Tips for making homemade croutons include choosing the right bread, using the proper oil and storing them carefully after cooking. Add seasonings and spices to oil before adding bread to give the croutons more flavor.
Any slightly stale bread can be used for croutons, but higher quality breads offer a different taste and texture than sandwich bread or pitas. Choose from artisan varieties such as ciabatta, French, Italian or sourdough for a firm crust and more substantial croutons. Sandwich breads, pitas and English muffins work well for smaller croutons.
Use butter or olive oil to cook the croutons. Using margarine spreads result in soggy croutons, while butter, olive oil or both mixed together gives the croutons a crispy, crunchy texture. Brush the bread cubes with seasoned melted butter or olive oil before baking in the oven. Or, saute the cubes in the oil and seasoning mixture.
Seasonings can be savory or sweet. Use fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme for a rustic flavor, or sprinkle in chili powder, curry or fennel for a spicy twist. Hard grated cheeses are also good additions to croutons. To make croutons for puddings or custards, add cinnamon, sugar or pumpkin pie spice.
Croutons should be stored in an airtight container. At room temperature, they last a few days, but if frozen, they can be stored for several weeks. Refrigerating croutons keeps them fresh, but also makes them slightly soggy.