17 Uses for Stale Bread

Stale bread is a given in most households; even the best-intentioned foodies will occasionally find themselves staring down a rapidly drying loaf of white bread with no idea how to cope. Throwing away food isn't just a waste of money — it's a downright shame. (See also: Waste Not, Want Not: Stop Throwing Away Your Food!)

Bread is a varied and delicious staple that is delicious fresh and yet still incredibly useful when past its due date. In fact, one of the better supermarket/bakery deals that can be had is bags of day-old bread. A bakery near my house sells large bags of day-old bread for approximately $2, and it includes things like scones, cinnamon rolls, and raisin bread. Perhaps I could bake these things on my own for less, but considering what an untalented baker I am, these leftover bags are a real bargain. Check with your local bakery to see if they sell or even give away their day-old extras — you might even be able to make an entire meal out of a freebie bag of bread.

Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your leftover loaves.

1. French Onion Soup

You can have French onion soup without a cheesy toasty topper. Well, OK, you can, but no one will want to eat it. Try Alton Brown's recipe for the perfect French onion soup, but remember that your bread topping doesn't have to be perfectly even or perfectly round. You can toss a handful of stale bread on top of your soup and still find plenty of room for the cheese to settle in.

2. Easy Soufflé/Quiche

Stale bread and eggs were somehow made for each other. If you love soufflé but aren't in the mood to worry about it rising or collapsing, use this shortcut recipe for cheese, onion, and bread soufflé that is easy as pie. Love having quiche for brunch? You can even use that healthy, high-fiber bread for a delicious weekend quiche.

3. Stuffing/Dressing

Is stuffing too obvious a use for stale bread? It's my favorite, so I can't resist. The only dish at Thanksgiving that I would be heartbroken without, savory stuffing is a sure-fire accompaniment to any poultry-based meal. A small helping of rich, delicious stuffing can save a dry turkey dinner from despair or add some oomph to an otherwise normal chicken sandwich.

Stuffing doesn't always have to be served alongside fowl, though; it's also wonderful next to baked tilapia or oysters. Because stuffing has so many regional variations, you are free to branch out and try out all kinds of different recipes. Stuffing is also very forgiving — it will accept the presence of all kinds of other flavors, including squash, broccoli, spinach, sausage, nuts, cranberries, and more.

4. Breadcrumbs

Just how handy are breadcrumbs? You'll never know until you have your own stash in waiting, ready to top macaroni and cheese and casseroles, to coat your filet of fish or famous fried chicken, to use on top of cakes and cupcakes, or to coat the bottom of a cheesecake when you are low on graham crackers.

Breadcrumbs are incredibly easy to make — just bake your stale bread on low heat (say, 150°F) in your oven or toaster oven until the bread is extremely dry and brittle. Then place the bread in your blender or food processor and churn until you have a golden brown crumbs. Further drying can be achieved in the oven or on the counter.

You can add herbs and salt if you want a savory mix for dishes. Add some brown sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and coconut flakes for a delicious ice cream topper, or leave the crumbs plain for versatility.

Freeze breadcrumbs in an air-tight container for maximum storage time.

5. Meat Loaf

Probably one of the best-known uses for stale bread, meat loaf can be a family favorite if you make it right. Breadcrumbs are often added to meat loaf in order to add heft and save money, and they can also act to make meat loaf more tender by keeping the protein separated. The best meat loaf recipe that I have ever tried called for crushed saltine crackers, but crumbled stale bread is a logical (and inexpensive) substitute.

Meatloaf doesn't just have to be made out of beef, of course. Salmon loaf (top with dried dill and sour cream) makes a wonderful treat either hot or cold.

Did I forget to mention crab cakes? Like meatloaf, crab cakes are held together by a small amount of egg and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs (also, I've learned that using one chopped scallop per crab cake will add a certain cohesiveness to the patty without changing the flavor). Used canned crab for the best, and cheapest, results.

6. Refreshed Bread

OK, so let's say that what you really want is fresh bread. You can always refresh your stale bread using this trick.

7. Cinnamon Toasts

Think you know how to make cinnamon toast? You probably do. But we're talking about cinnamon toasts. You've never made cinnamon toast quite like this. It's the perfect way to use up fluffy-but-stale white bread, and the results last for days and are a perfect treat to take with you to a party (scroll down a bit for the recipe and pictures).

8. Bisques and Bread Soups

I'm a big fan of bisque as a pre-meal appetizer (slowly sipping a cup of bisque will help you eat less in your main course), and stale bread is a great carbohydrate that you can use to thicken your soup if you lack potatoes or yams. Just toss the bread in and let it get mushy like the veggies, then blend carefully in batches.

If you don't feel like blending, bread soup is big in Italian cooking, so try out a new recipe while using up leftovers.

9. Bread Salads

Bread salad, also known as panzanella, is a nice change from regular old lettuce-and-dressing and often a hit at parties. Remember that the word "salad" comes from the Latin word for "salt," and it refers to salted things, not necessarily to veggies. If you want to throw a can of artichoke hearts, some sliced tomatoes, a few handfuls of stale bread, some leftover chicken, and some dressing in a bowl and call it a salad, you're well within your semantic rights to do so.

10. Bread Pudding

I don't have a big sweet tooth — I can honestly pass on most candy, ice cream, and even pie. But bread pudding? Nearly impossible to resist. Also, it turns out, it's incredibly easy to make. I avoided making bread pudding because I was terrified that it would end up being as tragic as my cheesecake disaster, but bread pudding is delicious and simple. It's a good way to use up dessert-y breads, but don't let the rosemary loaf go to waste — just combine the flavors with complementary tastes, like rosemary with lemon.

Similar to bread pudding (and yet different) is fruit charlotte. A good way to use up both old bread and excess apples, charlotte may not be the healthiest dessert, but it's certainly among the most warming.

11. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Hey, half the point of grilling a sandwich is to get the bread nice and crispy, and with dried sliced bread, you're already halfway there. To get a perfect grilled cheese, I lightly butter and grill both sides of the bread before applying the cheese. That way, the bread is extra crispy on both the outside AND the inside, and the cheese melts faster.

12. Open Faced Sandwiches/Bruschetta

Feeling like you want less bread and more filling? Toast stale slices, and then top with anything you like, from olive tapenade to leftover meat loaf. Any variation of bruschetta will do, and the crunchy, toasty base will hold together better than fresh bread in the face of moister toppings.

13. French Toast

French toast practically begs for the use of stale bread, and there's no reason to limit this tasty treat to breakfast time — you can enjoy French toast for dinner, too. I personally love all flavors of French toast, but my new favorite involves spreading one side of the stale bread with a light layer of cream cheese (or chevre), and the other side with a tart jelly (like cherry or marmalade) before dipping it in egg batter and cooking.

French toast doesn't have to be limited to large slices of sandwich bread — a popular snack in my household is French toast bites made of slices of tiny French baguettes that are past their prime.

14. Gourmet Croutons

Nothing can be easier than turning stale bread into delicious gourmet croutons for soup and salad toppings. Simply toss the bread in a mixture of olive oil, dried herbs, and salt and toast until golden brown. You can add parmesan cheese after toasting (adding it before toasting might cause some burning).

Croutons are great for fondue and also to top off a particularly gourmet Bloody Mary.

15. Potato/Rice Substitute

Are all carbs created equal? Could you substitute bread for rice or potatoes? There are some who might disagree, but consider that a very popular Moroccan dish is basically a chicken stew poured over day-old bread. You don't even have to make Moroccan bread to make this dish. Just tear us slightly stale bread into bite-size pieces and smother the bread with your own curry, Irish stew, or whatever floats your boat.

16. Bread Dumplings

Semmelknoedel are German dumplings that are a little bit like Italian gnocchi, but are made using stale bread and milk. Enjoy in a soup, topped with mushroom gravy or marinara, alongside meats and fish, or however you like your dumplings. Create a slightly sweeter version (minus the garlic, pepper, and herbs) and eat warm with honey, almonds, and ricotta cheese.

17. Bird Food

OK, I've heard that bread isn't good for birds and all that. I'm sure that the Audubon Society would have me stuffed and mounted for saying so, but seagulls aren't really birds, are they? No, they are just big, flying cockroaches, and bread won't hurt them at all.

Storing Old Bread

How you store your bread depends an awful lot on the kind of bread it is. When I buy "artisanal" loaves of bread from the supermarket, I do so with the understanding that the bread will last approximately four days on the kitchen counter, wrapped in a paper bag and then loosely in a plastic bag. Regular sliced bread from the bread section of the store (as opposed to the actual bakery) can last for as long as two weeks, so long as the last week is spent in the fridge. Your own storage methods and preferences probably depend a great deal on your climate and your ability to spot the first few strands of mold.

Incidentally, if you see a loaf that is just starting to mold, there is no shame in cutting off the fuzzy part and saving the interior.

The freezer, though, is where stale bread goes to await its reincarnated fate. If you've never frozen bread before, Martha Stewart can tell you how to do that. Much of my bread ends up in freezer-safe Ziplock bags, which seem to do the trick. I don't recommend keeping bread frozen for more than six months, but how long you can tolerate the bags of bready scraps might also depend on your type of freezer and how much space you have.

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Guest's picture

I make something close to the german bread dumplings, but call them matza balls and serve then in clear chicken broth with some light veggies. We all love that around here.

Andrea Karim's picture

I was going to mention matzoh, but matzoh are traditionally made from unleavened bread (like a cracker) - so no yeast. I figured someone would get on my case if I did. ;)

Guest's picture

I always gather up all our bread scraps and soak them in water i have boiled potatoes or vegetables in and feed them to my chickens. It always comes in handy to have a stash of bread in case I run out of food and haven't got time to get to the store.

Andrea Karim's picture

I hadn't thought of chickens! Do they like potatoes and bread?

Guest's picture

yes, my chickens LOVE all bread products--after all, it is grain--the more whole grain the better.

Lynn Truong's picture

The problem I've run into with freezing bread is that each slice ends up with some pockets of wetness, so when I pop it into the toaster oven, it doesn't quite toast up evenly -- some parts are nice and toasted, while other parts are still cold and wet. Any way to get around that?

Andrea Karim's picture

Are you using a toaster oven or a traditional toaster? I've never encountered that, but I tend to use a traditional toaster (with the slots) because it toasts more evenly.

I also do let my bread thaw a bit first - do you put it into the toaster when it is frozen?

Lynn Truong's picture

I use a toaster oven and I put it in directly from the freezer. I'll try letting it thaw out first. See how that goes. Thanks!

Guest's picture

My wife makes a German recipe called Butterball soup. It uses breadcrumbs to make what looks like meatballs, which are then added to chicken soup. A Christmas favorite around our house.

Andrea Karim's picture

And now I am officially hungry!

Guest's picture
Lady Lady

One word: Stratas! Just mix 4 eggs with 2 cups of half and half, milk, cream or whatever you have on hand, about half a loaf of stale bread cubed and pretty much any combination of cheese and vegetables that you would want to eat with eggs. Put it all in a sprayed baking dish and bake at 350 for about 45-50 minutes or until it is browned on top. Delish, easy, reheats well.

Andrea Karim's picture

That sounds incredibly good! Thank you for the tip. :)

Guest's picture

"...but seagulls aren't really birds, are they? No, they are just big, flying cockroaches,..."
So funny and true, I just love this! :-)

Guest's picture

If you don't use a whole loaf of fresh bread fast enough to keep it from getting stale, just freeze half the loaf. Make sure you don't stack anything atop in in the freezer, unless you like deformed bread. Let it thaw on the counter for a half-hour and it'll taste like it's a day old.

Guest's picture

What, no mention of 'garlic toast'? Kind of like garlic bread or texas toast -- just take your stale bread slices, spread them with olive oil/margarine/butter/what-have-you, sprinkle with salt and spices (garlic powder/dried basil/oregano/etc), maybe a little parmesan if you have it around, wrapping all the slices in some aluminum foil and baking for a few minutes to heat it all up. This is a great accompaniment to any meal, but in particular spaghetti plus soup of all kinds...

Guest's picture

Breadpudding is my all time favorite for recycling old bread. No one ever knows the difference and it's tasty.

Guest's picture

What great ideas!! Thank you!! :)

Guest's picture
Drew Custer

Very good ideas! I will definitely use some of these. Definitely using my stale bread to make french toast.

Guest's picture

I just came across this post while searching 'uses for stale bread'
What a gold mine! Thank you! I am new to blogging and would love to share your blog with my readers too! Could you let me know if that would be ok? Do I just link it back to you after mentioning? (like your references in yours)
Thanks again, what a great post.

Guest's picture

Just made the cinnamon toast and wanted to say yummy! Thanks for sharring this! It was great!

Guest's picture

Large supermarkets now bake and sell the same day/night. Next day (all day) they fresh baked more breads. Since cannot be bothered to make own bread. I wouldn't buy anywhere else since can have fresh baked bread right then or from one hour before. A medium white loaf from a large supermarket when stored in cupboard or bread bin. Can last up to 10 days sometimes less then go hard.

If kept in the bottom of fridge but not in vegetable draws. Will keep 2-3 weeks for medium slice and then start to mould, it can still be soft to touch. Those lightweight slimming breads more so and can go two months and still be soft when in fridge in their still unopened bread plastic bags. Though also by then have gone bad white mould, but not yet green mould. Must be some other ingredients they use on those breads.

White Mould as seen on white bread appears on all breads of age. Close look at old bread you will see it. Whiter than what was there previously. I have checked this with a few slices to verify it does go whiter for some reason before it moulds green.

I wouldn't use bread that has this white or green mould.

Bread without mould I don't mind toasting for consumption, nice with chips.

Bread will stay fresh when frozen. Though the thawing for some can be a problem. If have a fridge that ices up inside the bread bag. Best then would be when thawing to take bread out of the bag and dry the bag (without contamination).

Then put thawed bread bag in the bag and use the seal-tie-clip to maintain freshness while using it. When sealing without squashing bread expel the air from the bag to stay fresh longer.

Guest's picture

Quote: "if you see a loaf that is just starting to mold, there is no shame in cutting off the fuzzy part and saving the interior."

I'm sorry, but this is very bad and dangerous advice. Mold grows in a network of tiny root-like strands called hyphae that grow throughout the entire loaf of bread and are invisible to the naked eye. The fuzzy part that you see on the outside is merely the spores that form at the end of the hyphae. Once spores appear on the surface, the entirey bread is moldy and should be thrown out.

Many people will tell you that they've always cut off the spore-covered part and ate the rest, and never got sick. But the toxins accumulate in their tissues over time and damage the liver and kidneys. They can also cause breathing problems, allergies, neurological problems (i.e., mental illness), and even cancer. So please do yourself a favor and dispose of the entire moldy bread, after wrapping it in a garbage bag to keep the spores from spreading everywhere.

Guest's picture

Bread is actually really bad to give to birds. It expands in their stomach and actually has no nutritional value, so a bird with a bread diet will inevitably wind up with malnutrition and die. Please, don't feed birds bread.

Guest's picture

It is okay to give them bread if it has been soaked in water so that it has already expanded. I have feeding it, along with other things like seed and fruit to the birds that visit our garden for 20 years. The sparrows like to give it to their young, who appear to continue to thrive. They are bright enough to not just stick to the bread, they will eat insects etc too.

Guest's picture

Thanks for this post... I was trying to figure out what to do with the bread we always seem to have leftover. I didn't even think of all the cooking purposes. I was mostly trying to figure out if I could feed it to the birds without doing any serious damage... seeing I give my family carbs, I don't really feel too badly giving our local birds carbs too. If only we had some local flying cockroaches... ;)

Guest's picture
Melody Wood

I defrost my frozen bread in the microwave. I have a 1000 watt microwave and I put the bread in a plastic bag or the bread wrapper without the tie for 4.5 Minutes on level 3. I also defrost two to four slices in the microwave for 20 seconds on high. The slices are warped in paper towel.

Guest's picture

We heard the same thing about the birds so we switched to feeding ours to the turtles and fish in the pond at our local park.

Guest's picture

I have been feeding stale bread to birds and squirrels for decades. They do just fine

Guest's picture

You might think so... do you keep track of the birds to see the longterm effects? Scientific research exists for a reason - to help us grow, learn, and do better. Bread is bad for birds. Period. Whether you think so or not. I can't think of a reason to feed birds other than that you enjoy them and are trying to help... if this is true, don't ignore the facts that you are actually hurting them by feeding out bread.

Guest's picture

Can't find the recipe for cinnamon toast. Can someone help?!

Guest's picture

Just click the words Cinnamon Toast within the Cinnamon Toast article... it may take you to the article.

Guest's picture

Awesome ideas, and thanks for them. You could eliminate the one about feeding it to birds though. Whether or not Audubon would stuff you for it, bread is better off in the trash can than being given to wild birds. The detrimental effects of that are far reaching. And yea, gulls are birds not cockroaches. Pretty amazing birds deserving of a bit more respect... and not in need of stale bread.

Guest's picture

Get over yourself. They swarm to our trash bins and steal what we don't give them, rat-like birds. A little bread from the kitchen won't hurt them.

Guest's picture

If you know what's good for you, you will NEVER feed seagulls.