October 6, 2008

Keeping Homemade Bread Fresher, Longer

Filed under: Food & Drink — Diane @ 11:30 am

Artesan Homemade Bread

You know how sometimes you get a spark of inspiration to do something without even thinking all that much about it at the time, only to later discover it’s possibly pretty awesome? Well, recently I had just this very experience.

My friend Christine (she’s got a blog over at Culinary Musings — check it out!) and I were talking recently about our mututal love of homemade bread. Now, I gotta tell ya, aside from fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, I don’t know of too many things that will get my mouth watering the way homemade bread will do. And the cookies only get the nod because they’ve got chocolate in them, which is an automatic win; otherwise, the bread would come out on top every time.

Beyond the taste (which is awesome), I appreciate how, when you make your own, you know all the ingredients (which is also awesome). I mean, have you really read the ingredient list on a lot of the baked goods in your grocery store lately? I’ve seen some things in there I’m just not sure about. Heck, I’ve seen some things in there I can’t even pronounce.

Of course, you can get the same kind of peace of mind buying artesan bread from a bakery, or simply by being careful about reviewing the ingredient lists of commercial bread, but there’s also something incredibly satisfying about plunging your hands into a big ball of bread dough to start the kneading process.

(OK, OK, I admit it — I usually use a bread machine, so I miss all the “hands on” fun. Convenience wins out in the end, I guess.)

So, anyway, my husband’s family had always kept bread in the refrigerator. My family never did, but when I got married, I adopted his habit of refrigerating the loaf because I couldn’t think of a good reason to argue over it. And to be honest, it did seem to slow the process of going moldy even for commercial loaves. “Going moldy” is, if anything, an even bigger problem for homemade bread, as it has no preservatives. The problem was, though, even in a zipper-sealed bag in the fridge, the bread would still dry out and get stale and crusty (not in a good way) before we could finish it all. So we still ended up throwing away a bunch of excellent homemade bread. Bummer. Beyond bummer.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I could try making smaller loaves so we could finish them up faster. But there’s a limit to how small you can go, and with a son who isn’t a big bread eater (Oh, the humanity!) and a diabetic husband who’s on a perpetual carb-avoidance kick, bread consumption is largely up to me. Now that I’m on a weight loss challenge at work, I’m not eating as much bread as before, myself. Unless I wanted to limit myself to making dinner-roll sized loaves of bread, something had to be done.

And in stepped Fate. Recently, our old refrigerator died. (A moment of silence, please, for our formerly-chilly old friend.) The new model we got came with some snazzy new features the old one hadn’t offered. One of those features was a humidity-controlled drawer. It was apparently intended to store different types of fruits and veggies — you just select what degree of humidity you want depending on whether you’re storing apples or lettuce, for instance.

And here’s where my spark of inspiration hit. If the cool of the refrigerator was already keeping the mold at bay, so the only problem was the bread drying out… why not put the bread in the humidity-controlled drawer (on the “high” humidity setting) and see what happens?

I’m pleased to report it worked like a champ. I was able to keep a loaf of homemade bread (in a zipper-sealed freezer bag) edibly-soft and fresh for almost two weeks in there! Woot!

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily advise anybody to count on being able to keep preservative-free bread fresh and edible for that long. I would guess it would have something to do with the ingredients of the bread itself, how it’s wrapped, the temperature of the fridge, what else is stored in the drawer, how humid the “high humidity” setting is, and so forth.

So far, the only downside for me has been that there’s not much room in the humidity-controlled fruit and veggie drawer for, well, fruits and veggies, now that half the drawer is occupied by bread products. But it’s a small sacrifice to make for fresh bread, I think.

All I can say is, it worked great for me, so now I’m passing the suggestion along to you. Let me know if you try it, and how it works for you!

— Diane

19 Comments »

  1. Diane,

    I LOVE your hint about putting bread in the humidity drawer. It works well – no more dried out cold bread.

    Another trick to keeping bread fresher is to use honey in the bread in place of sugar. One of the lesser known properties of honey is that it is highly hygroscopic. That is a long scary sounding word that simply means honey pulls moisture out of the air – so baked goods with honey stay moist longer than those made with sugar.

    You’ll need to test the honey equivalents a bit to get it just right for your climate, but most of the time you can use 3/4 cup honey in place of a cup of sugar. Since honey is liquidity, you’ll also need to reduce the other liquids in your recipe. I usually reduce 1/2 cup liquid for each cup of honey I use, but you may want to play with the amount a bit. In drier climates you may need to leave leave in more liquid, so test it for your location.

    Thanks also for the mention of culinary musings. Like you, we love to cook and share our culinary success stories. And thanks for the great tips in your blog. My homemade bread stays yummy longer thanks to your refrigerator trick.

    Christine

    Comment by Christine — October 9, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  2. You’re very welcome, Christine! And thanks for the tip about using honey in place of sugar. I did not know that, so I guess you really do learn something new every day! (And for my taste, bread made with honey often tastes better than bread made with sugar — an added bonus.)

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing that hint!

    Comment by Diane — October 9, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  3. yay! i’m so glad i stumbled upon your site! i just bought a bread machine 2 days ago and so far i’ve done 2 loaves…already decided that i will never purchase another loaf of store bought but i was stumped when it came to figuring out how to keep it from getting hard (like my first apple spice loaf i did monday night…yeah already)…the white loaf i did today is almost gone (made a smaller loaf b/c i hate wasting food) but i will make sure to try this tomorrow (as i’m doing ANOTHER one hehehe) with both the honey AND putting the leftovers in the veggie drawer… thanks again!

    Comment by Latesha — February 11, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

  4. Yay! I’m glad you stumbled across the site too, and I’m glad to be able to offer some help. You’re going to LOVE all the homemade bread. Don’t be afraid to experiment with recipes, either — gourmet homemade bread is the BEST!

    Comment by Diane — February 12, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  5. Diane you may want to read what Bread.com has to say about this… and/or google “keeping bread in the refrigerator”.
    Apparently, the fridge is the WORST place you can keep bread, due to the temperature (not the humidity).

    41-42 degrees is the temp at which bread goes stale the quickest, and that’s the temp your fridge is supposed to be set at.

    See here for reference:
    http://www.bread.com/content/keeping-bread-fresh
    (and googling that phrase will supply you with other ‘official’ sources that all attest to the same thing. No bread in fridges.)

    Comment by Carrie — March 12, 2009 @ 10:46 am

  6. I hear ya, Carrie. I’ve read those admonitions myself before.

    Only thing is, I guess you could call me a skeptic. See, I read a lot of “official” pronouncements on all sorts of topics that I’ve found don’t hold up when I try them out for myself in real life. So I tend to take pretty much everything I read with the proverbial grain of salt until I’ve verified it, preferably through testing it for myself. Just because a lot of people are saying something is true doesn’t necessarily make it true (or untrue, for that matter) — it may just mean that a lot of people are parroting the same source. And even if it’s true for some, that doesn’t necessarily make it true for everyone, all the time.

    And I was tired of throwing out homemade bread that had gone bad sitting out on the counter. So I started experimenting. And it’s true that bread sitting out on a shelf in the fridge does get dried-out fairly quickly, even when it’s tightly wrapped. But I noticed it didn’t get moldy, the way the bread on the counter did.

    It occurred to me the problem with the fridge was maybe not the temperature, but the humidity, so I tried putting the bread in the high-humidity drawer. And all I can tell ya is that my bread lasts a lot longer in the high-humidity drawer than sitting out on the counter. It stays soft and mold-free long after bread in a breadbox has gotten dried out and even started turning green. I’ve kept homemade preservative-free bread edible and soft in there for over two weeks.

    Now, maybe my kitchen is weird in some way and others have no problem keeping homemade bread fresh on the counter for weeks, but I’ve never been able to. But once I started using the humidity-drawer technique, I haven’t had to throw out any bread (homemade or store-bought) since.

    (And, of course, for long-term storage, I double wrap very securely and freeze it. Works like a charm.)

    Of course, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to expect folks to just take my word for it, either — so I encourage anyone reading this to simply try it out for yourself and see what happens. The most you have to lose is part of a loaf of bread. :-)

    Comment by Diane — March 16, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  7. Diane,
    I read alot of information online, I rarely post comments, but I just had to this time! I ALWAYS keep my bread in the refrigerator. It takes me a couple of weeks to go through a loaf of bread. I live in the hot desert – so if I leave it on the counter, it’s moldy in a few days. If I put it in the fridge, it will last weeks. May not taste the best after the first week, and then it’s better for toast and/or toasted sandwiches, but I’ll eat if it’s not moldy or totally hard and dried out. Once moldy, it’s straight to the trash. So, maybe I’ve gotten used to eating “stale” bread and that’s ok with me :)! I am absolutely going to try your humidity drawer idea. Although – I usually have it loaded with veggies, so I’m going to have to figure out the logistics. Thanks for the tip! To anyone who says (like alot of people do) “NEVER STORE BREAD IN THE REFRIGERATOR” – I say – fewey on that :)! Many years of experience tells me otherwise. Of course it’s all a matter of personal preference. We are each free to do what works for us.
    Kerry

    Comment by Kerry — June 19, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  8. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Kerry! I’m with you – I hate throwing out bread because it molded on the counter. It’s pretty hot here in the summer in the Southeast, too, so I know where you’re coming from with the bread molding in just a few days. I’d rather have bread that’s maybe slightly less “fresh” (but mold-free) than to have to throw out perfectly good homemade bread because it went bad in the breadbox.

    Comment by Diane Aull — June 29, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

  9. I learned an old Amish trick years ago and it works. Add 1/2 cup mashed potatoes to the bread.

    Comment by Roger Wiggins — August 27, 2011 @ 8:11 am

  10. Excellent suggestion! I’ve tried making potato bread myself some time ago and it was always delish. Moist and soft! I’ll have to give that a try again. :)

    Comment by Diane Aull — August 27, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

  11. I got here wanting to know how to keep the bread fresh longer. My mom freezes it. I think that makes it taste off a bit. I have put flax seed meal, honey , mollasses, potatoes. All help make softer bread, but only the flax meal seems to help it keep longer. I started keeping in the bread machine, using it as a bread drawer. a few mists of water and 5 seconds in the microwave brings stale old bread back to life. Make french toast

    Comment by Mr A — September 12, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

  12. I’ve also had some luck adding diastatic malt and baker’s dry milk (I got mine from King Arthur Flour, but they’re available elsewhere) to my dough. Baker’s dry milk is different from regular milk powder; it’s made specially for baking use and doesn’t reconstitute into drinking milk if you add water. They both promise extended shelf life – and help the loaves rise higher, too. Thanks for sharing! That 5-seconds-in-the-microwave trick sounds pretty useful. I’ll have to give that a try.

    Comment by Diane Aull — September 18, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

  13. Great point !

    Are you able to help on a different matter ? My home made bread is so dense !
    Researched and gather thatthat’s normal for machine made bread .
    any ideas ?

    Comment by biba — October 13, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

  14. I usually slice my homemade bread then freeze it and when I need to make a sandwich or need a slice for toast in the A.M. I simply thaw out what I need and basically don’t worry about it growing mold or going stale. Seems to work for me not complicated.

    Comment by Tom M. — November 1, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

  15. You shouldn’t keep your bread in the refrigerator. Staleness is caused by crystallization of the starch molecules, which occurs faster at cool temperatures.

    Comment by sheldon — January 10, 2012 @ 2:02 am

  16. @tom: Freezing does indeed work great (except when your freezer is already packed to the gills with homemade soup and frozen veggies preserved from last summer’s local farm produce box deliveries)… ;)

    @sheldon: I’d always been told bread goes stale faster in the ‘fridge. But I’m a bit of a skeptic — I like to experiment and see for myself. I’m just reporting here on my personal experience. YMMV. :)

    Comment by Diane Aull — January 10, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

  17. Biba, are you using whole wheat or rye flour in your bread? It needs added gluten to rise higher unless there is already a good amount of all purpose or bread flour in the recipe.

    The denseness can also be caused by having too dry a dough. You can’t depend on the amount of liquid in recipes. You have to add water (or flour) to make sure the dough is the right consistency. It will vary a little each time depending on how dry your flour is and how humid the weather is. It should be as wet as possible without being too sticky to handle. It’s really an art to learn to feel the right consistency.

    Another reason for dense loaves is just not letting the bread rise high enough before baking. Because the timer on bread machines does not allow for variation, the machine will often start baking too soon. I use the machine to do the hard kneading work, but then I take the dough out and put it in a pan for rising. That way I know when the dough is the right height to put into the oven. I had a lot of dense loaves before I did that. Machines vary a lot, though, and some may be better than mine about letting the dough rise enough.

    I usually add some lecithin to preserve my bread longer, but if it looks like it is going to last over 3 days, I freeze it. If a recipe calls for a quarter cup of honey, it usually stays moist longer. Lesser amounts don’t seem to help as much.

    Comment by housemaid — February 13, 2012 @ 10:02 am

  18. Diane,

    What a great idea, I never thought of this ever! I make bread far to often & it will always end up in the garbage the next day due to the stone nature which has occured. It’s like a brick! I will try the drawer for sure.

    BTW… you are a fabulous writer, really enjoyed your humor.
    Rhonda :)

    Comment by Rhonda — October 3, 2012 @ 11:00 am

  19. Thanks, Rhonda! I hope the tip works out for you. I hate the idea of throwing away homemade bread. :)

    Comment by Diane Aull — November 6, 2012 @ 9:01 am

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