How To Make The Absolute Best Croutons For Caesar Salad

basic Caesar salad recipe only has a handful of ingredients: A mountain of romaine lettuce, handfuls of parmesan, and generous bites of croutons, all doused in a thick dressing. But like any good salad, Caesar salad's no-frills deliciousness lies in its simplicity and the use of contrasting textures. While the dressing adds a rich creaminess to the salad and the fresh lettuce (which should be one of the sturdier types of lettuce) adds some crispiness, croutons bring the much-needed third texture, aka the crunch. Without the crunch of toasted croutons to cut through the otherwise creamy and crisp textures, a Caesar salad wouldn't really be a Caesar salad at all.

When seasoned well, croutons will even double up as flavor bombs that can absorb the tangy dressing to pack a savory punch in each bite. Besides, without the toasted cubes of bread to make it more substantial and filling, there would be nothing to stop your tummy from grumbling with hunger mere moments after polishing off a bowl of Caesar salad. Safe to say, your Caesar salad could do with a batch of well-seasoned, homemade croutons that have been toasted to crunchy perfection, and luckily enough, it's incredibly easy to make them at home!

Pick your bread -- preferably a crusty loaf

You could make croutons out of any bread really, regardless of whether it is plain or flavored, fresh or stale, soft and pillowy, or hard and crusty. But if you want the croutons for your Caesar salad to be the best that they can be, the choice of bread and its freshness matter. Even just regular sandwich bread can be turned into croutons — though for better results, you will want bread that's thicker, more crusty, and has at least some flavor on its own.

The slight sweetness of brioche or the nutty earthiness of rye bread will make for excellent croutons, as will sourdough, pumpernickel, and an Italian or French bread such as a baguette. You could even add more punch to your salad by using flavored bread to make croutons — think loaves that are seasoned with garlic, rosemary, cheese, or any aromatics for that matter. No matter which bread you choose, make sure that it is at least a few days old; the staler the bread is, the drier it will be – and dry bread will turn into golden brown croutons much more quickly.

Cut or tear the bread into cubes

Once you have your bread of choice, turning it into cubes may not seem like much. After all, all that you need to do is tear it into rough bite-sized chunks with your hands, and voila — there go your croutons. For best results, however, it's worth being a little more meticulous with your cubing. Granted, there is some rustic charm to hand-torn pieces of bread. However, if you want your Caesar salad to have the refined elegance of one that's served at an upscale restaurant, consider slicing the bread into similar-sized cubes.

Croutons shredded by hand will not have a consistent size, which means they will not bake evenly in an oven. While some jagged and burned ends will not be the end of the world for your croutons, dicing them into roughly ¾ inch cubes will give your croutons an even bake, a uniform look, and a texture that's crisp enough to not turn soggy under the weight of the thick Caesar salad dressing — but without losing any of its bready chew.

Choose your fats and seasonings

The next step to making the absolute best croutons for your Caesar salad is to toss the bread cubes in some form of fat and coat them with seasonings. You roughly need a tablespoon of melted butter or oil per cup or so of bread cubes. While either butter or oil (olive or canola oil for example) will do a fine job of toasting the bread, an even better option is mixing a bit of both. Where butter will give your croutons a nutty, dairy-like richness that a neutral oil cannot, oil will give them that extra crunchy texture. Before you add the seasonings, give the bread a good toss in the oil.

Whichever fat you choose to toast the bread cubes in, don't forget to use seasonings. Garlic powder and parmesan cheese are classic flavorings, but there is great potential in upgrading your croutons here. A sprinkle of Italian seasoning will add a fragrant, earthy, and herbaceous flavor to the croutons — and consequently to your Caesar salad — whereas taco seasoning can bring smokiness to the mix.

Even spicy powders such as hot paprika are fair game if you have a taste for it — as well as savory curry powders. Alternatively, you could skip the butter altogether and only use oil but inject it with more flavor first — fry freshly minced garlic in some olive oil to make a garlic-infused oil for example, and then drizzle that over the croutons.

Toast your croutons

Now that the bread is cubed, seasoned, and tossed with butter or oil, it's time to toast it into crunchy little croutons. There are several ways to go about it: You can fry the croutons in a pan on the stove, grill them, or even pop them into a toaster oven. That said, baking them in an oven will produce the most evenly browned and crunchy croutons.

After tossing your bread cubes until they are evenly coated in grease and seasonings, line them on a baking tray without crowding them. Bake the croutons at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 12 minutes so that they crisp up without burning, giving them a gentle stir every five or so minutes. Once they look golden brown and crunchy, remove the croutons from the oven, dab off any excess grease, and sprinkle whatever extra seasoning you may want to add onto the croutons.

The one thing to know about these crunchy cubes is that though stale bread makes the best croutons, once baked, croutons taste best when they are the freshest. Croutons — even a few hours old — can quickly become dry and tough — which is not what you want in your Caesar salad.