Cooling Sourdough Bread – Best Tips To Prevent A Gummy Loaf!

Published on
18 June 2021
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

Every baker has been guilty of wanting to taste sourdough bread straight after it comes out of the oven. So should you? Or do you need to wait for sourdough to cool before you eat it? 

After the long process of baking, who would want to wait to taste it, right? The aroma of freshly baked bread seduces you into slicing it and having a bite. But really, you must resist eating bread when it is still hot. Having a bit of patience to let it cool will mean you’ll enjoy the taste of your freshly baked bread better. Let’s look at what happens as sourdough bread cools and some top tips on cooling sourdough bread.

When freshly baked bread leaves the oven it contains a lot of moisture. It needs plenty of airflow to let the moisture escape. Allowing it to cool on a rack until it reaches 35-38C (95 – 100F) is the best way to cool bread at home. Depending on the bread, it can take between 2 and 6 hours to cool.

How sourdough bread is cooled

You can cool bread with two methods, manually or automatically. 

The manual method is for home bakers or commercial bakers with small quantities. With this, you simply put the bread on wire cooling racks after de-panning. You just let air and the ambient temperature of the room to remove moisture and lower the bread’s temperature.

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While the automatic method is for bakers who produce bread in huge quantities. Here, a spiral cooling machine or conveyor belts taking the bread through cooling chambers are used. With either method, the bread is continuously moving as it cools. This increases the rate at which moisture can escape to speed up the cooling process.

Vacuum cooling

There is also a new technology for cooling bread called vacuum cooling. It’s a rapid and more efficient alternative to traditional ambient cooling. This method uses a pump that removes dry and humid air from the cooling environment to create a vacuum.

The best way to cool sourdough bread at home

All your hard work could turn into waste if you’re not going to let your bread cool down properly. So always make sure that you have sufficient airflow, a cool environment and that the bread is given enough time to cool. This will mean your sourdough bread is at the right temperature before slicing it. Here’s the best way to cool bread:

  1. Remove the bread from the oven as soon as it is ready
  2. Turn out onto a cooling rack right away
  3. Leave a 3” gap between loaves as they cool
  4. Cool for 3-4 hours until it reaches 35C (95F) – use a probe to tell (like this one)

Why should you let the bread cool down first?

As moisture inside the crumb exits through the crust, the bread becomes easier to slice. Not allowing the steam to exit is a likely cause of a damp and gummy loaf. This has benefits in terms of texture but also enhances the natural flavour of the bread to shine through.

What happens when bread cools?

Letting the bread cool is the final step of baking. It’s often not taken seriously by many bakers (even many professionals!), but it is an important stage in the bread-making process. Cooling is crucial as it’s one of the determining factors in how your finished bread will look. During the cooling process, the following things happen:  

Starch Retrogradation

Cooling bread causes the starch to turn back into its natural state, through the process called “Retrogradation”. As the bread cools the amylose and amylopectin chains begin to realign. Linear molecules of amylose and linear parts of amylopectin form hydrogen bonds. These hydrogen bonds form a crystalline structure which strengthens the structure of the bread making it easier to slice!

You may have noticed a shiny substance that appears in the crumb. This is also due to retrogradation. Here, syneresis expels water from the bread structure and turns it into a gel. A small amount of starch retrogradation is great for bread, especially when it comes to slicing. Over time though,  retrogradation leads to the bread turning dry and stale.

Heat transfer

When the hot bread is exposed to an environment that has a lower temperature. The core of the bread loses heat through its surroundings. This is called heat transfer.

Water Migration

In bread, the crumb has the most moisture content after baking. During cooling, much of the evaporated water migrates toward the crust as it has a lower moisture content. If the bread is still hot, some of the steam will be absorbed by the crust which makes the crust hard and crispy after it cools.

Putting loaves too close together or covering them with a towel stops the moisture from migrating to the outside of the crust. This leads to bread that has a damp and soggy crust.

What happens if I cut sourdough bread too soon?

The urge to slice your sourdough right after baking is really tempting. But letting the bread cool down is really one of the most important parts of the whole baking process. Slicing it before it reaches body temperature will just waste your hard work. Right after baking it, its texture is too moist and the structure will not have settled yet. The middle part of the bread is so dense, similar to the texture of glue. Slicing the bread when it hasn’t reached the right temperature yet will result in:

  • Crumb that is still too soft and wet (gummy)
  • Bread won’t slice neatly, it will tend to be gummy and stick to your knife 
  • Weak crust, sides, and the whole structure
  • After it has cooled it will have a drier texture as the moisture has escaped instantly
  • It might tare or collapse when sliced
  • An overly soft crust that has no crispness

How long does sourdough bread take to cool?

Once you have your ideal process for cooling bread, let’s see how long your sourdough bread should take to cool.

Bread varies its cooling period depending on its size and ingredients. An average sourdough with 1.5lbs will take at least three hours to cool properly. But if rye flour has been used, the cooling time will increase.  Rye flour retains more moisture so it’s going to need more time to cool down. Denser bread in general will need a longer time. 

The best way to tell if sourdough bread has cooled sufficiently is to take a temperature reading using a temperature probe. Here’s a table of suggested cooling times for varieties of sourdough bread:

Type of sourdough breadCooling time
small rolls30 mins
small white loaf (1 lb)2 hours
large white loaf (1.5 lb)3 hours
small whole-grain loaf (1lb)3 hours
large whole-grain loaf (1.5lb)4 hours
small rye loaf (minimum 25% rye flour used)4 hours
large rye loaf (minimum 25% rye flour used)6 hours

Can I leave bread in the oven to cool?

There are a lot of people who say that you can leave bread in the oven to cool, but this is not true! The moisture of the bread is going to have a hard time escaping because it’s condensed. Take the bread out of the oven as soon as it is ready and cool on a wire cooling rack. This allows the bread to cool quickly to create a crispier crust and also helps it to stay fresh.

Can I put bread in the freezer to cool down?

If you are desperate to cool your bread down, you may be tempted to use the freezer. I have tried this before, but no I do not recommend that you try to cool bread in the freezer. Here are the reasons why:

  • The hot bread will quickly raise the temperature of the freezer. This means that after a couple of minutes the freezer won’t actually be a cool environment anymore. All of the items in the freezer will also start to defrost!
  • There is minimal airflow so the moisture is retained in the bread.
  • The outside of the loaf will cool quicker than the core which can lead to a gummy crumb.

If you would like to store bread in the freezer to extend its life wait for it to cool first.

Can I leave bread to cool for too long?

Technically, you can leave the sourdough bread to cool for a long time period. But if it sits below the normal temperature for way too long, it’s going to pass its optimum texture and moistness. For most sourdough bread, cooling for over 8 will dry it out too much. It will also be difficult to slice as the crust will be harder. 

How to slice your sourdough bread?

After all the long wait of letting your bread cool down to the right temperature, it’s now ready to be sliced. But don’t let your excitement ruin your hard work. Slice it properly by following these steps:

1 – Use the correct knife

To cut through the crust, use a bread knife with a ‘sawing’ motion. This motion relieves pressure on the bread, preventing it from being flattened during slicing. It features a long serrated slicing-edge to aid in proper slicing technique. Of course, it goes without saying that the sharper the better. A high-quality bread knife goes a long way toward making bread slicing nice and efficient.

2 – Let the knife do it

Don’t force your strength into doing it, just let your knife do it for you. A common mistake is pushing the knife downwards. But this just puts pressure on the bread that produces ugly slices. Firmly hold the bread with one of your hands. Use a forwards backwards ‘sawing’ action while gently doing a downward action. Hold the knife parallel to the chopping board. Don’t rush, savour the moment of slicing!

3 – Slice it on its side

Rather from the top, you should be cutting the bread from its side. Bread is usually not as tall as it’s wide, so there’s less bread to cut. This method is easier and ensures thin and consistent slices that won’t be squished. Cutting a tough loaf from the side will allow you to slice the upper and lower crust simultaneously. 

4 – Look for helpful tools

If you bake a lot of bread and still have a hard time slicing it evenly, there are cheap tools that you can use. One is a simple bread slicing guide. A guide keeps the knife in position as you slice to make identical slices easier. But if you’re planning to invest heavily in your tools and equipment.  And if you also want to achieve perfect slices without a lot of effort, an electric bread slicer might be for you. These are easy to operate and you can adjust it depending on the thickness that you prefer.

Ending thoughts

We’ve covered why and how to cool sourdough bread, the same rules work for every other type of bread also. In a commercial bakery a lot of time and money is invested in creating the perfect cooling environment for bread, so why not give it some attention at home?! Any questions, let me know in the comments below.

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