The story of Hansel and Gretel has always been very interesting to me. Over the years I've collected several versions of the story… let me tell you that they're not all as sweet as the version we heard as children. I most recently read the young adult novel Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu with absolute joy. The author knows her fairy tales and YA fiction in and out. The insiderly language and references in this modern revamp of Hansel and Gretel made me geek out so hard it almost stuck like that.
But about those breadcrumbs. These are apparently a fast solution for leftover bread… but who the hell ever has leftover bread? Not us. I usually make this with a fresh loaf for its own sake. Because these have a little oil on them, they are more perishable than your standard store-bought breadcrumb, so use them up quickly. Fresh breadcrumbs are awesome tossed in a pasta or sprinkled over steamed veggies with a bit of cheese and run under a broiler for a few minutes. You can even puree them very fine and substitute about a quarter cup’s worth of flour with plain, unseasoned breadcrumbs in a cookie recipe-it makes them lurvely-crunchy. Enjoy and don't get caught out in the woods without a good plan and some provisions, okay?
- 1 lb. day old bread, usually 1 standard loaf of bread (I like a white rustic loaf for crunchier crumbs, but you can use a soft white for a finer crumb or a firm whole wheat for a more robust flavor)
- 2-3 tablespoons rice bran oil
- Sea salt, freshly ground pepper and other dry seasonings (garlic powder, paprika, parsley, etc) if desired, to taste
Preheat oven to 325 F. Trim the crusts off the bread. Tear or cut the bread into large chunks. Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil, then sprinkle with seasonings if using. Place in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until barely golden brown.
Let the bread cool for a few minutes then process them in two batches in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. You can pulse them for a more consistent size crumb or let it run on its own, which will give you some bigger and some smaller pieces. If you do not have a food processor, you can grate them on a box grater to good effect.
Once your breadcrumbs are ground up to your liking, taste them for seasonings and adjust if you like. Store them in a closed container in a dry place for up to a week or freeze for up to 6 months. If using frozen, defrost overnight and gently pat them dry of any moisture they might have absorbed. You can even toast them a tiny bit before using them just to get them nice and dry.