Who doesn’t get excited to slice through the aroma of a freshly baked loaf, right? It’s a weakness of most bread bakers! But one of the most important things in the baking process is to wait for your hot bread to cool down. Unless you want a soggy crust or bread that falls apart, you should really know how long to let the bread cool down, and stick to it!
With different bread types, come different cooling periods. Thin bread types with a smaller diameter like baguettes and rolls don’t need long to cool down. Crusty bread such as pan loaves, artisan loaves, or sourdough takes 2-3 hours to cool. While bread made with whole-grain or rye flour needs 3-6 hours to properly cool.
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What happens as the bread cools
During the cooling process, areas of the bread cool at different rates. The outside crust loses heat quickly, whilst the inside of the bread is still hot. As a result, moisture moves from the centre of the bread towards the crust. This movement changes the bread’s texture, making it firm and dry as the water molecules move out of the bread and evaporate into the air.
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While cooling, the amylose molecule of starch in the bread begins to retrograde. The starch retrogradation process solidifies and links the crumbs of the bread together. It makes the bread firm and chewy, instead of crumbly like it is when it’s hot. This is why bread has a better texture when it’s cooled.
If you slice through bread that hasn’t cooled down properly, expect doughy, gummy, and sticky-textured bread. This is because the gluten and starch are still dense and water-logged. We should really allow time for the bread to cool so the structure can be improved.
Many bakers also find that flavour develops during the bread cooling process. This can be due to further chemical actions that take place as the bread cools. This is thought to be why sourdough bread takes longer to cool.
What is a bread cooling rack?
A bread cooling rack is a piece of kitchenware designed to complete the cooling process. It’s typically made from wire mesh with vertical posts to raise the wire mesh. This ensures that there’s plenty of space for air to circulate underneath.
A cooling rack allows water vapour to evaporate off bread or cakes. This means they don’t become soggy as water can escape the baked good as it cools down. A good bread cooling rack has a flat surface so the bread doesn’t lose its shape.
There are a few options to consider when it comes to cooling racks:
- A typical cooling rack made with stainless steel, aluminium, or copper-plated steel
- A cooling rack that’s oven-safe and not oven-safe.
- A cooling rack that’s made with a non-stick coating.
- A multi-layered rack that’s suitable for baking bigger batches in smaller kitchens.
Should you cover bread after baking?
Bread shouldn’t be covered after baking, yet soft rolls can be. Covering the hot bread will condense moisture on the crust, making it soft and soggy. For soft rolls this can help, but there are better ways to make bread softer. To make a crust crunchy, air needs to circulate around its surface as it cools.
Do you need a cooling rack for bread?
A bread cooling rack is a handy kitchenware tool if you like to make bread. Without one, you can still cool your baked goods down by using one of these hacks below:
- If you’re using a stovetop with raised grates, you can remove it from your burners. Take the grate off and place it on your counter. You can then put the pan or baking sheet on it, so the bottom part will cool faster. But if you’re baking a large baked good, you can directly put it there already. Just make sure that you clean the grate thoroughly.
- Create a grid with your cookie cutters. Regardless of their shapes, place several cookie cutters next to each other while leaving ample spaces in between them. You can then set your loaf pan or baking sheet on it or directly put a large baked good.
- If you’re not using a stovetop, then you’re probably using an electric stove. You can use it as well! Make sure that it’s cold enough so the airflow will cool it down faster. And if you’re making a large baked good, you can also put it directly there. Just always that it’s clean and you’re not going to use any of the other burners while cooling them.
Are cooling racks and baking racks the same?
No, cooling racks and baking racks are not entirely the same. You can use baking racks as cooling racks, but not usually vice versa. There are cooling racks made from high-quality stainless steel that is safe to use in the oven. However, most are made from iron with a thin layer of chrome coating and are not suitable for baking. These are cheap items – their coatings can chip off, which can end up in your baked goods.
Can I let bread cool overnight?
There are some types of bread, especially those made with rye flour that will cool down for as long as 6 hours. But letting a bread cool for too long risks it turning stale. Once it reaches room temperature, you should use a cool dry place and try to remove airflow. A bread box, wrapped in a tea towel is one of the best ways to store bread. This way, you’ll prolong its freshness.