What the hell do I do with all this stale bread?
Once the squirrels, birds, and rodents have had their fill of the stale bread you throw out the back door and you still find yourself beleaguered by the too tooth tough loaves, what is a waste-conscience person to do? There are many fine uses for old bread; croutons, bread crumbs, the classic bread salads of Italy, and my favorite by far, bread pudding. Before we get to the cooking, let’s talk about what’s going on in our loaf.
To say that the bread has “dried out” isn’t entirely wrong but it is a slight misconception. There is obviously some moisture loss due to evaporation but this alone doesn’t cause the initial staling effect. Rather, it is the movement of water molecules out of the crumb’s starchy granules into the surrounding area. This is called starch retrogradation, the starch molecules re-crystallize and push water out into the gluten network. The starch then becomes hard and unpleasant to gnaw on even though the moisture content of the bread has changed only slightly in the first few days. Eventually, this water will work its way out of the bread’s interior and evaporate, leaving the bread truly dried out.
Don’t fret though, this process can be reversed within the first few days and your bread can be soft and chewable once again. Starch molecules are capable of reabsorbing the water they pushed out when heated to or above 140 degrees F; “the temperature, we know, at which starch gelates.” (McGee, 541). Simply reheat a loaf in the oven at about 300 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes. If you’re working with single slices, simply toss them in the toaster. The later also facilitates the spreading of butter onto your toasted bread; not a necessary step but highly advised. McGee suggests storing bread that you plan on using within a few days in a paper bag or bread box (plastic will cause your crust to go limp). You can freeze bread that you plan on keeping for an extended period but avoid the refrigerator; “Staling proceeds most rapidly at temperatures just above freezing…” (McGee, 542).
If you miss the window that allows your bread to be revitalized by reheating, once again, don’t fret. You can use your dried out loaf to make fresh bread crumbs. Simply cut your bread up into small cubes and let them fully dry out over night in a single layer. Toss them into a food processor in the morning and pulse them until you get crumbs.
Brandy Bread Pudding w/ blueberry creme anglaise
For the pudding-
- 8oz Milk
- 8oz Heavy cream
- 8oz Eggs
- 4oz Sugar
- Small pinch of salt
- 1.5 oz Brandy
- 2oz Butter
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 8oz Stale bread, cut into 1in cubes
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Warm the cream, milk, butter, brandy, vanilla, salt, and sugar in a pot just slightly until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Beat the eggs up in a large mixing bowl then slowly add in the milk mixture. Toss your bread chunks into the mixture and give them a stir to coat. Let this set for about 30 minutes to allow the bread to soak up all the tasty custard, tossing from time to time. Meanwhile you can make the crème anglaise.
Butter 7 small ramekins and fill with the bread/custard mix. Sprinkle the tops with sugar and pop them in the oven for about 25 minutes until the center has started to set. If you just happen to have a blowtorch layin’ around you can hit the tops to make them look all kinds of pretty.
For the crème anglaise-
- 8oz milk
- 8oz heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 4oz sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla
- ½ cup blueberries
Whisk the egg yolks, vanilla, and 2oz of the sugar together.
Heat the milk, cream, and the other 2oz sugar until it just starts to boil. Slowly add this to the eggs while whisking to prevent scrambling. Return this mixture to the heat and cook gently stirring frequently until it thickens to a sauce consistency. Add in the blueberries and spoon over the puddings.
My first Examiner Article is finally up!
I’ve got a gig writing for examiner.com as the “Columbia Fresh Foods Examiner”. Pretty sweet title right? I’ll be posting 2-3 articles a week there that will focus on fresh food happenings around town. There will be seasonal recipes, heads up for food events, farmers market info such as what’s available and from whom, vegetable gardening tips, and all kinds of other food/Columbia related coverage.
My first article is finally up. It’s a snippet on the root cellar’s preserve offerings as well as a whole wheat biscuit recipe. Check it out here.
Thanks for reading,
And as always, please leave any comments you have regarding this post and questions you would like me to answer for future posts.