You won't waste a crumb

Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

Leftovers are polarizing. There are people who live for leftovers, whether it is the cold-over-the-sink midnight connoisseurs, the thank-god-it's-not-a-sandwich desktop lunch warriors, or the will-it-shashuka? breakfast experimenters. Then there are people who hate leftovers, who refuse to take a doggie bag, who fight with their inner demons of not wanting to waste food, while acknowledging that leftovers mostly get guiltily thrown away three days later.

However, there is one area of cookery that seems exempt from the usual leftovers debate, and that is baked goods. For the people who love leftovers, that half baguette staling in the breadbox means future bread pudding. For people who usually eschew leftovers, there is something about an extra pastry or stack of cookies doesn’t feel left over, it just feels like the kind of thing one should absolutely save to savor later. I have dear friends who happily take deli containers home after my dinner parties, and those who might have three helpings at the table, but will wave off any offer of a goodie bag. But no one ever says no to a portable piece of cake or a slice of pie in foil.

But what happens when you have either too many baked goods leftover for your household to rationally manage in their current state? For me, we are a home of two, and both of us need to eat low-carb for our health, so while I bake regularly, I am often foisting extras on friends and neighbors. Which is great when I am recipe testing and the goods in question are fresh. I must, however, cop to having the less-perfect baked good leftover situation on a fairly regular basis. The last third of the sourdough loaf, a day past toasting salvation. The remains of the bread basket after a dinner party, full of slices that are past their prime by the time coffee is served. The detritus of the dessert table at a larger fête. The overbuying of graham crackers for that hip DIY s’mores bar ending to the end of summer cookout. The large bag of almond cookies or fortune cookies that came with the Chinese takeout.

And in those cases, friends, the freezer is your hero.

Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

We always know that we can pack up leftover meals in convenient smaller portions and freeze. Sauces can be portioned in ice cube trays to melt into stews or soups. But baked goods usually get thrown in the freezer as-is, to get thawed out to a state that is not nearly as satisfying as the original, or gnawed on still firm and icy in the middle when cravings hit with a force that defies patience.

But baked goods can actually be transformed before freezing to give you a stash of ingredients that actually help your cooking. Leftover bread can be cut into cubes and stashed in bags to become future stuffing or bread pudding or strata; the freezing actually assists with their ability to soak up stock or custard beautifully. Slightly staling crackers could be pulverized to sub in for bread crumbs and can be used straight out of the freezer. Brittle cookies can be smashed to bits to be pie crusts or cheesecake bases at a later date. Cube or crumble thicker cookies and bars and slices of cake or even pie to become mix-ins or toppings for ice cream or the base for a most insanely elevated cobbler topping.

The next time you are facing the less than perfect pastry or past-fresh loaf, despair not. Just grab your ziptop freezer bags and get to work.

For breads: Cut into one-inch cubes.

For crackers or brittle cookies: Either bash to bits with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer or a heavy pot, or pulse in the food processor.

For thicker soft cookies or bars or cakes: Cut in small 1/2 inch cubes

Put any of these into a freezer-style ziptop bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Or if you have a foodsaver vacuum sealer, seal in bags.

All will last up to six months in the freezer in freezer bags or up to a year in vacuum-sealed bags.