I think most of us would agree: There’s nothing like the smell (and a slice) of freshly baked bread. Whether you’ve spent time experimenting with sourdough to bake your own loaves or you splurge on a special boule at the farmer’s market, bread is a staple and completes tables in food cultures the world over. From elegant French baguettes to crusty loaves of San Franciscan sourdough, thick Persian flatbreads to fluffy Japanese milk bread, only one thing that can come between a bread-loving human and their carb of choice: staleness.
Most breads (excluding ones that are enriched with extra fat like brioche, challah, and milk bread) keep fresh for just 48 hours when stored properly, due to exposure to air which hardens and dries out the bread through a process known as starch retrogradation. Luckily, we’ve sourced lots of easy ways to help extend the freshness of your bread, delicious ideas to use up any bread that’s on the verge of or already stale, and one great tip for long term storage with no loss of flavor or texture.
Here's everything you need to know about keeping your bread fresh.
The 3 Best Ways To Keep Bread Fresher, Longer
To keep your bread fresh for snacking, sandwiches, tartines, or toast (just, not, mermaid toast..?) it’s best to slice off just what you need, when you need it, and keep the cut-side face down on your cutting board. This is a simple solution that requires no extra effort for breads with thick crusts, like sourdough. For keeping other types of bread fresh for a few days as you slice away at them, turn to one of these three methods depending on what kind of climate you live in:
1. Paper bag (humid climate): Tucking your bread cut-side down into a sealed paper bag allows for some air circulation and will result in bread that keeps it’s crispy crust but doesn’t get too hard, too quick. Wrapping bread in a clean kitchen towel is another option with a similar outcome.
2. Plastic bag (dry climate): Sealing your bread in a plastic bag is a no-go if your house or region are humid, as the plastic keeps that humidity in and can promote the growth of mold on your bread. But for those of you in a drier climate, the plastic bag is the best way to keep your bread fresh and soft. Your crust will also soften and lose it’s texture, but this can be brought back by toasting the bread.
3. Bread box (any climate): A bread box is designed to keep bread fresh, allowing some air circulation while also keeping in some humidity. You can store whole or sliced loaves in a bread box, and there are lots of different design options out there so you can keep your kitchen both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
How to Use Up Stale Bread
Even if you store your bread correctly, according to the one of the points laid out above, the inevitable is bound to happen should you not consume your loaf quickly enough. You can give your loaf a second shot and soften it up, or you can use it up in a new way.
Pulse stale bread into breadcrumbs or slice it up to make croutons. Toast up the breadcrumbs with some olive oil or butter before adding to meatloaf or meatballs, sprinkle them over a casserole, or use them as a garnish on a plate of pasta or your favorite salad. Use toasted croutons as a base for a panzanella salad or place a handful in a bowl of soup. Untoasted, you can use cubed or ripped stale croutons to make a traditional bread soup, a few favorite variations being Italian ribollita and Spanish sopa de ajo.
Why You Must Never, Ever Refrigerate Bread
It seems sort of counterintuitive that in an effort to keep bread longer you would have to avoid the fridge, since it’s so useful in keeping so many other things fresher, longer, but just trust us on this one. Bread stored in the fridge will go stale much more quickly thanks to the low temperature which drastically speeds up starch retrogradation. Some commercial loaves of bread that have plenty of preservatives already baked in might actually keep longer in the fridge, but this is the exception, not the rule.
The Single Best Way to Store Bread
In my opinion, this is not only the best way to store bread for long-term storage, but for everyday use. Whenever I make a loaf of bread or buy one from my favorite bakery, I take it home, slice it, seal it up nice and tight in a plastic bag, and tuck in the freezer. This way, I’m just five minutes away from a fresh, warm slice of bread or toast to eat with a fried egg in the morning, rub with garlic and tomato in the afternoon, or sop up some extra sauce in the evening. This method works with flatbreads, thick slices of focaccia, slices of sourdough, bagels, rolls—just about all breads, with little to no negative effect of texture or flavor.
The key is to know your oven and keep control over the temperature as you thaw and warm up your breads. I typically turn my oven to between 375°F and 400°F when I’m heating up frozen bread. Slices are the easiest and can be warmed through until just soft or toasted up completely using the broil or grill function of your oven once they’re softened. I’ll place bagels and thicker slices of focaccia into a cold oven, so they heat through slowly as the temperature rises in the oven, and flatbreads can be heated through even more quickly and easily on the stovetop.