Monday, March 26, 2012
Of Croutons, Rusks, and Pain Perdu
I've thrown out my share of bread in my time, I'm not proud to admit. There are times, especially in winter, when the indoor air is so utterly arid that a half a loaf may linger on the bread board until it is so petrified, you could hammer nails with it. There are ways to salvage such an artifact, as peasant folk all over the bread-eating world know, but they're not necessarily the most delicious ways to enjoy bread. I'll turn to these extreme methods once or twice a year, and feel virtuous for it, but a certain amount of bread does see the inside of the trash can in our house.
I'm trying to turn over a new leaf in this regard, and here's my approach: If there's bread left from the previous baking when I bring out the starter to begin a new batch, the stale bread gets re-purposed. One truly delightful re-use of old bread is to make croutons and rusks. No point in discoursing broadly on the uses of the crouton, except to say that homemade croutons made from excellent bread have about as much in common with the store-bought kind as a Smithfield ham has with Oscar Mayer pre-sliced deli meat. C'est a dire: nada.
Rusks, on the other hand, may be less well known. Basically, it's twice-baked bread. When I cut up a loaf of bread for re-purposing, I cube up the crumb for croutons, and the crusty part (with a bit of interior included), I cut into strips about three inches long and three-quarters to one inch wide. Croutons and rusks all get baked together, tossed in olive oil, with perhaps a crushed clove of garlic or two, some herbs (thyme or rosemary, classic) in a 400-degree oven for about ten minutes, check and stir after five. Once baked and cooled, I keep them in a plastic bag--just tasted a couple samples from last week's batch with my tea: excellent.
Rusks are good to nibble on their own, or to dip into anything dippable--tapenade, hummus, bagna cauda, baba ganoush. Rusks and something to dip into make a delightful happy hour snack.
And then, of course, the other best-loved way to polish off past-its-prime bread is what we call French toast, and the French call pain perdu, "lost bread." I sprang from the bed one morning this past weekend and got straight on to concocting a batch. Along with some fried Bide-A-Wee apple slices (we've had some excellent keepers from last year's harvest), and some home-smoked bacon, a fine way to start the day--with a contented belly and the satisfaction of having done the best by an honorable loaf.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw