Some foods are so much better when you make them fresh. A fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie or a slice of freshly baked bread beats the factory-made bagged version every time. I feel the same about croutons. Homemade croutons add a special touch to even the simplest salad or bowl of soup. I made these baked herb and garlic croutons to dress up a holiday salad, and my family could not stop eating them! These homemade croutons are crunchy and addictive, packed with flavor from herbs, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil.
You’ll want to get three things right when making baked herb and garlic croutons: the bread, the flavorings, and the baking process. Start with a good loaf of bread that has a little bit of spring to it. I used a round loaf of Italian bread from my local bakery. Any kind of hearty white bread is good for this recipe. Making homemade croutons is a good way to use up leftover or old bread.
Slice the bread into half-inch cubes. The best way to do this is with a serrated bread knife. If you don’t have a good bread knife, it’s something to put on your Christmas list. I love the bread knife that came with my Anolon Imperion Damascus Steel 5-piece knife set, which is my all-time favorite knife set. If you don’t need the full set, you can also get the Anolon bread knife by itself.
You will need 7-8 cups of bread cubes for this recipe. You probably won’t need to use the whole loaf of bread. It’s okay if the cubes are a little bigger than half an inch, but the bigger they are, the longer they will take to bake.
Once you’ve cut the bread cubes, you can work on the flavorings. The great thing about this recipe is that it uses common pantry ingredients: olive oil, garlic, dried oregano, dried basil, dried thyme, salt and pepper. It’s best to use good quality extra virgin olive oil, because the taste of the oil comes through in the recipe. I used an Italian olive oil from Costco.
Combine the olive oil, sliced garlic cloves, herbs, salt and pepper in a small saucepan. Regular table salt or any salt with small crystals is good for this recipe. Kosher salt doesn’t work as well, because the crystals won’t dissolve in the olive oil.
Heat the oil, garlic, herbs and seasonings in the saucepan and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes, then remove and discard the garlic.
This is where the flavor magic happens! Simmering the garlic and herbs in the olive oil allows all those good flavors to soak into all the bread’s nooks and crannies.
Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with the garlic and herb-infused olive oil. Mix and toss to distribute the flavor.
Spread the seasoned bread cubes in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for ten minutes.
While the bread cubes are toasting, you can grate the Parmesan. Parmesan cheese is optional in this recipe, but it adds a flavor boost of cheesy goodness.
After ten minutes of baking, take the bread cubes out of the oven and sprinkle on the Parmesan. Return the bread cubes to the oven for 5-10 more minutes, until they are golden and starting to be crispy. How long this takes will depend on the type of bread you use and how big the cubes are.
Toss and stir the bread cubes 1-2 times during the second stage of baking. Take them out when they start to smell toasty. They should be a bit crunchy right out of the oven, but they get more crunchy as they cool.
Here’s how mine looked when they came out of the oven after a total of 20 minutes. Some of the herbs and Parmesan will fall off the bread cubes, but most of the flavor is in the infused olive oil.
Once your croutons are baked, sprinkle them with additional salt to taste. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to resist snacking on a few!
I love to serve these baked herb and garlic croutons with a simple salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and whatever other veggies I have on hand. They taste especially good with our creamy pesto salad dressing, Olive Garden copycat Italian dressing, or homemade ranch dressing. They also make a perfect topping for Instant Pot creamy tomato basil soup or Crock-Pot tomato soup.
Let the croutons cool before storing them in an airtight container. They keep fresh for about a week, but at my house they won’t last that long!
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Baked Herb and Garlic Croutons
- 2 large garlic cloves peeled and sliced lengthwise
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt plus additional salt for sprinkling
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 loaf of Italian bread or other hearty white bread
- 1/4 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan optional
- Slice the bread into 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch cubes, for a total of 7-8 cups bread cubes. You will probably not need to use the whole loaf of bread.
- Set the bread cubes aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack placed in the middle of the oven.
- Combine the garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, pepper, and olive oil, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic.
- Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with the oil mixture. Stir and toss to combine.
- Spread the bread cubes on an ungreased baking sheet. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle the croutons with Parmesan (optional) and return to the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes more, or until they are golden and starting to be crispy.
- Sprinkle the croutons with the additional salt, to taste. Let the croutons cool before storing in an airtight container.
- The croutons will stay fresh in the pantry for about one week.