Creative Ideas for Leftover Bread
Whether you’ve got a couple slices of country bread or half a loaf of challah, you can turn it into something delicious
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Most of us have been trying to reduce our food waste for a while now, but life in the (still-not-over!) quarantine puts it top of mind. When you're trying to avoid frequent trips to the store, the situation leaves you no choice but to make the most of the food you have.
I’m doing my best but with my family of three, bread can go stale before we use it all. And my freezer is already jam-packed, so I can’t just pop it in there. (Of course, I could polish off an entire loaf of any good, crusty bread singlehandedly, but I’m trying so hard to avoid the Quarantine 15...)
If you’re like me, two things come to mind when you’re wondering what to do with leftover bread: breadcrumbs and croutons. And we’ll start with those. But a person can only eat so many crumbs and croutons, right? You're going to want to check out the following leftover bread recipes that call for relatively small amounts of fresh or stale bread, too — I’ve sorted them by type of bread, so you can find options for exactly what you have on hand.
Jump ahead to:
How to make breadcrumbs
You probably don’t need me to tell you how to make breadcrumbs, but I will: Tear stale bread into chunks and remove any extra-hard crusts. Put the pieces into your food processor and pulse until you’ve got crumbs the size you want. (Personally, I like larger crumbs for things like mac and cheese.) And if you want to recreate the pre-seasoned kind you can buy in a canister, this recipe for Italian Breadcrumbs has you covered.
How to make croutons from leftover bread
Croutons only take a little bit more effort, and I mean a little. Toss cubes of stale bread with some olive oil or melted butter, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes. You can season croutons in dozens of ways, too — Best Ever Croutons use fresh herbs, garlic, and Parm, Everything Croutons include (you guessed it) everything bagel-type seasonings, and Parmesan Ranch Croutons? Yup, ranch dressing mix.
What to do with leftover sourdough bread
Sourdough is the loaf I buy most often. (Yes, I have a quarantine starter, and no, I haven’t mastered baking with it.) But the loaves tend to be on the large side, which means coming up with fun ways to use it.
Bread makes a classic topping for baked macaroni dishes. In this case, you’re tearing up two slices of sourdough and mixing it with grated Parm to sprinkle on top of a casserole starring Spanish chorizo.
Not in the mood for pasta? Use those last two slices of sourdough for something lighter, like this summery gazpacho. They go into the blender with fresh tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and garlic, along with a splash of red wine vinegar and a healthy amount of olive oil. The bread’s natural tang pairs well with the vegetables, and the texture helps give body to the finished dish.
If you’re looking to use a more substantial amount of sourdough, you can’t go wrong with a bread-focused casserole. In this case it’s a savory pudding featuring butternut squash, warm spices like coriander and cinnamon, and Swiss cheese.
Recipes for leftover sandwich bread
Whether you buy it at the bakery or the grocery store, sliced bread is an amazing convenience (“the best thing since sliced bread,” anyone?). But there are only so many sammies a person can eat. Good thing you can use it in so many non-sandwich ways.
Toasted slices of bread meet up in the food processor with fresh basil, grated Parm, and a drizzle of olive oil to make the flavorful, crunchy topping for these zucchini boats. The filling? A satisfying combo of lean Italian turkey sausage, more Parm, tomato paste, and vegetables.
You may not have a stash of chicken wings in your quarantine freezer, but the odds are better you’ll have ground chicken or turkey. Use that plus two slices of sandwich bread and some seasoning to make meatballs, then slow-cook them in a spicy-sweet sauce inspired by classic hot wings. Serve with ranch dressing and celery sticks, of course.
Crab cakes feel very fancy to me, but it turns out they’re quarantine-friendly since you can use canned or thawed, frozen crab meat. This recipe is convenient, too, because you can form the cakes any time during the day and chill them. About 30 minutes before you want to eat, coat them in fresh breadcrumbs and bake. The recipe calls for three slices each of white and whole wheat, but I’m sure it would work just fine with six slices of one or the other.
Easy leftover baguette bread recipes
I’m pretty sure I could eat an entire long, thin loaf like baguettes, ficelles, and Italian bread by myself, but I resist. Usually. Which often means I have leftovers to play with.
Admit it, your mouth started watering as soon as you read the name of this recipe. Mahogany-brown caramelized onions, beef broth, fresh thyme, and a splash of vinegar form the soup, but we all know the best part is the toasted baguette slice floating on top, covered in gooey melted cheese.
I look forward to tomato season specifically because it means I can make Panzanella, a perfect Italian salad made with stale bread. Ripe, juicy tomatoes soften the bread, and crunchy raw vegetables make the bread salad substantial enough for a main course (sometimes I throw in some cannellini beans, chunks of fresh mozz, or leftover chicken, too). A garlicky, mustardy dressing pulls the whole thing together.
The first grown-up party I ever threw featured multiple takes on crostini. I thought they were so sophisticated, but in reality they’re nothing more than thinly sliced baguette, baked to a crisp. It’s the perfect vehicle for all kinds of toppings, like the four shown here (salty butter and radish, baby BLT, zesty ricotta harissa, and hot pepper jelly and goat cheese). All you need is one-quarter of a loaf to get started.
Eggcellent challah and brioche ideas
These two egg-based breads aren’t identical — challah is dairy-free, while brioche’s richness comes from plenty of butter and milk. But when you have just a little bit left, you can use them interchangeably.
Very fresh brioche can be too soft to stand up to a French toast-soaking in eggs and milk, but this recipe — which includes plenty of cinnamon — starts with the clever trick to toast it first. I bet if your leftover brioche was starting to get firm, that would work well too. Cook the dunked brioche in butter until golden brown and then serve with your favorite syrup and fresh fruit.
Bruschetta is a lot like crostini, only instead of crostini’s thin, crisp slices, bruschetta are heartier and charred, usually from grilling or broiling. Using challah is definitely untraditional, but the sweet, eggy bread works beautifully when topped with lemony, creamy ricotta, then drizzled with honey.
Toasted cubes of challah soak up an egg-milk-cocoa custard, then get tossed with chocolate chips and mini marshmallows. Bake the mixture in ramekins, and dig in. If you’ve got a kitchen torch handy, a short blast after baking will give you that fire-roasted marshmallow effect.
Brioche’s luxurious texture works perfectly as a base for a super easy yet sophisticated breakfast dish. You simply line ramekins with torn-up slices of the bread, top with shredded asiago and an egg, then top with more cheese. Pop it in the oven and 15 minutes later, you’re eating.
Recipes where almost any leftover loaf will do
Some recipes are so versatile, you can use almost any type of bread you have. Usually it means the flavor of the bread isn’t the most important thing — you’re using it for its magical ability to change the texture of a dish.
Ribollita is one of the reasons I love Italian food. Cooks in that country have a knack for turning odds and ends — like a little bit of stale bread — into something so delicious you can’t stop eating it. This recipe uses just two cups of cubed ciabatta, whole wheat, or multigrain bread to thicken a vegetable soup. The bread thickens the soup as it cooks, turning it into a meal in a bowl.
This version of the diner favorite uses a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal, along with chopped onion, celery, and carrot — and of course, ketchup on top. Fresh breadcrumbs help hold the mixture together and keep it moist, too.
When I only have a couple slices of bread, Spanish romesco sauce is one of my favorite ways to use it up. Roasted red peppers (yes, you can use jarred) and almonds are the star, along with smoked paprika and tangy vinegar. A half cup of fresh breadcrumbs goes into the blender or food processor along with everything else, giving it body and lushness. Use it with grilled chicken or fish, as a dip with crudités, or even as a pasta sauce.
More inspiration for quarantine cooking
We're with you at Yummly during the coronavirus to make home cooking as easy and flexible as possible. You'll find lots more ideas in our quarantine cooking collection and in these articles.