1 loaf good-quality artisan bread, such as ciabata, olive, Italian or French
1/2 cup (1 cube) butter
4 to 6 large, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or favorite hot-pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cut a portion of the bread into enough 1-inch (or slightly smaller) cubes to measure 1 quart. Place bread cubes in a large bowl.

Melt the butter with the garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Tabasco and salt. Slowly drizzle melted butter over bread cubes, tossing cubes in bowl so they all get a dose of seasoned butter. Spread cubes out evenly on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until richly golden. Remove from oven and cool. Store unused croutons in a plastic container for several days or freeze for up to 3 or 4 months.

Makes 1 quart of croutons.

VARIATIONS: Sprinkle on a bit of Parmesan cheese. Different forms of bread, including sourdough, English muffins, baguettes, asiago-cheese bread, rye bread, and roasted-garlic bread, yield terrific results. The trick is to make sure bread has substantial texture. A light-textured bread doesn't hold up under salad conditions; it gets too soggy too quickly.