Whether you like it or not, bread has a short shelf life. Even the best bread dies young. Home bakers may, or may not worry about their loaves turning mouldy. However, anyone would be definitely concerned about their loaves turning stale. So, how best to preserve bread? Well, a ton of considerations go into keeping a loaf fresh longer. Adhering to those aspects lets you enjoy bread for a long time, well for as long as a short-life product should!
The longer we can preserve our homemade bread, the more we can enjoy it at its best. Quality bread that stays fresh for days can be made at home without fancy additives or additional ingredients. That said, it’s easy to make the wrong type of bread, or store it badly for it to go off sooner than it should. To help you to understand the best ways how to preserve bread, let’s cover why bread goes off in the first place.
Bread “goes off” by losing moisture as it dries out (staling) or if it develops mould. Mould spores are everywhere in the atmosphere. They prefer warm, moist and humid conditions to settle and multiply. If bread is exposed to the wrong environment it can quickly go off. To preserve the quality of the bread there are a number of solutions to consider. These are based on how the bread is prepared, and how it is kept.
The two main factors that determine how quickly bread diminishes are the acidity (pH factor), and the amount of free water in the bread. An acidic environment resists the development of mould. Therefore, a dough that has a lower pH value will last for longer. Bread that retains more water after it is baked is a more habitable environment for mould spores to multiply.
The type of flour used impacts the hydration requirements of the bread. A significant number of bread loaves are made with Russian or red wheat. They will require more water for quality dough. Whole grain flour also needs extra water. The increased presence of moisture will contribute to a short life span.
Fat preserves anything by slowing down starch retrogradation (staling). The more the amount of fat, the better the shelf life of the item will be. Loaves that contain butter or eggs stale slower than lean French-style bread such as baguettes.
The flour choice can also impact the fat content of the bread. For instance, bread baked using almond flour preserves better than all-purpose flour. Why? The nut component of the almond stores fat.
Store-bought bread often contains acids and mould inhibiting additives such as Calcium Proportionate (E282). This is to compensate for the lack of dough development time for no-time bread.
At home, we don’t need to add ingredients like this but the theory behind it is worth considering. As the dough rises or rests during the first rise, yeast fermentation and activity of organic acids enhance the dough.
Yes, they produce carbon dioxide, but they also produce several other components that improve the structure of the dough alongside the ability for bread to stay fresh for longer. One of the ways it does this is by lowering the acidity of the bread, similar to the addition of Calcium Proportionate. Some recipes and manufacturers add vinegar instead.
Of course, there are many other additives that can be added to preserve bread, such as lecithin, but I won’t list them all here! The key point is if you want to preserve your bread for longer, more production time will help!
Lean, homemade bread if kept well, can last for 3 to 5 days. Store-bought bread, on the other hand, lasts for 5 to 10 days.
One of the most common mistakes home bakers make is baking their bread for too long. Due to setting the oven too cool, the baking time has to be extended to colour the crust. This makes the bread crumb drier than it could be. It might sound good from a mould inhibiting viewpoint. But actually, as the bread continues to dry out (as it will do), it quickly becomes unpleasant and “stale”.
Try to bake crusty bread for no longer than 40 minutes, ideally 35. Soft bread should be ready in less than 25. Depending on the size of the bread, these baking guidelines could be less, or, for larger “Miches”, a little longer.
By now, you know how to impact the longevity of the loaf as it’s made. It’s time for some tips on how to preserve the baked bread. The focus is largely around crusty bread first. There are a few changes you should make to best keep soft bread preserved which I share later in the article.
First of all, determine how often you eat bread. You may wonder what that has to do with preservation. Well, identifying your loaf-eating frequency will ensure the bread doesn’t sit for longer than it needs. Here’s a technique that should cut down your loaf waste:
Divide the loaf into thirds or how much you generally eat in a day. You may even cut the loaf into slices. The choice is yours. Preserve the remaining portion for long-term storage in the freezer and store the ready-for-eating part in a bread box.
So, how to preserve homemade bread for 3 to 5 days? In that case, you need a bread box. Some folks debate the usage of a bread box, yet, it’s a foolproof method to enhance the lifespan of your loaf.
A bread box used in most parts of the world has the right balance of warmth, humidity and airflow. The crust doesn’t get soggy, the starch doesn’t retrograde quickly and mould spores aren’t encouraged to infest the loaf.
This bread box by HOMEKOKO is my preferred bread box. It’s made of sturdy bamboo wood and will keep your bread fresh for days! It has an easy assembly, so you can start using it right away. It looks good too!
What’s also important is to wrap the bread before putting it in the bread box. Wrapping the bread in a cloth or tea towel (ideally a finely woven one that won’t leave fluff) creates a good barrier around the bread.
Whilst air can still pass and remove the moisture the bread expels, it does so at a much slower rate. Put simply, wrapping the bread and storing it in a bread box maintains the perfect environment to keep bread at its peak for as long as possible.
So the bread box makes the right choice for a soon-to-eat loaf, but what about the remaining portion that we mentioned? You need that portion to last longer, not just 3 to 5 days. It’s here long-term storage comes into play.
Putting bread in the freezer is advisable for loaves that you want to keep for longer. Freezing avoids the staling of loaves. Even better, it prevents mould growth, although if mould already exists in the bread it may continue to grow (see can bread turn mouldy in the freezer?). There will be some deterioration, not so much during the time spent in the ice, but when the bread is defrosted. Above all else, freezing lets you store bread, even after a month.
To store in the freezer, you have two methods:
Why? You may remove the frozen loaf, pick the number of slices that you will eat, and keep the remaining bread in the freezer.
To thaw, place the frozen slices on a plate with a sheet of kitchen paper on top and wrap with plastic wrap.
If you freeze entire unsliced loaves of bread you won’t be able to take it as and when. But what you can do is bake it in the oven from frozen at 350 degrees (180C) for 15-25 minutes.
Why would I want to do this? -I hear you ask! Well, when bread is frozen its bready-like aromas decrease. There is also moisture lost as the bread returns to room temperature which causes the bread to dry out sooner. There’s little we can do about that, however, the moisture will sit on the outside of the bread, making the crust soft. Baking the bread from frozen reactivates the aroma in the bread and crispens the crust.
To check that a frozen loaf of bread has been properly “refreshed” a temperature probe can be inserted and should read 131F (55C) or above.
Ideally, the oven should be set at 410F (210C) but unless the bread is underbaked, the crust will brown too much before the core of the bread is warm enough. If you are following my making bread in bulk strategy to make several loaves at a time, you should consider underbaking the loaves that you are going to store in the freezer. It will mean that when you bake the loaves in the oven you can do so at a higher temperature. Doing this will retain more moisture in your bread thus, keeping your bread texture fresh for longer.
Soft bread is baked for less time and often contains fat, sweeteners and lecithin heavy ingredients such as eggs, soy flour and oil. This means that despite not being naturally acidic (soft bread tends to be made quickly) which makes mould an issue, they stay softer for longer. To increase the shelf life of soft bread types you can make them even softer, add an ingredient to prevent mould or store the baked rolls differently by:
Storing soft bread in a sealed bag will keep the softness of the bread preserved for much longer. A hard “soft loaf” is a pretty useless item, especially if rolls are too big to fit in the toaster!
This does create issues with mould appearing as the humid conditions are perfect for growth. Unless you add a mould inhibitor or some form of acid, eat homemade soft bread within 3 days if wrapped. If you make too much you can store them in the freezer and defrost them on the worktop when needed.
Keeping the bread in a refrigerator can be fruitful. There’s a heated debate on whether or not to keep loaves in a fridge. Some folks advocate for refrigerating bread. Then others are against the idea. Let’s dig deeper to find out the truth.
The humid, cold, yet draft-free environment of a refrigerator is the perfect condition for starch to retrograde. This allows the starch to crystallise, turning the bread rock hard in a day or so. The argument for storing bread in the fridge should only be considered if humidity is very high and the bread is going off quicker at room temperature. There’s no chance of this happening to me where I am, but if you live in a very hot and humid place it’s something to consider trying.