There’s nothing quite like freshly baked bread, but the magic fades all too quickly. By the time the bread’s a day old, the taste and texture are on a one-way downhill trip. After several days, bread’s simply too dry and flavorless to put in a sandwich — but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be used in other ways. So there’s no need to throw it out, unless of course it’s sprouting strangely colored spots. Until that happens, the bread’s still safe to eat.
When using stale bread for cooking, you can either take the dryness and run with it, or reverse it with liquid ingredients. Let’s look at the first way.
The easiest and most obvious thing to do with stale bread is just toast it. The dryness turns to crispness, the browning makes up for lost flavor, and the spreads we usually put on toast don’t hurt either.
Croutons are handy for salads and stuffing, and they’re easy to make from stale bread; just cut it into small cubes and put in the oven at 400 till they’re dry and crisp.
Bread crumbs are handy too, and they’re just as good (maybe better) made from stale bread.
Here’s something you probably won’t want to try (though who knows?), but it’s interesting — sort of a breakfast cereal before they were invented: “For a change, toast slices of stale bread quite crisp and serve a plate of hot, plain toast at table, to be eaten broken in small pieces in individual bowls of cold milk.” That’s from Mary at the Farm, a 1915 cookbook I’ve mentioned in earlier articles.
That same book has a recipe for “German” Egg Bread — their quotes — which is essentially French toast coated with bread crumbs before it’s cooked. Two ways to use stale bread in the same dish.
This brings us to the second method of dealing with dryness in stale bread — soaking it right out, often with milk and/or eggs. Of course, the classic use of this is in French toast.
There are also many forms of a casserole based on bread, eggs, milk, and cheese. This one adds ham to make a main dish complete with meat. It doesn’t specifically call for stale bread, but by the time the bread’s soaked overnight that won’t matter.
Bread pudding is a time-honored way of using stale bread, once again with milk, eggs, and something to sweeten it and boost the flavor — like sugar and cinnamon. There are thousands of recipes to choose from.
So, stale bread, as you can see, is not a lost opportunity — just a different one.