Friday, December 7

The Bread Trick

For many people, the holidays are a season of decadent food. Not least among the feasting are festive breads of all varieties - your standard boule, huge loaves of cinnamon raisin swirls, eggy challahs, and rich dense tea breads.

It's not uncommon to end up with leftovers, or to find that they don't hold well. If you don't have dogs as eager to help with cleanup as mine (or teenage boys), here are a few tips I learned back in my Panera days for making great use of miscellaneous bread a little past it's prime.

Steam It. Put your bread on a paper towel or plate in the microwave, and put a shot glass of water in next to it. Nuke it briefly. (Think 30 seconds to a minute, depending on your microwave and the quantity of bread being treated.) This creates steam, wonderfully resuscitating your bread.

You can do the same in an oven, it will just take a little longer. Put your bread on a cookie sheet and pre-heat the oven to 350 or 400. Slide the bread into the oven, and spritz down sides of oven generously with water to create steam. Close the door and let it sit for a couple minutes. You may need to steam more than once, depending on the type/quantity of bread, oven variations, etc., but this usually works nicely.

Grill It. Toasting bread can just make it more dry and brittle. Grab a skillet (I prefer cast iron for this, but probably anything would work) and heat it over low heat on the stove top. Butter your bread generously on both sides and plop it on the skillet. The butter will melt as the bread heats, caramelizing slightly as the bread softens and toasts. Grill both sides. If it isn't quite soft enough, pour a tiny bit of water onto the skillet off to the side of the bread and drop a lid over it, allowing it to steam for 30 seconds or so. You may never go back to regular toast again!

Bake With It. Obviously French toast is one of the most common options, and people are rarely unhappy with the result, regardless of what meal you serve it for. (Breakfast for dinner is a good thing!) But it's hardly the only choice. Bread pudding, crutons, frittatas are all quick, healthy and simple ways to use up bread that's a bit stale. Or toast it up and use it as the base for a simple dinner of creamed eggs, chicken, tuna or chipped beef for comfort food at its finest.

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