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What to do with leftover bread

Tiffany Daneff / 10 January 2018 ( 13 July 2021 )

Do you have stale bread to use up? Read our top tips and recipes for using up slices or loaves of leftover stale bread.

Croutons are a good way to use up particularly tasty loaf

There are plenty of stats online about how much bread we throw away. A loaf a week per household? 24 million slices every day? Pick your statistic. It seems a shame to throw away what could easily be used and, more importantly, be delicious.

Much depends on what kind of bread we’re talking. Sliced white isn’t hugely nutritional or tasty once past its best but a half way decent loaf has plenty of use left in it, particularly a tasty sourdough one.

There are a few key options:

1. Turn it into breadcrumbs

Good for: When the bread is a little dry this is a great way to use it up.

How to make breadcrumbs

Break the bread into pieces, say about the size of golf ball, then dry them slowly in a low oven. If you are lazy, like me, you won’t bother removing the crusts.

If you have an Aga or Raeburn put them in the plate warmer and leave them for a few days. The idea is not to cook or colour the bread but to remove all the moisture. They are ready when the pieces crumble easily.

Next tip them into a food processor and churn with the metal blades until they are like sawdust. No processor? Then put them in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or something similar. If you end up with a few lumps, all to the good - unless, of course, you are a perfectionist in which case you might want to remove the lumps with a perforated ladle or similar. Personally, I find the lumps give extra crunch.

Breadcrumbs made with leftover bread
Store homemade breadcrumbs in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

How to store breadcrumbs

Store breadcrumbs in a clean, airtight jar in a dark cool place. They keep for several months.

How to use your breadcrumbs

  • A crunchy topping for macaroni cheese. Sprinkle generously over the finished dish and dot with a little butter and grated cheese before baking. Great with all pasta bakes.
  • Mix with dried herbs and use to finish a gratin.
  • As a flour, egg and breadcrumb coating for fish or meat. Makes great homemade chicken nuggets especially if you flavour the mixture. Try adding lemon zest and thyme to the crumbs before using as a coating.
  • And crumbs of course are perfect for veal and pork schnitzel. Great served with a wedge of lemon and a green salad.

How to breadcrumb chicken or fish

Have three dishes ready. One with seasoned flour, one with a lightly beaten egg and the third with breadcrumbs.

Just before you are ready to cook the meat (ie the pan is already on the hob, heating up with oil/butter) dip the meat or fish into the flour, shaking off the excess, then into the beaten egg letting the excess run off and finally lay in the breadcrumbs patting the crumbs all over for an even coating.

Then fry. It’s a sticky business and gloves are helpful. You can prepare all the pieces just before you start frying but don’t leave them hanging around too long or they go gloopy and sticky.

Breadcrumb recipes for using up leftover bread

Stuffed tomatoes
Bread sauce
Cheddar and cabbage pudding
Mixed bean bake with a breadcrumb topping
Fish goujons
Glamorgan sausages
Cauliflower gratin
Chicken katsu curry
Tomato, thyme and lemon brown betty
Monmouth pudding

2. Make croutons with leftover bread

Good for: This is a very satisfying way to use up a particularly nice loaf. You do need bread that is a few days old and thus slightly dried out.

How to make croutons

Either cut the bread into slices about half an inch wide and then remove crusts before cutting into fingers and again until you are left with half inch diameter cubes or thereabouts. Alternatively, if you prefer a more rustic and generally artisanal approach, tear the bread into the desired shape. But don’t go too big or too small and try to get them roughly the sameish sort of size as it makes it easier to fry.

Fry the croutons in a half and half mix of olive oil and unsalted butter, turning to coat all sides and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden and crisp.

Depending on how much bread you are frying you may need to add more oil/butter. For enough croutons for soup for two people use a couple of slices of bread and fry in one tablespoon of oil and one of butter.

That’s the basic theory but you can, of course, go off piste flavouring the oil mixture with crushed garlic or even chilli (taking care to remove both before they begin to burn).

You can also pre-flavour the bread cubes by tossing them in dried herbs, salt and pepper, or finely grated parmesan. If you prefer not to fry you can also cook them in a hot oven, 170C/ 350F turning regularly to colour all sides. In this case roll the bread cubes in the oil/melted butter mix first, then season. Popping them in an air fryer also works, just use an oil spray to coat the bottom to stop them from sticking.

How to store croutons

Croutons won’t keep more than a couple of days or so in an airtight jar.

How to use croutons

How long is a piece of string? You can:

  • Sprinkle them on soups. (Remember to flavour the croutons to match the soup)
  • Sprinkle over salads
  • Crush them up and use them like breadcrumbs!

Crouton recipes

Beetroot soup with goats cheese croutons
French onion soup with cheesy baguette croutons
Red onion and cherry tomato soup with pesto croutons

3. Make puddings

The two obvious uses for leftover bread is to make either bread and butter pudding or summer pudding. Again the principle of both recipes is that you want to use several day old bread that will soak up the custard mix/fruit juices.

Bread and butter pudding can also be a great way to use up left over brioche, panettone and other sweet breads.

Summer pudding, is of course best made in summer with berry gluts and when fresh berries are cheap and easy to get hold of but out of season it works just as well using frozen berries.

Dessert recipes to use up leftover bread

Bread and butter pudding
Whisky marmalade bread and butter pudding
Chocolate bread and butter pudding
Gingernut bread and butter pudding
Summer pudding
Swedish coffee bread
Treacle tart
Monmouth pudding

4. Make eggy bread

How to make eggy bread

For one person you’ll probably want a slice or two of day old (so slightly dry) but nice whiteish or sourdough bread. Remove crusts (or leave if you prefer).

Gently beat an egg, add a splash of milk to loosen and pour over the bread slices, turning to coat. Some people like to leave the bread soaking for ten minutes up to half an hour, others prefer to cook fairly swiftly.

To cook, heat a large enough non-stick frying pan with half and half unsalted butter and oil (nothing too strongly flavoured). When the mixture is hot but not burning add the bread slices. Fry for a few minutes on each side until golden.

Serve immediately either sprinkled with sugar, or drizzled with golden syrup, or jam or honey. OR you might prefer to spread your eggy bread with Marmite. We won’t judge. This is one of those dishes that divides people down the middle. If you like it sweet you could sweeten the egg mix with a little sugar and some vanilla or you could add a little nutmeg or orange zest. The savoury people might like to season the egg mix with salt and pepper. You can also make sweet eggy bread with left over brioche or similar sweet breads.

Find out more about making French toast

And, if all else fails…

Feed the birds, but don’t give them sliced white as it contains so few nutrients, instead filling them up with empty calories which could be dangerous in winter.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.