Who doesn’t get excited to slice through the aroma of a freshly baked loaf, right? It’s a weakness that every bread baker has! But cooling is one of the most critical things in the baking process. Unless you want a soggy crust or bread that falls apart, you should really let your bread cool down. But what is the best way to do this, and how long to let the bread cool down? Let’s find out!
Different types of bread have different cooling periods. 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. Thin bread types with a smaller diameter, like baguettes and rolls, require a much shorter time for cooling.
During the cooling process, areas of the bread drop in temperature at different rates. The outside crust loses heat quickly, while the inside of the bread remains hot. As a result, moisture moves from the centre of the bread towards the crust. This movement changes the bread’s texture. Water molecules move from the bread’s core and evaporate into the air.
But there is more to the cooling process than escaping water vapour. The starch particles gelatinase as bread is baked, making it runny and gooey. 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.
While cooling, the amylose molecule of starch in the bread begins to retrograde. This is, in effect, the reversal of gelatinisation. Starch retrogradation solidifies and links the crumbs of the bread together. The bread needs to cool for the crumb to harden, which means that sufficient cooling promotes a firm and chewy crumb texture. Water molecules become encompassed in the hardened crumb structure. These captured water particles initially provide moisture inside the bread but are released as the bread becomes older. This is how bread becomes dry and stale.
Many bakers also find that flavour matures during the bread cooling process. This is likely due to aromatic bread-like flavours being more pronounced in a dryer environment.
When using the whole flour grain (such as in whole wheat, rye and spelt recipes), the cooling time is extended. Whole grains are more complex which means they take longer to absorb water when kneading, and also take longer to release when cooling.
When making bread with 100% rye flour the cooling time is drastically extended. This is due to the proteins found in rye flour, called Pentosans. They operate differently from gluten, the protein that bonds wheat doughs together.
Pentosanas have little stretch, instead, they form rigid bonds that trap water and gas into their structure. As so much water is absorbed by pentosans, rye bread requires a longer bake and a much longer cooling time to dry out. Many bakers prefer to eat rye bread 24 hours after it comes out of the oven.
|Bread||Minimum Cooling Time|
|White tin bread||2 hours|
|Whole wheat tin bread||2½ hours|
|Crusty rolls||1 hour|
|Soft rolls||1½ hours|
|Rye bread||6 hours|
Providing bread isn’t so hot that it burns your insides, it is safe to eat warm. Much folk law suggests it is bad for the digestive system, but modern science has disputed this. Eating bread when hot will lack structure and flavour, but it won’t make you ill.
When the bread is cooling there needs to be airflow to take moisture away. If a loaf cools on a hard surface, water vapour attempts to exit the base. This results in a soggy bottom as the escaping water finds resistance from the table.
A cooling rack is the perfect solution! If you have never seen one before, a cooling rack is a wire mesh supported by vertical posts that raise it from the countertop. This ensures that there’s plenty of space for air to circulate underneath.
Cooling racks are made with stainless steel, aluminium, or copper-plated steel. There are a few options to consider when selecting a cooling rack, but for me, it largely factors on whether it is durable and dishwasher safe. There are also multi-layered racks that may be suitable if you regularly bake bigger batches. The cooling rack I recommend is this one from Spring Chef, you can also use it in the oven!
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 your stovetop, oven shelf or balancing kitchen objects:
If you’re using a stovetop with raised grates, you can remove it from your burners and use it as a cooling rack!
An oven rack or shelf is ideal for cooling bread! If you have a spare shelf, lay it on two cookery books (or objects around 1-3 inches) by placing the books at either end to prop the rack.
Create a cooling grid with kitchen objects such as cookie cutters. Regardless of their shapes, place them next to each other to create air space between the worktop and your bread.
Bread shouldn’t be covered after baking, yet soft rolls can be. Covering the hot bread will lead to moisture condensing on the outside areas of the bread. This will make the crust of the bread soft and potentially soggy. This can be a good thing for soft rolls, but there are better ways to make bread softer.
Crusty bread must be cooled to room temperature before wrapping. Before wrapping in a bag, soft bread types should be cooled until they reach 35C (95F) or just below blood temperature. The remaining moisture inside the bread will help the bread to stay soft and fresher for longer. You can use a dough thermometer to probe the core of the loaf for an accurate reading.
To store crusty bread, wrap it in a breathable fabric such as a tea towel or lint-free cloth. The wrapped bread can be then stored in a draught-free environment such as a bread bin or box. See the best bread box guide to see the ones I recommend. Soft bread can be kept in sealed bags to retain freshness, where it will stay fresh for up to 3 days. After this, mould spores are likely to take hold.
We’ve covered loads about the science of cooling bread, how long it should take to cool and the best way to do it. What have you found out today? Let me know in the comments!