I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Baker and Doughpuncher David Norman. David is a true artisan when it comes to baking breads, working each batch of dough carefully to achieve the consistency and quality he desires. I asked him about common misconceptions the public may have when it comes to baking and storing bread, and it turns out we may have been doing a few things wrong. David's number one tip is to not buy pre-sliced breads, since the shelf life of bread dramatically decreases as soon as you slice it and put in a plastic bag. Instead, he recommends slicing off just the portion of bread you plan to eat from the loaf, and then inverting the exposed end on the table or cutting board. This method allows the crust to breath and evolve as it sits. He points out that the loaf really shouldn't even be put into a paper bag, although that's the next best alternative.
The exception to this rule is the baguette, which is essentially a daily bread and should ideally be consumed the day of use. (Who can wait anyway?) If you need to store bread for longer periods of time, you should freeze it.
When storing breads in freezer, make sure the bread is well wrapped so it retains moisture. When you are ready to eat the frozen bread, it's important to take the bread out and allow it to thaw completely before unwrapping. This will allow the loaf to reabsorb any of the moisture that's migrated out to the wrapping. Let the bread come to room temperature, then pop in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 350 degrees for a warm revitalized loaf.
Avoid storing bread in the refrigerator, David cautions. Changes in the alignment of the starch molecules are what cause bread to go stale. These molecules change most rapidly at the temperature range of the refrigerator (just above freezing). When you reheat bread, it actually changes the starch molecules back, but this also means they can go stale more quickly afterward. So try to eat your reheated breads within an hour or two.
One other common misconception: bread hot out of the oven is actually not ready to be eaten. Just like a grilled steak or fish, bread needs time to rest. Allowing the bread to cool gives moisture a chance to move from the interior out to the crust. He recommends letting bread cool for at least ten to fifteen minutes before enjoying.
Have you been doing it all wrong too?
• How Do You Store Your Bread?
• Good Question: How Do I Store Bread?
(Images: 1. Chris Perez 2. Dana Velden)