, but remember that your bread topping doesn’t have to be perfectly even or perfectly round. You can toss a handful of stale bread on top of your soup and still find plenty of room for the cheese to settle in.
2. Easy Soufflé/Quiche
Stale bread and eggs were somehow made for each other. If you love soufflé but aren’t in the mood to worry about it rising or collapsing, use this shortcut recipe for cheese, onion, and bread soufflé that is easy as pie. Love having quiche for brunch? You can even use that healthy, high-fiber bread for a delicious weekend quiche.
Is stuffing too obvious a use for stale bread? It’s my favorite, so I can’t resist. The only dish at Thanksgiving that I would be heartbroken without, savory stuffing is a sure-fire accompaniment to any poultry-based meal. A small helping of rich, delicious stuffing can save a dry turkey dinner from despair or add some oomph to an otherwise normal chicken sandwich.
Stuffing doesn’t always have to be served alongside fowl, though; it’s also wonderful next to baked tilapia or oysters. Because stuffing has so many regional variations, you are free to branch out and try out all kinds of different recipes. Stuffing is also very forgiving — it will accept the presence of all kinds of other flavors, including squash, broccoli, spinach, sausage, nuts, cranberries, and more.
Just how handy are breadcrumbs? You’ll never know until you have your own stash in waiting, ready to top macaroni and cheese and casseroles, to coat your filet of fish or famous fried chicken, to use on top of cakes and cupcakes, or to coat the bottom of a cheesecake when you are low on graham crackers.
Breadcrumbs are incredibly easy to make — just bake your stale bread on low heat (say, 150°F) in your oven or toaster oven until the bread is extremely dry and brittle. Then place the bread in your blender or food processor and churn until you have a golden brown crumbs. Further drying can be achieved in the oven or on the counter.
You can add herbs and salt if you want a savory mix for dishes. Add some brown sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and coconut flakes for a delicious ice cream topper, or leave the crumbs plain for versatility.
Freeze breadcrumbs in an air-tight container for maximum storage time.
5. Meat Loaf
Probably one of the best-known uses for stale bread, meat loaf can be a family favorite if you make it right. Breadcrumbs are often added to meat loaf in order to add heft and save money, and they can also act to make meat loaf more tender by keeping the protein separated. The best meat loaf recipe that I have ever tried called for crushed saltine crackers, but crumbled stale bread is a logical (and inexpensive) substitute.
Meatloaf doesn’t just have to be made out of beef, of course. Salmon loaf (top with dried dill and sour cream) makes a wonderful treat either hot or cold.
Did I forget to mention crab cakes? Like meatloaf, crab cakes are held together by a small amount of egg and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs (also, I’ve learned that using one chopped scallop per crab cake will add a certain cohesiveness to the patty without changing the flavor). Used canned crab for the best, and cheapest, results.
6. Refreshed Bread
OK, so let’s say that what you really want is fresh bread. You can always refresh your stale bread using this trick.
7. Cinnamon Toasts
Think you know how to make cinnamon toast? You probably do. But we’re talking about cinnamon toasts. You’ve never made cinnamon toast quite like this. It’s the perfect way to use up fluffy-but-stale white bread, and the results last for days and are a perfect treat to take with you to a party (scroll down a bit for the recipe and pictures).
8. Bisques and Bread Soups
I’m a big fan of bisque as a pre-meal appetizer (slowly sipping a cup of bisque will help you eat less in your main course), and stale bread is a great carbohydrate that you can use to thicken your soup if you lack potatoes or yams. Just toss the bread in and let it get mushy like the veggies, then blend carefully in batches.
If you don’t feel like blending, bread soup is big in Italian cooking, so try out a new recipe while using up leftovers.
9. Bread Salads
Bread salad, also known as panzanella, is a nice change from regular old lettuce-and-dressing and often a hit at parties. Remember that the word “salad” comes from the Latin word for “salt,” and it refers to salted things, not necessarily to veggies. If you want to throw a can of artichoke hearts, some sliced tomatoes, a few handfuls of stale bread, some leftover chicken, and some dressing in a bowl and call it a salad, you’re well within your semantic rights to do so.
10. Bread Pudding
I don’t have a big sweet tooth — I can honestly pass on most candy, ice cream, and even pie. But bread pudding? Nearly impossible to resist. Also, it turns out, it’s incredibly easy to make. I avoided making bread pudding because I was terrified that it would end up being as tragic as my cheesecake disaster, but bread pudding is delicious and simple. It’s a good way to use up dessert-y breads, but don’t let the rosemary loaf go to waste — just combine the flavors with complementary tastes, like rosemary with lemon.
Similar to bread pudding (and yet different) is fruit charlotte. A good way to use up both old bread and excess apples, charlotte may not be the healthiest dessert, but it’s certainly among the most warming.
11. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Hey, half the point of grilling a sandwich is to get the bread nice and crispy, and with dried sliced bread, you’re already halfway there. To get a perfect grilled cheese, I lightly butter and grill both sides of the bread before applying the cheese. That way, the bread is extra crispy on both the outside AND the inside, and the cheese melts faster.
12. Open Faced Sandwiches/Bruschetta
Feeling like you want less bread and more filling? Toast stale slices, and then top with anything you like, from olive tapenade to leftover meat loaf. Any variation of bruschetta will do, and the crunchy, toasty base will hold together better than fresh bread in the face of moister toppings.
13. French Toast
French toast practically begs for the use of stale bread, and there’s no reason to limit this tasty treat to breakfast time — you can enjoy French toast for dinner, too. I personally love all flavors of French toast, but my new favorite involves spreading one side of the stale bread with a light layer of cream cheese (or chevre), and the other side with a tart jelly (like cherry or marmalade) before dipping it in egg batter and cooking.
French toast doesn’t have to be limited to large slices of sandwich bread — a popular snack in my household is French toast bites made of slices of tiny French baguettes that are past their prime.
14. Gourmet Croutons
Nothing can be easier than turning stale bread into delicious gourmet croutons for soup and salad toppings. Simply toss the bread in a mixture of olive oil, dried herbs, and salt and toast until golden brown. You can add parmesan cheese after toasting (adding it before toasting might cause some burning).
Croutons are great for fondue and also to top off a particularly gourmet Bloody Mary.
15. Potato/Rice Substitute
Are all carbs created equal? Could you substitute bread for rice or potatoes? There are some who might disagree, but consider that a very popular Moroccan dish is basically a chicken stew poured over day-old bread. You don’t even have to make Moroccan bread to make this dish. Just tear us slightly stale bread into bite-size pieces and smother the bread with your own curry, Irish stew, or whatever floats your boat.
16. Bread Dumplings
Semmelknoedel are German dumplings that are a little bit like Italian gnocchi, but are made using stale bread and milk. Enjoy in a soup, topped with mushroom gravy or marinara, alongside meats and fish, or however you like your dumplings. Create a slightly sweeter version (minus the garlic, pepper, and herbs) and eat warm with honey, almonds, and ricotta cheese.
17. Bird Food
OK, I’ve heard that bread isn’t good for birds and all that. I’m sure that the Audubon Society would have me stuffed and mounted for saying so, but seagulls aren’t really birds, are they? No, they are just big, flying cockroaches, and bread won’t hurt them at all.
Storing Old Bread
How you store your bread depends an awful lot on the kind of bread it is. When I buy “artisanal” loaves of bread from the supermarket, I do so with the understanding that the bread will last approximately four days on the kitchen counter, wrapped in a paper bag and then loosely in a plastic bag. Regular sliced bread from the bread section of the store (as opposed to the actual bakery) can last for as long as two weeks, so long as the last week is spent in the fridge. Your own storage methods and preferences probably depend a great deal on your climate and your ability to spot the first few strands of mold.
Incidentally, if you see a loaf that is just starting to mold, there is no shame in cutting off the fuzzy part and saving the interior.
The freezer, though, is where stale bread goes to await its reincarnated fate. If you’ve never frozen bread before, Martha Stewart can tell you how to do that. Much of my bread ends up in freezer-safe Ziplock bags, which seem to do the trick. I don’t recommend keeping bread frozen for more than six months, but how long you can tolerate the bags of bready scraps might also depend on your type of freezer and how much space you have.