Who doesn’t get excited to slice through the aroma of freshly baking bread, 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 discover!
bread as gift
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.
When the freshly baked 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, which results in a soggy bottom as the escaping water meets resistance.
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.
The warm bread should be spread out on the rack so there’s plenty of space for air to circulate underneath and around them.
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 the material used is durable and dishwasher safe.
There are also multi-layered racks that may be suitable if you regularly bake bread in bigger batches. The cooling rack I recommend is this one from Spring Chef can also go in the oven!
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. Starch particles gelatinase as bread is baked, making them runny and gooey.
If you slice through bread that hasn’t cooled down properly, expect doughy, gummy, and sticky-textured bread. It looks like raw bread dough. This is because the gluten and starch are still dense and water-logged.
While cooling, the amylose molecule of starch begins to retrograde.
Retrogradation 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, so sufficient cooling promotes a firm and chewy crumb texture.
Water molecules become encompassed in the hardened crumb structure. The captured water particles initially provide moisture in the bread crumb, but as the homemade bread ages, they evaporate, eventually leaving it dry and stale.
Many bakers find flavour matures during the bread cooling process. This is thought to be due not to a physical change but because aromatic bread-like flavours become more pronounced in dry, cool environments.
You may notice steam baked bread crackling out of oven. The reason is starch on the outer perimeter of the bread soaks up the escaping moisture until they burst. The sound of starch particles bursting is responsible for the crackling you can hear, often thought to be the bread singing to you.
Bread shrinks as it cools. A combination of water escaping with gluten and starch relaxing as they harden forces the bread to contract. If you were baking with steam, cracks can appear in the hard crust with an eggshell effect.
When using whole grain flour (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. When it comes to cooling, their complex nature means it takes longer to release water as the bread cools.
When making bread with 100% rye flour, the cooling time is drastically extended. This is due to the proteins found in rye flour. Pentosans operate differently from the gluten proteins that bond wheat doughs together.
Pentosans have little stretch. Instead, they form rigid bonds that trap water and gas in 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.
Cooling sourdough bread is the same as yeasted bread. Since I’ve been using a Rofco bread oven, I always bake sourdough on the oven’s stone. But if you bake sourdough bread in a Dutch oven, you’ll want to remove the baked bread right away from the cast iron pan and transfer it to a cooling rack.
Be careful not to burn yourself, so wear oven gloves!
Below is a list of bread and approximate times for when to cut fresh bread
|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.
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, 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.
Generally, 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, which will make the crust of the bread soft and potentially soggy.
Covering hot bread 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 then be 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.
If you are not ready to bake, you can store bread dough in fridge overnight to a few days. Longer-risen bread is usually more flavourful and delicious!
After you’ve cooled it properly, you can warm your bread slightly before serving. To avoid drying out the bread, you’ll want to slice large loaves into slices or portions and bake them on a baking sheet for 2-5 minutes, depending on the thickness. The best temp to warm bread like this is 180C (350F).
We’ve covered loads about the science of cooling bread, how long it should take to cool and the best way to do it. I hope you will now wait before slicing your thick cut bread with butter! What have you found out today? Let me know in the comments!
Hi, I’m Gareth Busby, a baking coach, head baker and bread-baking fanatic! My aim is to use science, techniques and 15 years of baking experience to help you become a better baker.
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