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


el said...

Rusks, who knew? We call them "fingers."

for future reference: goats, rabbits and chickens are wild about leftover bread...

Kelli said...

Totally agree!

Nate said...

I keep meaning to try Kvass with stale bread:

Recipe idea here (scroll down a bit):

Worth a shot once, anyway... :)

Trout Caviar said...

Hey El: Fingers, crusts...I like the sound of rusks. I could see starting with chickens. Mary took a seminar on raising goats at the Hay River TI day, and her goats(!).

Hi Kelli, thanks for checking in!

Kvass, isn't that where a bunch of old women sit around in a circle, chew stuff up, spit it in crock, add water and let it ferment? Probably not.... I'll check it out, Nate, thanks.


Atenderloin said...

"C'est a dire: nada." Love the language mash-up. Nicely turned, sir!

Trout Caviar said...

Thanks, Camo Cook. Language mashing is my specialty....


Sara said...

I was really happy to discover lately that my coffee grinder (recently retired from active duty to be a spice grinder) makes really good bread crumbs--even out of extra chewy/hard sourdough. Always had trouble with the food processor for that type of bread.

These look great--have to get on the crouton wagon since salad season is definitely upon us!

Trout Caviar said...

Sara, I discovered the same re using the coffee/spice grinder for crumbs--or did I get that from Jacques Pépin, like everything else I know about cooking...? In the FP the bread just flies around in the air.

Cheers~ Brett