You’ve just picked up a loaf of beautiful, hand-made, wood-fire baked bread. So how do you take care of it? The best way to take care of a loaf of bread is to... eat it, savor it, and share it! But let’s say you want to keep it around for a while, what then?
Here are “best practices” for keeping your bread in good condition:
1) Choose a bread that keeps well.
2) Eat it now. Share it.
3) If you can’t eat it now, but you intend to eat it soon, keep it at room temperature.
4) If you like a crispy crust, keep it in a paper bag.
5) If you like a softer crust, keep it in a plastic bag.
6) If you thought you liked a softer crust, but it turns out you like it crispy, put your bread in the oven, pre-heated to 350F, for a few minutes until it has regained its crisp.
7) If you have a breadbox, that works very well.
8) If you want to keep your bread for a longer period of time, like, say.. until the world ends, wrap it well in plastic wrap, or seal it well in an airtight bag, and freeze it. To revive it, allow the loaf to thaw, wrapped, before putting it in that oven, pre-heated to 350F, to freshen up.
9) Cut your bread with a high-quality bread knife.
10) Accept that things change, and learn to enjoy that.
Thinking about this in more detail:
Choose a good-keeper:
You can start by choosing breads with good keeping qualities: sourdough breads keep longer than yeasted breads; breads made with rye keep longer than those without rye; breads with more whole grains keep better than all white breads.
The best thing you can do with bread is.. Eat it. Soon. With friends. Seriously. But if you can’t eat it now, and you want to keep it “fresh” for a while, there are a number of things you can do.
Keep it comfortable:
Once you’ve selected your bread, keep it warm and comfortable.
If you like a crispy crust, you can keep your bread in a paper bag and it will fare well.
If you like a softer crust, keep your bread in a plastic bag. Note that mold loves plastic bags, so along with your soft crust comes a modicum of risk. To keep mold at bay, keep your place clean. A contaminated bag, breadbox, cutting board, or knife can quickly ruin a fine loaf of bread.
Keep your bread at room temperature.
Want to keep your bread? Keep it OUT of the REFRIGERATOR! I know that the refrigerator is magic, but the fridge is not the place for bread. Here’s why: your bread loaf got its rise from starches and proteins in the wheat that your bakers hydrated, leavened, stretched and baked such that the starches eventually formed a gel. The starches, and wheat is mostly starch, start out in a crystalline form, but in the heat of the oven they absorb water and become a soft gel that yields to the touch and feels cool to the tongue. That’s what you’re feeling when you feel “fresh” bread.
As soon as the bread begins to cool, the water in the starch gel is released and the starches start to return to their crystalline state, which feels hard, dry, and warm in the mouth. That, in simplified form, is what you’re feeling when you feel “stale” bread. The process I’ve just described is called “starch retrogradation,” and that’s the most important part of the staling process. Starch retrogradation is temperature sensitive, and it happens most quickly at around 40F, which is about the temperature of your refrigerator. So that’s why you want to keep your bread either warm, or VERY cold (frozen).
Refresh your bread:
If your bread is feeling a little old, you can always refresh it (up to a point). To refresh your bread, but it in a pre-heated oven and warm it. As the bread warms, the water is reabsorbed into the starch gel, and the loaf again feels soft.
Freeze your bread:
If you want to keep your bread for a long time, wrap it well and tightly and freeze it. At those low temperatures starch retrogradation comes to a halt, and the bread will keep pretty much indefinitely. If you only eat a few slices a day, you can slice your bread when you get it, and then freeze it in a plastic bag. Each day, just whack off a couple of slices and pop them in the toaster. Easy!
Revive frozen bread:
To revive frozen bread, allow it to thaw to room temperature while it is still wrapped. Then refresh your bread in the oven. You will be amazed.
Cut it sharp! (and how I became a product booster):
You will enjoy your bread more and longer if you have a high-quality bread-knife. It makes a difference. I was skeptical, but I am no longer.
When we first started the bakery I gave my dear friend and fellow baker David a very snazzy knife.. a razor-sharp, Japanese bread-knife with a Damascus-steel blade made by a company called “Shun.” It was expensive. He told me it was great.
The following year, David gave me an identical knife. Now I tell you.. it’s great.
This knife actually extends the shelf-life of the loaf by at least one day. Let me repeat that. This knife.. ONE DAY. Why? We decide that a loaf is “too old” by interacting with it. We feel it. We squeeze it. And most importantly, we try to do something useful with it. Usually we try to cut it. With my old knives, which are all fine and “professional” knives, I would find myself trying to cut a crust and failing, at which point I would consider the loaf too stale to use for simple eating purposes. With this NEW knife, the blade slices gracefully through the crust and crumb, leaving me holding a lovely slice of bread.. a little stiff, maybe, but ready to go. A couple of minutes in the toaster and voila! Another day!
That is how I became a product booster. If you would like to know more about this knife, I will be happy to tell you more. I am sure there are other great knives out there, but as I said, this one beats the heck out of all our other knives, and it comes with lifetime free sharpening. OK.. rave over.
Enjoy your bread longer by seeing that it can teach you to accept and embrace change.
And that’s how you do it.
With great affection,