Storing bread – refrigerate or not?
A question I get asked a lot by home Bakers and consumers is, what is the best way to store bread during the time it is to be eaten?
Many suggest the fridge but I tell people that the fridge is a bad choice. Some look at me like I’m from another planet. There’s a good reason for not using the fridge.
Bread staling is primarily due to starch recrystallisation or ‘retrogradation’ . There have been numerous studies on bread staling using various measures. If you’re the type who wants all the details see this link HERE but we can side step this for now and concentrate in brief on starch retrogradation.
Without too much detail the process of starch retrogradation occurs at different rates depending on the temperature ranges it persists in. The temperature ranges of most rapid starch recrystallisation is fridge temperature 2 – 4°C. The slowest recrystallisation of starch occurs at a temperature range of around 24 – 30°C.
Its clear that bread stored in the fridge stales quickest so no more fridge!
Keep it at room temp but in plastic to slow the moisture loss. Of course during storage the crust will become soft and moist as the moisture migrates from the moist crumb to the drier crust. This is a normal process but plastic wrapping will minimise the moisture loss in total.
Many people are accustomed to freezing their bread for the week. Of course fresh bread is pleasant to eat especially with a nice crunchy or crispy crust but since many make enough for the whole week in one bake, much like my brother does, the rest is frozen. Freezing is fine but a few short tips may help get the best out of the process. First as mentioned allow the bread to sit overnight in plastic. I personally prefer not to slice bread before freezing but many find it convenient to allow them to remove small portions as needed. In my experience the best tip I can give you is to allow the bread to cool moderately then place it into a sealed plastic bag and allow the moisture to migrate to the crust. Then freeze the bread until needed. When the bread is needed to be removed from the freezer and thawed, best results are achieved by allowing the bread to thaw in the bag, even if some frost is present in the bag. This will ensure that the moisture that left the bread and escaped into the bag will be reabsorbed into the loaf bringing it close to the same moisture content when it was placed into the bag. Of course best results are achieved when the temperature range of 2 – 4°C – fridge temperature – is minimised during freezing. So freeze your bread as fast as it can possibly be.
A good bread made with sourdough, properly fermented over a slower longer time frame, will keep well, and even to some extent, over the next day after baking, improve in flavour complexity. The presence of organic acids in sourdough bread does retard starch recrystallisation so there’s another good reason to use sourdough.
As a side note organic sourdough acids also inhibit moulds, so outside the fridge there’s still prevention to mould growth. Another good reason for baking with sourdough.
So keep the bread out of the fridge!