Six ways to use stale baked goods: Chips, croutons, soup and more

Bagel Chips (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)
Bagel Chips (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)

I bake and eat bread so quickly that there's usually very little opportunity for it to go stale, especially if I've stored it properly. But it happens to even the best of us.

If you're staring down bread that's past its prime, here are suggestions for how to use it in new, tasty and thrifty ways.

CHIPS

After a trip, I came home with a few bagels that had been sitting on the counter for almost a week. I had a feeling they'd make great bagel chips, and I was right. So I decided to share my technique with you all below in a recipe for Bagel Chips, in which thin slices of bagels are brushed with a mix of butter and olive oil and then crisped in the oven or air fryer (aka small convection oven).

Pitas also lend themselves well to the chip treatment. Simply cut into triangles, brush with oil and bake until crisp and golden. For super-crunchy results, bake them at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Columnist Ellie Krieger makes thin toasts with halved pitas cut into wedges and baked at 350 degrees for 5 to 6 minutes.

CROUTONS

Almost any kind of bread can be turned into croutons. Cookbook author Tara Jensen is a big fan of sourdough, especially loaves made with some whole wheat, so that the bran rehydrates and soaks up more of the oil for optimal flavor and a slight chew.

Hearty white sandwich bread, such as the sliced loaves you might get at the store, is a great option. (Just nothing too thin, please.) You can go bolder with rye or pumpernickel, though darker breads can be harder to gauge doneness based on color alone.

Using older bread will help the bread soak up the fat (extra-virgin olive oil is a go-to) and create a crisp texture. Jensen prefers to tear the bread for croutons by hand. The irregular shape means you'll get contrasting textures -- crispy point here, softer bready spot there. The oven is an excellent way to toast croutons, since it's relatively hands off and makes it simple to cook up a big batch. Aim for 350 to 400 degrees, and expect the toasting to take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size and type of your bread, the temperature and your preferred level of doneness. If you're working with smaller amounts, you can toast croutons in a skillet on the stovetop. Jensen also grills slices of bread, then tears them into pieces after they have been toasted.

FRENCH TOAST AND BREAD PUDDING

French toast is a classic use for stale bread, though it works best with loaves with a tighter crumb rather than a very open one. My favorite bread to use is challah. For a large-format option built for the oven, there's always baked French toast or bread pudding. Bread pudding can be made with layers of slices, but you open up your options if you decide to go with cubed bread, which you can dry out overnight or in the oven so that it better soaks up your custard made with eggs and milk, heavy cream or half-and-half.

BREADCRUMBS

This is one of the lowest-lift options. Run your stale bread through the food processor until it is finely ground. If you need dried breadcrumbs, leave to stale on a sheet pan or toast briefly in a moderate oven to dry out. Use right away or stash in the freezer. If you want to go straight into the kind of crisp, golden crumbs you get in the store, stick to Jesse Szewczyk's technique, in which you essentially first make croutons and then grind, season and fry them to golden perfection. After that, they'll be ready to use on top of pastas and casseroles or as part of a breading for chicken cutlets.

If you're a pie baker, follow the lead of such experts as Dorie Greenspan and place a layer of dried breadcrumbs on top of the crust to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.

SOUPS AND STEWS

Cultures all over the world have for centuries incorporated old bread into rustic fare that stretches even meager ingredients into something hearty. Depending on the recipe, you can allow torn pieces of bread to disintegrate into the soup and leave as is, or you can puree the soup for a smoother texture with the thickening power of the bread.

BOSTOCK

When faced with the prospect of lackluster grocery store panettone, I wondered whether you could take a page from almond croissants, in which a nut paste is spread and baked into stale or day-old pastries. My Washington Post colleague Daniela Galarza ran with the idea, developing a recipe for Panettone Bostock, a variation on the common French pastry for using up old bread. Hers features an any-nut frangipane you can slather onto staled panettone, croissants, brioche or even white bread and top with your choice of nuts and fruit.

RECIPES

These chips are so good you'll be intentionally buying (or baking) extra bagels to make them. We offer instructions on how to make them in the oven and air fryer.

Consider this recipe a template to make your ideal bagel chips. Use any type of bagel you like, whether stale or fresh, though stale bagels will bake more quickly. We liked the combination of oil and butter for brushing, but you can use just one, if you prefer. If your bagels are not seasoned already, toss the chips with everything seasoning blend or other favorite spice blend. While we enjoyed the heft of ¼-inch-slices, the bagels can be sliced to your desired thickness.

Bagel Chips

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3 medium bagels (about 10 ounces total), stale or fresh, cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Everything seasoning blend or other spice blend of your choice, for sprinkling (optional)

If baking in the oven, position a rack in the middle and heat to 350 degrees. If using the air fryer, set to 330 degrees and heat until the appliance signals it's ready.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil and butter.

Brush one side of each bagel slice with the oil-butter mixture and set on a large, rimmed baking sheet (it sounds fiddly, but this ensures more even coverage than if you tossed everything together in a bowl). Season with half of the salt and some of the everything seasoning blend, if using. Flip the slices over and repeat the brushing, then season with the remaining salt and more everything spice. Be sure the slices are in a single layer with as little overlap as possible.

If using the oven, bake for 12 to 18 minutes, or until the chips are crisp and golden, or they have reached your desired level of crunch (they will get a bit harder as they cool). Halfway through baking, rotate the pan from front to back and stir the chips. Stale bagels will be done on the lower end of the range, while fresh ones will take longer.

If using the air fryer, transfer the coated and salted bagel slices to the air fryer basket and bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until crisp and golden, stirring the chips two or three times during baking.

Let the chips cool completely before serving or storing. Store in an airtight bag or container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition information: Each (½ cup) serving contains approximately 132 calories, 3 g protein, 5 g fat, 19 g carbohydrate, 6 mg cholesterol, 229 mg sodium and 2 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 1 ½

If you find yourself with leftover panettone, turn it into this nutty, crunchy pastry. A great panettone, airy and golden, needs no accompaniment -- and will probably be eaten within hours. This recipe is for the lackluster loaves with dense or dry interiors. Inspired by the traditional French breakfast pastry, bostock, this recipe also will work with stale croissants, brioche or even white bread. (If your loaf is still quite moist, dry slices out in a 300-degree oven for 10 to 20 minutes.) To make it, you'll moisten a thick slice with a sweet syrup, and then cover it in frangipane. Bake it as-is, or dress it up with pieces of fruit or a sprinkle of nuts.

For the prettiest presentation, cut the loaf across its equator to get large, round slices. This recipe is great for using up almost any leftover enriched bread or cake, so as long as the slices are about 1-inch thick, it doesn't matter what shape they are. And, if your slices are smaller than what's called for here, don't fret. Moisten as directed, spread with a 1/3-inch-thick layer of frangipane and bake, keeping in mind that baking time can be shorter for smaller slices. For best results, avoid panettone that contains a lot of chocolate, as it can burn during baking.

Panettone Bostock

For the syrup:

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon orange blossom water or rose water (optional)

For the frangipane:

1 cup shelled, unsalted nuts, such as pistachios or almonds, preferably blanched (see note)

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ teaspoon fine sea or table salt

2 (8-inch wide, 1-inch thick) slices panettone, cut across the equator, stale or dried out

Slices of fresh, dried or poached fruit or chopped nuts (optional)

Confectioners' sugar, for serving (optional)

Make the syrup: In a small saucepan over high heat, combine ¼ cup water and the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water or rose water, if using. Set aside to cool.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Make the frangipane: In a food processor, process the nuts and sugar until the nuts are finely ground, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the egg, butter and salt and process until smooth.

To assemble: Place the stale or lightly toasted panettone slices on the prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry brush or spoon, brush the panettone with the syrup until it is soft and moist but not completely soaked. You could have leftover syrup. Extra syrup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Leftover syrup can be strained and used to sweeten tea or other beverages.

Using a tablespoon or offset spatula, spread about ½ cup of frangipane in an even, 1/3-inch-thick layer over each soaked slice of panettone. Depending on the size of the slices, you could have some left over. Top with fruit or chopped nuts, if desired.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the frangipane is set and lightly browned along the edges. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Almonds, pistachios, pecans, pine nuts, hazelnuts, cashews and macadamia nuts will all work. Nuts can be roasted or raw.

Nutrition information: Each serving (¼ slice) contains approximately 300 calories, 7 g protein, 15 g fat, 34 g carbohydrate, 65 mg cholesterol, 191 mg sodium and 2 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 2 ½

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