I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve needed breadcrumbs for a recipe, only to go to the pantry to discover I’d run out. I use them so often—for everything from cutlets to fish and topping pastas—that I can hardly keep up. The solution (in addition to maintaining a better weekly shopping list) is to keep myself in good supply by making my own. It’s not only incredibly easy, it’s also a great way to make use of leftover bread that’s past its prime, allowing you to stock up on breadcrumbs while minimizing food waste. You can also make breadcrumbs from fresh bread in a pinch by drying it in a low oven, a handy trick for when you’re out of both store-bought breadcrumbs and stale old bread.
Homemade breadcrumbs can be made from a variety of bread types, like sourdough, white bread, and rye, and can come from crusty rustic loaves or basic sandwich bread. There will be differences in flavor and texture, depending on what kind of bread you use, but in all but the most extreme cases, the breadcrumbs can be used interchangeably. The one thing to try to avoid are loaves of bread studded with seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and other add-ins, which can gunk up the batch and throw off recipe results.
Breadcrumbs are made by pulsing stale or oven-dried bread in a food processor until the bread breaks down into small crumbs. The exact size of the crumbs depends on personal preference and at times specific recipe needs, though it’s generally better to err on the side of larger crumbs, since they can always be crushed or processed more if a finer grind is needed. Be careful not to overprocess the bread, though, or you’ll be left with an overly fine powder.
It’s also generally better to leave the breadcrumbs untoasted and unseasoned for storage. That will give you the most versatility for later use—you can toast and season them later if, say, you want to use them as a garnish for pasta, or leave them untoasted to use as a coating for cutlets, since they’ll brown during the frying process.
As for whether to remove the crusts or not, that’s harder to say. Crusts can often be left on, though more rustic loaves with dark and thick crusts will produce breadcrumbs with a noticeable proportion of deeply browned bits. Those crusty breadcrumbs may be delicious when used as a garnish for pastas but could over-brown during deep-frying. The most versatile breadcrumbs are arguably free of very dark crust, but again, it ultimately depends on what you’re likely to do with them.
Seasoned Breadcrumbs: Ideas for Adding Flavor
Whether homemade or store-bought, breadcrumbs are open to a wide range of flavoring and seasoning possibilities. Keep in mind that adding fresh seasonings to your breadcrumbs will shorten their lifespan, so you can always keep a batch of the plain breadcrumbs on hand and add the fresh ingredients on a recipe-by-recipe basis.
Some of our favorite seasoning options include:
- Salt: The most basic seasoning, salt improves breadcrumbs just as it improves any food, making flavors pop.
- Fresh or dried herbs: Dried herbs are best limited to woodsy herbs like oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme, which retain their flavor even when dried. If using fresh herbs, you can use any of those same woodsy herbs as well as more delicate fresh ones like finely minced parsley, chives, and tarragon.
- Spices: Freshly ground black pepper is the most obvious choice here (so obvious some might have listed it alongside salt above), but it’s not the only one. Garlic and onion powder, ground coriander, fennel, or cumin seeds, and flavor powerhouses like smoked paprika are just some examples of spices that would be welcome in many breadcrumb mixtures.
- Citrus zest: The zest of lemon and orange in particular can work wonders in a breadcrumb mixture. We’ve used lemon zest before to make “gremolata” breadcrumbs along with minced fresh parsley and garlic.
- Fresh garlic and other alliums: Building on the gremolata breadcrumbs idea just mentioned, fresh minced garlic, shallots, or scallions can add depth and dimension. Minced chives could also be listed here, if you didn’t want to think of them as herbs.
- Oils: If you’re planning on toasting your breadcrumbs before using them as a garnish, or if you’re air-frying or oven-roasting a food with a breadcrumb exterior, such as in these avocado fries, moistening the breadcrumbs with oil will improve how evenly the breadcrumbs toast while avoiding an overly dry texture. Just add the oil with care, since a little bit goes a long way.
- Grated cheeses: Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and other aged cheeses are another excellent addition to a breadcrumb mixture.
If desired, trim crust from bread; basic white sandwich bread with soft, light crusts generally won’t require it, but you may want to remove the dark crusts from more rustic deeply baked loaves, depending on how you plan to use the breadcrumbs (see headnote above for more). Cut bread into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces.
If using fresh or lightly stale bread, adjust oven rack to middle position, and preheat oven to 325°F (165°C). (If using fully stale and dried bread, skip baking step.) Arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet, and bake until completely dried, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes.
Transfer bread to food processor bowl and pulse until reduced to small crumbs, taking care not to over-process into a fine powder, 8 to 10 pulses (exact number of pulses can vary quite a bit depending on the food process, bread type, and other factors). Add salt to taste. Store breadcrumbs until ready to use.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Untoasted, the breadcrumbs can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months. Adding fresh seasonings like parsley and lemon zest will shorten the lifespan of breadcrumbs to about 2 weeks.