The huge mistake you're making with stale bread

This holiday season, chances are you're planning some sort of elaborate meal for your family. Be it a Christmas dinner or a New Year's feast to go with all that champagne, you're bound to have some sort of celebratory food in the works. Typically, that means bread and lots of it. According to a survey of more than 500 consumers conducted by famed artisan bread company La Brea Bakery, 92 percent of people serve bread at their holiday meals. And, being that bread is just one part of what is usually a large holiday offering, there's often quite a bit of it leftover.

The same survey reports that 56 percent of people purchase their bread a day or two before the holiday, meaning that by the time your big feast is done and over with, that bread is likely pretty stale. But stale doesn't have to mean inedible! In fact, stale bread can easily be given a delicious second life and the biggest mistake you could make is throwing it away. For some expert advice on what to do with stale bread, Mashed spoke with La Brea Bakery Cafe's DVP and Executive Chef, Henk Drakulich. Here are some of his tasty suggestions.

Use two-day old bread in sweet or savory ways

Believe it or not, in some recipes, stale bread that's around the two-day-old mark is actually a much yummier fit than its fresh counterpart. Chef Drakulich says, "Two-day-old bread is ideal for recipes that call for bread that is firmer on the outside and less soft on the inside." He points specifically to panzanella, which "combines mixed greens, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes with cubed pieces of firm, stale bread that are toasted and then tossed with a vinaigrette made from the juices from the vegetables. The vinaigrette complements the crisp bread, softening the texture, while still maintaining a nice crunch." While loading up on vegetables is probably a good idea after all that holiday indulgence, there are some sweet recipes that benefit from two-day-old bread, too.

Drakulich notes, "Bread pudding is a simple, yet delicious dessert recipe that is designed around stale bread. Intended to bring stale bread "back to life," classic bread pudding recipes call for soaking pieces of stale bread in a custard mixture of eggs, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, before baking in the oven." If soaking bread in a sweet custard reminds you of that breakfast classic, French toast, you're on the right track. It, too, is a perfect use for stale bread. According to Drakulich, "After soaking in a mixture of eggs, flour, sugar, milk, and vanilla, the bread will have an abundance of flavor and will regain a soft texture."

What about three-day-old bread?

Perhaps you seriously overestimated how much bread your family could consume and the leftovers are still hanging around on day three. Or, maybe you were just so burnt out on holiday cooking that it's been three days since you've re-entered the kitchen. Either way, there is still hope for your three-day-old bread. Chef Drakulich says, "By day three, bread is likely to be hard to the touch with a crispy outer crust and a firm inside, making it perfect for homemade breadcrumbs and croutons that make a delicious compliment to baked dishes, salads, and soups." 

And, don't forget about meatballs! Soaking stale bread in milk and using it as a binder in meatballs provides a smooth texture that's less likely to crumble apart and it helps your meatballs retain their juiciness. Proving that stale bread really is the gift that keeps on giving, Drakulich adds, "Leftover bread can be used as a dairy-free thickener for a soup by simply pureeing the bread with the main soup ingredients." With these tips and tricks in your back pocket, you'll never need to toss out that stale leftover bread ever again.