If you've ever doled out more than a few bucks for a nice loaf of bread only for it to get moldy or stale in a few days, you've probably tried experimenting with ways to make the next loaf last longer. And a popular thing many bread-buyers do is store their bread in the fridge, hoping it'll prolong the loaf's shelf-life. But there are actually much better ways to keep your bread fresher for longer.
We spoke to some baking experts for their pro tips on preserving bread for optimal taste, texture, and freshness.
"Baked dough is made of protein, starch, and water. Baking sets the proteins, which gives the bread its structure," Susan Reid, food editor at Sift Magazine by King Arthur Flour, a trained chef says. "It also causes the starches in flour to absorb and retain water; this is where the pillowy, irresistible texture of the interior crumb comes from."
But this process doesn't end after baking. "The water in the loaf moves around, as starches retrograde (recrystallize). In simple terms, it moves from the inside to the outside of the loaf."
This, she explained, is why even bread kept in plastic will become tougher inside and its crust will lose its crispness. But despite what you might guess, refrigeration doesn't stop or slow this process - it helps move it along.
Reid said refrigeration actually facilitates the water in the bread's movement, speeding up the process of your bread's texture changing process.
For bread you're going to eat within two or three days of baking or buying, Reid recommends keeping it wrapped in plastic and on the counter, not in the fridge. But if you can't finish a full loaf in that time, you will notice its texture degrading in quality.
That being said, not all counter space is created equal. Jonathan Davis, senior vice president of R&D at LaBrea Bakery offers that environmental factors affect the aging of bread as well.
"In drier or hotter climates, staling is much faster, so it's key to store bread in an area where the environment is stable - not next to a window or directly where the light comes in," Davis says.
Even though refrigeration speeds up the recrystallization of starches in bread, freezing does not, said Reid. She said the water moves within the bread when it's in the fridge, but not when it's in the freezer.
Set aside what you won't finish in two or three days' time, slice it, wrap it in foil or plastic, and stick it in the freezer right away before its texture starts to decline in quality. It's important to do this as soon as possible, not once the bread has already started to get rubbery or stale.
Bread frozen while still fresh will spring back to life when heated in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees, per Reid's recommendation. The heat moves the water around again, which is also why toasting slices of bread can rejuvenate them a bit.
Sourdough bread, Reid noted, is more resilient against mold than other types of bread.
"The acidity from the starter inhibits growth of mold and bacteria," Reid says. So if you like the taste of sourdough for your sandwiches, you're in luck - it'll last a little longer before going stale than a typical sandwich bread would.
The other ingredients that may or may not be present in your bread play a role, too. "Breads made with fewer preservatives will go stale faster, and should be eaten quicker than breads containing artificial flavors, colors, and other preservatives," said Davis.
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