We Tested 6 Methods for Reviving Stale Bread, and the Winner Was a Huge Surprise

published Jan 28, 2023
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stale bread and the different methods to revive it shown on marble surface
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

When it comes to bread, my appetite may well be unending. I love it all. Dense Danish loaves, tangy sourdough, crusty baguettes — yes, please! Whether it’s toast in the morning, a sandwich for lunch, or a bread bowl full of soup for dinner, it’s always a good time for bread, in my opinion. But every so often, some bread gets past me and ends up going stale. 

Stale bread is characterized by a dry, hard feeling, and it’s the result of moisture from starch granules moving through the bread, breaking down the starch’s structure. The starch molecules realign and recrystallize, resulting in the off-putting hard texture that tells us bread is stale. And while there are plenty of great ways to use stale bread, from ribollita to panzanella, sometimes what we really want is just one more day of good bread, the kind that’s crusty and crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. So, we tested six methods for reviving stale bread, and the winner was a huge surprise.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

So, What Is the Best Way to Revive Stale Bread?

I thought I knew exactly which method was going to win when I began this showdown. Since seeing Justin Chapple explain the method, I’ve been rinsing my stale bread under water and then bringing it back to crispy perfection in a hot oven, and it works like a charm. 

But what I discovered through this trial is that the best approach was to microwave the bread wrapped in a damp paper towel and then heat it in my toaster oven. While both methods yield a satisfyingly crunchy exterior, the microwave + toaster method approach created a fluffier interior and gave me a nicer shine on the exterior as well.

A Few Notes on Methodology

For this trial, I needed bread that was the equal level of stale-ness so that the comparisons would be as consistent as possible. I picked up 3 baguettes from Fresh Market, cut each loaf in half, and let them hang out in a brown paper bag for three days. At the end of the three days, the baguettes were the kind of squishy-yet-hard that I associate with a loaf gone stale.

I tested all six methods on the same day so that the air quality — moisture, temperature — would be the same for each trial. And for each trial, I followed the directions and then sliced one crostini-sized piece from the loaf to evaluate. I ranked the trials on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being as close to perfection as I could hope for. The goal was to find an exterior that was crusty and crunchy, ideally with a little shine, and an interior that was as fluffy as a freshly baked loaf.

I should note that these techniques only really work once. After that, the life of the bread is short, so plan to enjoy as much of your bread as possible soon after bringing it back to life, or save the rest for breadcrumbs

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Stale Bread Method: Microwave with a Damp Paper Towel

  • Rating: 4/10

This method came from Instructables. I wrapped the baguette half in a damp paper towel and then microwaved it for 10 seconds. Unfortunately, the results left a lot to be desired. The exterior of the baguette looked shriveled and dull, and inside, the bread texture was extremely chewy. I could see this approach possibly being more successful for a single slice of bread, but for a whole or half loaf, it didn’t cut it.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Stale Bread Method: Spray with Water and Start in a Cold Oven

  • Rating: 7/10

Most of the methods suggest running the bread under the faucet to get it wet, but this method, from All Recipes, said to brush or spritz the water onto the bread before reheating, so I used a mister with fresh water to moisten the loaf. Next, I wrapped the bread completely in aluminum foil. Then I popped it in a cold oven and turned the temperature to 300°F. After 10 minutes, I retrieved the bread and gave it a try. While the texture was OK — kind of chewy — the bread lacked any of the crunchiness I was hoping for.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Stale Bread Method: Dampen and Reheat at 300°F Without Foil

  • Rating: 8/10

Aluminum foil made it into the directions for half of the methods, suggesting that it can be a useful tool when reviving stale bread, but this method, from Bon Appetit, skipped it entirely. Instead, I ran the baguette under the faucet briefly and then placed it in a 300°F oven for 6 minutes. While this method scored somewhere in the middle of the trials, I appreciated the fact that it could be done without foil, just in case I don’t have any on hand. But overall, while the slice of bread was serviceable, the baguette lacked the crunchy exterior I prefer.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Stale Bread Method: Dampen, Wrap in Aluminum Foil, Reheat at 300°F 

  • Rating: 9/10

This is the approach The Spruce Eats recommends for bringing back stale bread — dampen under the faucet, wrap the whole loaf in foil, and reheat for 15 minutes in a 300°F oven. After that 15 minutes, the directions say to unwrap the loaf from the foil and continue baking for another 5 minutes. That proved to be an important step because it helped the bread get nice and crunchy on the outside, while the extended time in the oven seems to have been a good thing for the interior as well. This method was effective, but it took the longest of the six, at a little over 20 minutes.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Stale Bread Method: Dampen and Reheat at 450°F 

  • Rating: 9.5/10

My go-to method, having saved many a loaf in my house, is this technique from Food & Wine. It instructs us to run the bread under the tap and then heat it at 450°F for about 10 minutes. And, reader, I’m here to tell you that it works. The exterior is crusty with a slight sheen, and the interior is warm and fluffy, ready for whatever you want to spread on it. You don’t need to use aluminum foil, and the 10-minute timing is pretty hard to beat.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Stale Bread Method: Microwave + Toaster Oven 

  • Rating: 10/10 

This method recommended by Kitchn editor Nicole Rufus was a huge upset, as far as I was concerned, and I was shocked when this revived baguette hit all the notes I was looking for. I have a pretty deep prejudice against the microwave when it comes to bread, and I assumed that, like the first method, where the bread was shriveled and chewy, this would also be a fail. But instead, wrapping the bread in a damp paper towel, microwaving for 10 seconds, and then heating in my toaster oven on the first toast setting yielded a cracklingly crunchy, shiny exterior and a light, fluffy interior — and it did so the fastest of any of the other methods. 

The only downside here is that not everyone has a toaster oven, and not all toaster ovens are created equal, so there could be some unexpected variation in the results. If that’s an issue for you, you won’t be disappointed by trying the dampen and reheat at 450°F method.