The origins of croutons
What is a crouton?
Crouton comes from the French word, croûte, which means crust. It is, literally, day-old bread that is cut into blocks and seasoned, and then re-baked in the oven.
Croutons are usually found as small blocks of toast, on top of salads or in a soup, but they can really be made in any size or shape.
‘Where do croutons come from,’ my husband asked, trying to spear one on his plate.
‘Erm, from bread, silly,’ I said. Well, der.
‘No, I mean how do you think they originated?’ He tends to ask these sorts of questions.
‘I should imagine they originated from poor people using stale bread, but trying to make it more palatable,’ I said. But, I thought, this would be interesting to know: exactly how did they originate?
Originally, croutons would have been made from slices of day-old French loaf, or baguette. There seems to be more of a trend these days to go back to that rustic, traditional style. Vintage croutons, if you like.
The slices of baguette would be brushed with oil or clarified butter, and then baked in the oven to crisp, or sometimes fried in a pan.
The word ‘crouton’ first appeared in 17th century France, when it was described as ‘little pieces of bread crust, served with drinks’.
In Medieval times, soup used to be served in a crust of stale bread, called a sop. This could be where the idea originated, and the bread evolved into a crouton instead of a vessel for the soup.
Over the years, croutons have become more seasoned and diverse, with various herbs and garlic added for taste.
How to make croutons
Easy as pie. There is no rule as to what shape or size your crouton is; it’s up to you, and of course the dish with which it will be served.
Simply cut slices of a baguette, or any bread, to a thickness of about 1.5cm (you don’t want to cut it too thin as it will go too hard when baking). Some people remove the crust from the bread, but I leave it on. I think it adds to the charm.
You can leave the bread as slices or halve them or you can cut them into blocks.
In a bowl, combine the oil or melted butter, and seasoning of your choice. Dried or finely-chopped, fresh herbs can be used, or finely-chopped garlic.
Place the cubes or slices on a baking tray and bake at about 180°C, for about 6-8 minutes, until they are golden brown and crispy. You can fry them if you prefer.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving.
They can be stored in an air-tight container for a few days.
Croutons for traditional French onion soup are made by placing grated Gruyère cheese on top of the croutons and placing them back in the oven until the cheese is melted. The crouton is placed in the soup and eaten as it becomes moist.
A note on storage: if you’re wondering why croutons should be stored in an airtight container if they’re already ‘stale bread’, the reason is that it keeps the air out, and they keep their crispness. If air gets into the container or packet, they will become stale – in this instance, they will go soft, instead of hard.
For a simple Caesar Salad recipe, to go with your freshly-made croutons...
- Simple and easy Caesar Salad
Nothing beats a simple Caesar Salad – that most famous salads of them all. Many versions can be found around the world, but this simple, less-is-more version, is my favourite.