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What's the best (fastest, most efficient) way to make breadcrumbs from scratch, without having any old bread?

I'm curious if there's something quick I can do, when I realize I want 5 cups of breadcrumbs and have no old bread, and don't want to buy or bake a loaf of bread just to immediately pulverize it.

That is, what is the fastest, simplest, easiest bread-like thing one could make, which would turn into breadcrumbs in a food processor?

One more edit: I didn't really intend this to be asking "what other ready-made things can I buy (or have around) and turn into breadcrumb substitutes". I want to know, at the very least, the best way to streamline the process of making and drying bread given the fact that I don't care if it's ever moist enough to eat as bread, and don't care about its overall shape or texture or anything else we usually care about in bread.

  • I am confused - you want to make bread crumbs without first making or buying bread? So are you looking for an alternate ingredient from which to make breadcrumbs? – Katey HW Aug 23 '11 at 21:14
  • @Katey: Surely breadcrumbs do not require a full loaf of bread. You don't really care much about structure. I imagine you could get away with some sort of quickly thrown-together flatbread with minimal leavening (possibly just steam), rather than taking all the time to make a normal bread with yeast. – Cascabel Aug 23 '11 at 21:44
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    I somewhat suspect that anything you could make that would approximate bread crumbs when processed would be more expensive and time consuming to make than actual bread. We'll see what kind of answers arrive, anyhow... – Aaronut Aug 23 '11 at 21:53
  • @Aaronut: Yeah, I don't know how answerable it is - maybe a quick soda bread, baked fairly thin to minimize baking time, is about the best one can do. – Cascabel Aug 23 '11 at 22:01
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    Given your edits, sounds like you mean "breadcrumbs without a full yeast risen loaf of bread". You want breadcrumb consistency, but a faster way to do it. I think its a great thing to ask. (I also think some substitutes like in @Cos's answer are great as well.) – rfusca Aug 24 '11 at 18:28
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Dry biscuits (American 'biscuits' - not cookies), or anything other flour based quick bread that dried out - if you're trying to replicate the bread crumbs. You may be able to get by with a modified muffin recipe as well. You'll want to avoid fats and oils to reduce the moistness.

Yeast bread develops a particular flavor and larger hole structure than quick bread though. The flavor of a quick bread breadcrumbs should be slightly different, but in many dishes the subtle difference won't be overwhelming unless the breading is a 'star' of the dish. The hole structure really doesn't matter luckily - as developing that is a large part of the time factor of real bread.

Drying it out will be the harder part. The denser structure holds moisture better, so slice it thin and give it low, dry, long heat.

Personally, anything that you're going to make for the purpose of breadcrumbs that isn't just a substitute (like cereal, crackers, etc in the other answer), sounds like it'd be easier just to make a loaf of fast rise bread to me.

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Three substitutes come to mind:

  1. Saltine Crackers
  2. Pretzels
  3. Select brands of Cereal (Chex, Corn Flakes, etc.)

Take these for a spin in your food processor till you reach the consistency you desire.

Depending on your ultimate goal one or any of these could serve as a suitable sub for "bread crumbs"

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    I'd also add that pita chips would be a solid option, if you have them lying around. – Katey HW Aug 23 '11 at 23:58
  • Good point @Katey... though Pita chips are not commonly lying around at my place... – Cos Callis Aug 24 '11 at 0:06
  • For a zero carb recipe you can use pork rinds as well – lazoDev Aug 24 '11 at 3:35
  • @lazo: I don't know whether to be disgusted by the fact that it's pork rind breading, or disgusted by the fact I didn't think of it first. – Satanicpuppy Aug 24 '11 at 3:45
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    I like rice krispies myself. The poor mans panko breadcrumb. I'd also expand the cracker selection: I've made bread crumbs out of damn near every cracker in existence. If it's crunchy, it'll do. – Satanicpuppy Aug 24 '11 at 3:48
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Hardtack. Or any other kind of plain, baked cracker.

Hardtack is baked from a simple dough made with flour, water, and salt. It is rolled out, and baked till brown into a kind of cracker. It is often twice baked, to remove all moisture for long term storage - depending on the moisture of the dough, how thickly it's rolled, and the kind of breadcrumb you need, this might not be necessary, or might be helpful. Many are rolled thicker and baked longer if they're intended for storage - but if you roll it quite thin, like a cracker it will bake quickly to the right texture, and if it's dry it should crumble easily into something like breadcrumbs.

Alternatively, you can pick any recipe for dry crackers or plain unleavened biscuits (think European style, not American). Hardtack is the simplest of these types of recipes, but some have more ingredients (sugar, salt, oil) if you want a bit more flavor in your breadcrumbs, or if you want to use a little leavening you should end up with a lighter texture.

The crumbs you get will be similar in texture to using saltines or pretzels, a little bit hard, dense, plain. But they'll work pretty well for most recipes, and you can make them with whatever flour you've got at hand. They're also pretty quick to make and very simple - one of the cracker recipes quoted a half to three quarters of an hour for a batch. One of the hardtack recipes suggested baking times of as little as 5 min per batch (depending on how thin it is), and the mixing time of the simpler version is not much more. Since they're already dry and hard, and need very little extra processing (~45 seconds with a mortar and pestle per mortar volume) I expect you'd have your 5 cups of breadcrumbs ready within 45 minutes of starting your recipe.

You might also get away with a simple bannock or flatbread, with the dough rolled very thin and pan toasted until crisp and dry. It depends on whether toasting them singly on the pan is quicker than all at once in the oven. These will tend to be softer, usually with a bit more fat (oil or butter) and may include more breadlike flavors (including yeast). The better flavor profile may be worth the extra time drying, depending on the recipe.

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A couple of years ago I started an apprenticeship and studied at Tafe.
One of the first things I learnt was how to crumb a chicken schnitzel with Panko bread crumbs. I am frustrated with myself for loosing my recipe but you can make them without a loaf of bread. Not sure of the ingredients exactly but we used flour and seasoning of choice and and added butter while rubbing the mix gently between the fingers until we had a soft dry mix.

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    Interesting, it sounds like a savory streusel? I will have to try this... – Erica Dec 8 '18 at 15:25

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