Before Food Editor Emma Laperruque’s recipe for Pecorino Dumplings, my relationship with bread crumbs (whether store-bought or homemade, fresh or dried, flavored or plain) was pretty much nonexistent. I grew up on those tinned bread crumbs laced with Italian seasonings, but never thought to make homemade bread crumbs myself.
But then Emma asked a very good question: Why would you *ever* throw bread butts away, when—fresh or dried or even stale—they could have a very exciting future in crumb form? Now, I stockpile heels, odds, and ends in a tightly sealed bag in the freezer. When a dish is lacking a crispy-crunchy something, I’ll pull out a heel or two, blitz it in the blender (a la method #1 below), toss gently with olive oil or anchovy oil or sun-dried tomato oil and toast until crisp.
Fret not: You don’t need a blender—or a food processor—to make homemade bread crumbs. There are very many ways to make a large piece of bread very small. The food processor is certainly the most hands-off method of the three, and will yield bread crumbs of varying textures and sizes. The box grater will yield uniform, medium-fine crumbs. Lastly, the Microplane will get you uber-fine bread crumb shavings. Once you feel comfortable with the numerous methods, fearlessly roast cauliflower with gremolata bread crumbs, fry some eggs in the crispy shards, or herb and top a big bowl of garlicky, broccoli-studded pasta.
Fresh Versus Dried
Whether your recipe calls for dried or fresh bread crumbs, the breaking-down method is the same. For fresh, simply follow one of the below methods through, and use as-is. Store fresh bread crumbs in an airtight bag or container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to three months.
For dried bread crumbs: Place them on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven and toast until well dried—15 to 30 minutes, depending on how dry your bread was to start with. If not using dried bread crumbs immediately, keep them in a dry, airtight container in the pantry, at room temperature (or better yet—stick them back into the freezer!). They will keep for six months, if not longer. If the bread crumbs lose their crispness, you can simply toast them again as you did the first time.
How to Make Bread Crumbs
Food Processor, Blender, or Spice Grinder Method
1. Slice your bread (into any size and shape).
Take your bread—whether a baguette or sourdough butt, the type doesn’t matter—and cut it up into cubes, slices, chunks, whatever works for you. We’re just breaking down the bread so it will better fit, and be more evenly processed by, your food processor, blender, or spice grinder.
2. Pulse, pulse, pulse!
Place your sliced, diced, chopped bread in a food processor, spice grinder, or blender, and pulse until you reach your desired crumb size. In the video, Amanda leaves some pieces larger than others. Coarse crumbs are great for crispy-crunchy toppings (like creamy soft-scramble, pasta, and custardy eggplant); fine crumbs are better for bulking up meatloaves and patties (like these meatballs or these meatlessballs).
Box Grater Method
Back in 2012, Amanda pulled out her box grater for a neat pastry trick for butter. Then again, for a video tutorial on how to make both fresh and dried bread crumbs.
1. Just grate it.
Take your bread, and grate it on the side of the box grater with the largest (coarsest) holes. The bread crumbs that result from this method are more evenly sized and shaped—about medium-fine. Perfect for this chicken milanese with salad, topping a tender fish, or lacing with anchovy and olive oil and folding into a salad.
“You can use [a microplane] for [citrus] zest, you can use it for cheese, so why can’t you use it for bread?” Amanda asks. When bread ends meets one of, if not *the* favorite, kitchen tool, what you get is “bread snowflakes.”
1. Or zest it!
Take your bread and grate it on a Microplane, or another similar fine-toothed rasp grater. The bread crumbs resulting from this method are definitely the finest of the bunch, perfect for this bread crumb cake, kale salad, and these breaded and fried pickles.
Rolling Pin Method
1. Place your stale, dried pieces of bread in a sealable plastic bag.
If your bread is fresh and soft, first dry it out in the oven, using the method described above, and let cool completely.
2. Roll over it.
With the bag sealed, run a rolling pin back and forth over the bag a few times, until the hard, but brittle bread breaks down into crumbs. This method will also yield medium- to medium-fine bread crumbs—ideal for cheesy crunchy chicken, or steak, or yes—bread crumb–crusted bread.
Mallet (or Heavy Pan) Method
If you don’t have any of the above tools, but you have a mallet or pan, bread crumbs can *still* be had.
1. Place stale or dried-out pieces of bread in a sealed plastic bag.
Again, if your bread is fresh and soft, first dry it out in the oven, using the method described above, and let cool completely.
2. Seal tightly.
Whack bread pieces until broken down into crumbs. The bread crumbs yielded by this method will likely be of the more uneven variety, great for recipes that can handle a little variance in crunch like these fish sticks, cauli-tots, or crab cakes.
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