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 several 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 to make a 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.
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 compensates 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 the 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, many other additives 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 too long. Due to setting the oven too cool, the baking time has to be extended to colour the crust. This makes the breadcrumb 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.
Bread takes a couple of hours to cool down, at least. Not waiting for your bread to cool below 35C (95F) can mean more moisture remains in the bread, which can lead to your bread turning mouldy faster than normal.
Different bread types have different cooling times. See how long to cool bread properly to learn how long your favourite bread should take to cool.
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 baked bread. The focus is mainly on 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? Identifying your loaf-eating frequency will ensure the bread doesn’t sit 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 immediately. 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 expelled, and 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 I 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 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 go mouldy in the freezer?).
There will be some deterioration, not so much during the time spent at minus degrees, but when the bread is defrosted. Above all else, freezing lets you store bread for over a month.
To store in the freezer, you have two methods:
Why? You may remove the frozen loaf, pick the number of slices 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 them in 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. Moisture is 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 means 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 three 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.
You might want to make larger batches of dough and store your dough in the fridge. This way allows you to remove a portion of cold dough to bake a loaf when you need it. Check out does dough go bad in the fridge to learn its limitations.
Hi, I’m Gareth Busby, a baker, bread baking coach and college lecturer. I’m here to help you make better bread and learn about the baking industry.
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