Bread has a certain shelf life, beyond which it can go stale, become moldy, and, in a short time, become inedible. It’s possible to extend its delicious lifespan, once you understand the ins and outs of how to store bread.
It’s the starch in any baked goods that makes them become stale. Exposure to air and heat can make the starch crystallize or degrade more quickly. Trapped moisture is what hastens the process of mold growth.
Store-bought sandwich bread and other commercial bakery products can have a much longer useful life because they are made with preservatives. Homemade or bakery artisan bread that is preservative-free can turn stale or become moldy much more quickly.
It’s a storage problem. If you don’t like throwing out the rest of the hardened, stale, or even moldy bread pieces, I have some ingenious tips to keep bread fresher for longer—up to the very last fresh, delicious crumb.
For bread that has just been baked (or purchased at the supermarket or bakery) that you intend to use up within 48 hours, leave it out, completely uncovered if homemade, or in the packaging it came in at room temperature. The crust on freshly baked bread will remain at its best texture for at least one day, if not two full days. If you have made or purchased multiple loaves you know you won’t consume within 48 hours, freeze them, following the steps that follow.
How to Store Bread in the Freezer
A frozen loaf of bread can taste just as good as a freshly baked loaf when handled properly. The icy temperatures of your freezer prevent the dreaded starch degradation, holding the bread in a stable state.
To freeze entire loaves of bread, allow the bread to cool completely, then transfer to a large, durable freezer zip-type bag, press out any excess air, and seal. If you prefer, you can wrap the loaf tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or place it in a small paper bag, and then transfer it to a heavy freezer zip-type bag.
Instead of freezing a whole, unsliced loaf, consider preslicing it. That makes your loaves easier to work with when you need to make a single sandwich or piece of toast. This method works well with all kinds of bread, including bagels. (Never freeze bagels without slicing them in half first.) Some experts suggest placing a piece of waxed paper between slices to make it even easier to remove a single slice or two.
The prep of preslicing may seem time-consuming, but you’ll be grateful you did the work when it’s time for breakfast.
How to Use Frozen Bread
Slices of frozen bread will thaw quickly, in 5 to 10 minutes, when placed on the counter or cutting board. You can also place a frozen slice right into the toaster and proceed without any thaw time. It may take a minute longer to toast up but it’s quite easy.
Allow a frozen unsliced loaf of bread to thaw (in the freezer bag) at room temperature for several hours or overnight on your countertop the night before.
To bring it back to fresh-out-of-the-oven bread, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F for at least 20 minutes with a rack in the center position.
Once the oven has reached temperature, remove the loaf of bread from the bag and run it, very quickly, under cold water. You don’t want to saturate the loaf, just lightly spray it evenly with cold water on all sides. This will create a tiny bit of steam in the oven, resulting in a crisper, fresher crust than placing a dry loaf in the oven.
Place the moistened whole loaf of bread directly on the oven rack and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust is crisp. Don’t err on the side of putting that loaf into a cold oven or even one that has not reached 350 degrees F. It will stick to the rack and make a mess. But a cold loaf on hot rack? Perfect.
Remove the perfectly crisped, refreshed loaf of bread from the oven and allow it to cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.
Don’t Store Bread in the Refrigerator
It may seem like a good idea to store bread in the refrigerator, but it’s not ideal. I haven’t discovered even one professional baker or seasoned home baker who even slightly suggests it’s OK to refrigerate bread. On the contrary, they seem to be uniformly horrified by even the suggestion!
The temperature of a refrigerator prompts immediate “starch degradation,” a process that accelerates moisture loss, causing the bread to become prematurely stale. It’s true that refrigeration will stave off mold, but even tightly wrapped bread stored in the refrigerator is going to harden, change in texture and flavor, and quickly become stale.