We've had these four times in the past three weeks and I still don't quite know what to call them. Are they croutons? Breadsticks? Toasts? Cheese soldiers?
We first had them with eggs, then with salad, then as a snack with guests, and then as a piccolo pensiero/appetizer at a party. See why I don't know what to call them?
What I do know, aside from the fact that this is one of those concoctions that can wear a lot of hats, is that this is far too easy too make, and far too easy to eat. It's a little dangerous that way.
You start off with a loaf of crusty rustic bread, and slice it about half of it into chunky-finger-sized batons. Then you melt some butter (I keep meaning to try it with olive oil too), mix in some Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and pour that over the bread batons. A gentle toss gives each stick a thin coat of butter - and for croutons this is usually the point where you would shuttle the them into the oven - but these are special, so they get a snowy dusting of grated Gruyère.
Gruyère is the king of melty cheeses, in my book at least: it melts into a crisp lace - a perfect, fine jacket for the toasty bread underneath. If you take the croutons out a couple of minutes prematurely, as we do, the center stays the tiniest bit soft, a rewarding textural contrast to all the outer crunch. Crunchy all the way through works just as well too, and as long as they make it out of the oven before the cheese gets too brown there is no need to fear a broken tooth or a sore jaw.
I may not ever decide on a proper name for these, but maybe that's okay. When my boys say 'those crunchy cheese bread yummies' I know exactly what they're referring to.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Slice into thick batons (½" - ¾" thick):
crusty rustic bread, or sourdough, to get 16-20 batons
Place in a large bowl and set aside.
4 Tbsp butter
To the melted butter, add:
1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard
generous pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp finely minced parsley (optional)
Pour the melted butter mixture over the bread, and toss lightly.
Sprinkle on the buttered bread and toss again:
1½ ounces finely grated Gruyère (about ⅓ cup)
2 Tbsp finely grated Parmigiano or Romano cheese
Place the bread fingers in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly browned. Give the croutons a toss and bake another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown all over.
We've found that these are best eaten the day they are made. However, if the croutons are crisp all the way through and you store them in an airtight container, they will still be fine the next day.