Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: How to stave off staling.
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Let's start off with the bad news: If there's a loaf of lean bread on your counter -- meaning a loaf without added fat or sugar, such as a sourdough boule, ciabatta, or a baguette -- it's only at its best for a few days after baking. After 48 hours or so, the bread loses flavor and becomes harder and dryer.
This puts you in a predicament: Either you eat an entire loaf of bread in two days (not easy for even the hungriest of single people), or you watch something beautiful die. Or mold. Or stale.
A fun fact, via Harold McGee: Staling isn't an issue of moisture loss. It's an issue of starch retrogradation. More on that here.
The good news: you can stop time after two days. You can turn your bread into bread crumbs, or freeze it in slices for toast, or turn it into croutons for a panzanella. Or freeze your cubes for future croutons! If things get really dire (read: incredibly stale), make papa al pomodoro. These are great ways to deal with stale and almost-stale bread.
But if you're stubborn and you insist on holding onto your bread for more than a few days, you'll want to store it properly. And if you ask around for the best way to keep your bread edible, you'll receive a huge variety of answers. You might get confused. Even if you ask 3 professional bakers, you may get 3 different answers.
Let's first talk about the refrigerator. It is a good place to keep your carrots crisp. It is not a good place for your bread. Scientifically, bread will actually stale faster in the refrigerator because of the low temperature. Luckily, you've got some better options.
A ceramic bread box allows for ideal air circulation: Just enough to keep your bread moist, without drying. If you don't have space for one -- or don't feel like buying one -- not to worry. The most low-tech method is to sit your bread on a wooden board, cut-side down; this keeps the exposed crumb from drying.
You can also employ the same technique with a paper bag. This will better protect your loaf and allow for good air circulation, meaning that your crust won't get soft. Some people claim that a sliced loaf stored cut-side down in a paper bag will stay the freshest. Our results on this one have been mixed.
If you want to avoid staling at all costs, go with a plastic bag -- this is what the bakers at King Arthur Flour suggest. Make sure to get as much air out of there as possible before sealing. Your crust will soften, but your bread won't dry out or harden prematurely. Make up for unwanted softness with toasting. It makes everything better.
And lastly, a note on baguettes: After a day, they're only good for crostini, or as weapons, or for hilarious staged photographs. So slice and freeze before things turn south, or share with a friend.
At the end of the day, if you have a strategy that works for you, by all means keep it up. And share it with us in the comments.