It was an exciting turn of events when, while grocery shopping a few years back, I happened upon the half-loaves of bread from Lewis Bake Shop. Selling a half-loaf of bread was genius, I thought, because I never finish an entire loaf before it starts getting moldy. But my attempt at more efficient bread consumption brought with it a new problem — with fewer slices of bread at my disposal, the “heel” of the half-loaf carried much more value.
No longer could I just ignore the heels until it was time to buy a new loaf. Suddenly, I found myself facing the choice between eating nothing or finding a way to combine the heel of bread with whatever other scraps remained in my kitchen. For a while, this came down to using the heel as a sort of taco shell around peanut butter and jelly. That’s how I like to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anyway — on a single slice of bread, folded unto itself — so it worked… until I got sick of eating essentially crust-only PB&Js.
Surely there are other things you can do with the heel of the bread, right? After all, as nutritionist and food waste advocate Erin Hendrickson tells me, the heel of bread is actually better for you than the rest of the loaf. “A 2002 study by the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that bread heels contain more fiber and antioxidants due to the increased chemical baking process that occurs on the bread’s outer edges,” she explains. “So definitely don’t throw them out, reap the added nutrition.”
In order to find out how to do that in a tasty way, I reached out to chefs, food critics and basically anyone who’s utilized the heel of bread with any semblance of success.
Make an Open-Faced Sandwich
Normally Shaw toasts the heel first, but after that, the options are endless. “You can go from Mexican molletes — a smear of refried beans, cheese and salsa — to grilled cheese, avocado toast or just cold cuts,” he tells me. “It’s also the best piece for the treat mom would give me as a child: lots of butter and then an (un)healthy dusting of cinnamon sugar.”
Soften Hard Brown Sugar, Thicken Soup or Transform into Pizza Crust
You can add heels to your container for brown sugar to absorb moisture, thereby softening the sugar, says nutritionist Tania Long. “Or throw the bread heels into your pot of soup to thicken it,” she suggests. “Just a slice or two of either rye, white or whole-wheat bread heels will do the magic.”
Lastly, besides makeshift garlic bread, Long offers her recipe for “bread-heel pizza.” “Place the bread heel on a platter and top with pizza sauce, then add some chopped onions, capsicum and tomatoes, grate some cheese of your choice and top it with oregano,” she says. “Place this on an oiled, nonstick pan and cover it with a lid and cook it for another two to three minutes, or until the cheese melts and your cheesy bread pizza is done.”
Soak Up Meat Juice
Whether you use it to mop up the leftover grease from a steak on the grill or stash it under fresh-cooked bacon, a heel of bread is a great replacement for paper towels. “Something that my family has always done is put the heel at the bottom of a bowl, and then place their freshly-cooked bacon on top,” says food writer Anna Silver. “This meant that the bread would soak up all of the bacon grease, which can make for a tasty little snack.”
Rip Apart for Breadcrumbs or Croutons
“Making breadcrumbs is super easy, saves you money and lasts up to six months in an airtight container,” says chef and recipe developer Laura Ritterman. “To make your own, place the heels on a baking sheet and cook in the oven at 300 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, making sure to flip them halfway. Once they’re done, allow them to fully cool before mixing them up in your food processor.”
When stashed in the aforementioned airtight container, you can use those breadcrumbs “as a topping for your mac and cheese, for a coating on your fish and to use in some homemade meatballs.”
Or let them harden, and use them for croutons on a salad.
Collect Them for Bread Dumplings
If you store every heel of bread you get in the freezer until you have enough to make a full recipe from them, then Laura Bais, owner of Julie’s Cafe Bakery, has the solution for you: bread dumplings. “Since bread heels are hard to chew, you need to think of ways to soften them, which makes them perfect for bread dumplings,” she says. “Slice up the heels into squares, pour milk over them and leave them to rest for about 30 minutes. Next, warm saute a chopped onion for about five minutes, then set that aside to cook up a few small pieces of bacon.”
Once the onion and bacon has cooled, “add parsley, onion, bacon and eggs to the bread heels, then salt them to taste and make balls using your wet hands,” she continues. “Pour a decent amount of water into a pot and bring it close to a boil, lower the heat and carefully put the bread dumplings inside to cook for about 15 minutes.”
Voila, delicious bread dumplings from bread heels you once thought were inedible.
Feed to the Birds
Finally, much like that leftover coffee sitting on your counter, you can always just throw your heels of bread out into the yard. “My favorite springtime project is using them as a base for bird feeders,” says chef Karen Ricks. “Toast your heel to make the bread sturdy. Coat each side with peanut butter, press it into a plate of bird seed, tie it with string to a tree branch outside your window — then get comfy watching the birds in your garden!”