Bread Storage, and What to Do with Stale Bread

Let’s talk about that loaf of bread you just bought.

I get asked all the time about bread – how to eat it, how to store it, how long it will last, and what someone can do to make it last longer. So today, you’re getting the lowdown on all things bread storage.

How Long Will My Bread Last?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.”

Commercially-produced breads (the ones that come in plastic bags and have words like Nature and Pepperidge and whatnot on them) will last quite a while sealed up and in a breadbox, up to a few weeks and even months if they go stale before getting moldy. However, I’m not a big fan of these breads, as they’re so chock full of sugar and other preservatives that they don’t really taste like bread.

A fresh sourdough loaf from a market will last about one day on your counter in its current soft state. After that, it’ll start to go stale. This, however, does not mean it’s bad to eat – on the contrary, you can eat an old sourdough loaf for quite some time after you buy it, if stored properly.

Other breads, like focaccia, raisin breads, and other breads with fruit and veggie add-ins or more fat will have a shorter shelf life, simply because fruits and veggies go bad at room temperature, and fats go rancid. Eat these within 3-5 days, period, or freeze them.

Pastries, like danishes, cinnamon rolls, and the like, will be good for 2-3 days stored in an airtight container, thanks to the preserving power of sugar! They’ll start to go stale after that, and will develop mold usually within a week, depending on the temperature (summer pastries won’t last as long, in other words).

No matter what, after a day or so, I always suggest giving any bread or pastry a little toasting in an oven, toaster, or even a few seconds in the microwave (for pastries only) to liven them up.

How to Store Bread

Firstly, whole loaves of bread go stale a lot less quickly than sliced bread. Slice what you need and store the rest.

If you’re going to eat the bread quickly and want to maintain a crunch/flavor: Wrap fresh bread in a tea towel, or place in a paper bag, and store cut side down, if possible. The bread will go stale and get harder to cut the longer you leave it, but unless you have a super moist (ew) kitchen, your bread will keep for weeks, sometimes even months. This is our preferred method on the countertop, as the bread doesn’t take on a plastic flavor or go bad, and you can “wake up” most stale bread and make it soft again (I’ll tell you how to do that in a bit).

If you’re going to eat the bread quickly and want a softer crust: Keep it in Ziploc bags or other airtight flexible containers – just make sure you get as much air out as possible, and eat the bread within a few days, as fresh bread without preservatives molds very quickly in a bag, thanks to keeping that moisture intact. I find, however, that bread takes on the flavor of its container very quickly, so I only store my bread in a plastic bag when I take it out of the freezer and forget about it.

If you want to save fresh bread for later: I’ll often make at least two loaves of bread for whatever recipe I’m using, but we don’t eat them fast enough before the second or third loaf goes stale, so we freeze the extra loaves. For maximum freshness, wrap bread in aluminum foil, then place in Ziploc bags, pressing as much air out as possible, and store in the freezer for up to six months. You can also get away without the foil (we usually do), but it’ll get freezer burned more quickly. When ready to eat, let the frozen loaves thaw to room temperature on your counter.

(Oh, and if you want to bake raw yeasted dough later? You can freeze part of your dough after the first rise in the recipe! Just store the dough in an airtight bag and freeze. Thaw dough in the refrigerator for best results, and proceed with your recipe. We do this with pizza dough fairly often.)

Pastries can be stored in much the same way as slicing bread, although I prefer keeping them in airtight sealable containers, and eating them within 2-3 days, as their moisture content causes them to mold a lot faster than say, sourdough. 

You can also freeze pastries! Depending on what you want to do with them (most likely eat them individually), wrap them individually in foil or plastic wrap, and store in airtight sealable bags. I suggest giving them a toast when you remove them from the freezer, but you do you. 

Or, if you want to use pastries en masse (say, in a bread pudding), or don’t want to use foil or plastic wrap (I usually don’t), then just do it the lazy way like I do and stuff ‘em all in one giant sealable bag. Just make sure you get all of the air out before freezing. You’ll have to pull them apart, and you’ll need to use them faster, but I haven’t noticed a super crazy difference in quality in doing so if I eat them within a couple of weeks.

And a plea: For the love of god, do NOT refrigerate your bread. You’ll actually cause it to go stale faster (refrigeration causes the starches to recrystallize), and you risk your bread taking on all of the weird flavors of your fridge. Super ew.

Bread Gone Wild

Okay, but what if my bread does develop mold? Husband and I disagree somewhat on this, as does the entire food community.

I’ve got a fairly sensitive gut, so when I see mold, I’ll generally compost the whole loaf or, if it’s on a pastry in a container, I’ll end up composting everything in the whole compromised container. Why?

Firstly, in the case of pastries, if I find mold on one, I’ll almost certainly find mold on almost everything else. Fungi spread spores faster and crazier than we realize, so once you actually see it, it’s everywhere in the container.

Secondly, once the mold is visible, it’s often already pretty spread out inside of the host (i.e. your bread) – the network has likely formed underneath the surface. So, cutting off the mold doesn’t actually rid your bread of mold – it just makes you feel better. Bread is a nice, soft host that allows mold to spread quickly and conveniently, so while I’ll often cut unwanted mold off of a hard cheese (a much more solid host that you can actually cut mold out of), I don’t believe in my powers to rid my bread of its fungi network.

Now, that being said, not all mold is harmful, and there are millions of microscopic spores in the air and probably on your bread right now. Much of it just makes things taste different, or bad, or good (in the case of blue cheese), or does nothing. However, there is some seriously harmful stuff that can multiply in your food, and because of this, I don’t take any chances if I can see mold. 

Avoid mold buildup in the first place by keeping moisture off of your bread and containers, and just eat the danged bread faster than mold can develop.

Everything Old is New Again

Now, back to stale, perfectly edible bread.

Did you know that you can make old bread new again? Whaaaaaat.

Since stale bread is just bread with much of its moisture removed, you can liven up most stale (non-moldy) loaves by adding that water back in, and re-baking it. Yay!

Spray the loaf liberally with water (but not enough to make it fall apart). Place bread on a baking sheet, and toast in a 350 degree F oven for 8-10 minutes, or until bread is soft and dry again. (This will, of course, depend on the size of your loaf.) You can do this with whole loaves or slices – just adjust the baking time (shorter for slices, longer for loaves).

Of course, if your bread is super old and/or has been stored in an odorous place or next to odorous things, it may not taste or smell the same as its very fresh past self. For the most part, however, I’ve found this method to work beautifully, even on fairly old loaves.

Uses for Stale Bread

My favorite way to use stale bread is to put it to a new use in another dish. As a pastry chef who sometimes goes home with plenty of leftovers, I get a little tired of just eating bread and pastries as they are, so I like experimenting with re-purposing bread.

The great thing is, foods like bread pudding and French toast actually need stale bread to work properly. Using fresh bread in these dishes often results in mush, which is not good eats. Since moisture is missing from stale bread, it’ll soak up the egg and milk mixtures better than any fresh bread, resulting in that crispy outside, creamy inside combo that only good French toast can give you. 

Here are some of my favorite uses for stale bread:

  • Strata, French toast, and bread pudding: I use savory breads (like sourdoughs and plain wheat and white breads) for stratas and breakfast casseroles, and sweet breads (like cinnamon rolls and other pastries) for the best damned bread pudding and French toast of your life. Fight me.
  • Croutons: Cut up old bread into cubes, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever herbs you want, and bake in a single layer on a baking sheet at 300 degrees F for 15-20 minutes (or longer, depending on how stale your bread is). Store in an airtight container and use within a week.
  • Dressing or Stuffing: The classic re-branding of stale bread, after croutons.
  • Breadcrumbs: Quit buying breadcrumbs in canisters from the store! Process stale bread in a food processor, and use wherever you need breadcrumbs. This works best with savory breads.
  • Topping for Baked Pasta: Like baked macaroni. Just toss crumbled bread with melted butter, sprinkle on top of your pasta, and bake.
  • Trifle: Got a stale cake or sweet quickbread, like banana bread, hanging out on the counter? Did you make one too many loaves of pumpkin bread and just can’t eat another bite? Make a trifle – a layered dessert of cake, pastry cream (or just straight up whipped cream), and fruit. Your friends and family will be so impressed with you, and I won’t tell them your secret.

Got another use for stale bread? Leave it in the comments!

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