From crusty French and ciabatta to soft sandwich loaves, making homemade bread is truly a culinary art. However, the freshness that makes artisan bread so delicious can also be its downfall. Because fresh bread is devoid of preservatives, it often goes stale much quicker than pre-sliced loaves from the grocery store. This is great news for flavor, but bad news for long-lasting quality.
Since quality and taste are at the heart of bread baking, it's important to know how to store bread properly. Once you learn the basics, you'll never risk your fresh bread going stale before you've had the chance to enjoy it. Whether pretzels or bagels, you can find a way to make the shelf life of your bread really stretch, lest we waste one crumb of these delicious, carbohydrate masterpieces.
So how do you keep your delicious fresh breads from going stale? Let's explore.
There are methods for how to keep bread fresh, varying on the type of bread and desired length of storage. Each method aims to prevent exposing the bread to extreme dryness or moisture, allowing it to keep just right. By looking at some common methods of storage and examining the pros and cons of each, you can decided which method is most appropriate for your type of bread.
Option 1: leaving it out
With a few tricks, fresh bread can maintain freshness while being "left out" in the open. When left out uncovered, bread will form a crust and become quite stiff and stale. There's a reason why restaurants serve their bread in cloth-lined baskets. Aside from a charming visual, the cloth protects the bread from drying out. Drier climates cause bread to dry out rather quickly. Breads that contain fat, such as Parker House rolls, will fare better for longer.
Generally speaking, bread shouldn't be left out for extended periods of time. However, if the outer edges of your bread have become stiff from sitting too long, the bread inside may be just fine. Simply slice off the hardened outer portions with a bread knife and then use, or use a different method to store the rest.
Photo via Ella's Kitchen Company
Option 2: bread box
These days, most people think of bread boxes as an antiquated part of the phrase "is it bigger than a breadbox?" and not much else. But truthfully, these old-fashioned contraptions could make a comeback. Bread boxes are actually quite an ideal way to store bread, as they allow bread to breathe without exposing it to so much air that the bread dries out.
Bread boxes don't have to be built in to kitchen cabinetry. There are a variety of models that are free-standing structures, made of ceramic, metal or wood (think: covered butter dish, but bread-sized), that can rest on-top of a counter.
If you do not have space for a bread box, its results can be imitated by covering the bread with a clean, dry kitchen towel and then putting it in a paper bag. This method mimics the bread box by allowing the bread to breathe but still protecting it from the elements.
Option 3: plastic
Plastic can be the best, or the worst, way to store bread. When bread is double-wrapped in clean plastic and stored in a cool, dry place, plastic can extend bread's life. This is especially helpful in drier climates, where bread can dry out quickly.
However, if there's even a drop of moisture present, the water can incubate in the non-breathable plastic, making the bread mushy or worse, moldy.
Option 4: freezing for longer storage
Freezing bread is the best way to keep homemade bread fresh for longer periods of time. Wrap the cooled, dry bread thoroughly in plastic. Be certain there is no moisture or condensation. The bread can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months (you can store longer, but the flavor may suffer). One trick for freezing bread is to slice the bread before storing, saving you time and frustration. Sliced bread thaws quicker, and you can be easily placed into the toaster for quick warming.
When it comes to using the refrigerator for storing fresh bread, just say no. The refrigerator will dry out your bread. While it's fine to put a prepared sandwich in the fridge for a few hours, storing your bread (sliced or unsliced) in the refrigerator gives it an unappealing texture and is not suggested.
Fixing stale bread
There are a few last-ditch methods of softening hardened, stale bread. Interestingly, they closely mimic methods for softening brown sugar.
- Add a slice of apple to the packaged bread: the apply may soften bread enough to give it a second chance.
- Microwave magic: place slices of bread on a moistened (but not wet) paper towel, and microwave for 10 seconds.
Overnight French Toast via Craftsy
Give stale bread new life
Sometimes, despite best efforts, bread goes stale. If it's too crispy to be enjoyed as-is, consider giving it new life as part of a French toast casserole or as homemade croutons. Homemade bread crumbs can also be used for a number of different recipes. This way, your bread can still be a component in some good eating.
Looking to build your repertoire of artisan baking?
Check out the Craftsy class Artisan Bread Making. In this class, you'll raise your baking skills to new levels by exploring the 12 stages of bread making while learning to craft six different types of bread, including supple French bread, rich marble rye, and sweet chocolate babka.