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How to Refresh Stale Bread

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Make day-old bread new again.

torn baguette

A lot of sourdough and focaccia baking has been happening over these past few months. And all this excellent home bread baking dovetails with the increasing popularity of artisan bread. All good news. Crusty, chewy bread is, to me, the way bread should be — not mass-produced loaves of bland, plastic-wrapped sandwich bread. There is just one problem. Fresh bread becomes stale bread quickly, and not many of us can take down a whole loaf in a day or two.

But! There is a simple way to refresh stale bread to make it crusty and new all over again. It is a pastry chef trick I learned from a French baker years ago, and then again in pastry school. And all you need is water and a few minutes of oven time.

You’ll also like: Irish Soda Bread, Two Ways and How to Slice a Loaf of Bread

stale baguette with water on pastry brush

How to Refresh Stale Bread

Refreshing slightly stale bread (i.e., day-old bread whose crust has lost its crusty glory) is as simple as it is magical.

  1. First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Next, generously brush the bread all over with water, using either a pastry brush or your hand.
  3. Put the bread in the oven and “bake” for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf, until crusty and hard again on the outside. If it does not feel crusty after 15 minutes, let it go a bit longer. It will get there.

brown soda bread on cooling rack with slice on wooden plate and tea

Why Water Revives Stale Bread

How the does the magic work? How does wetting bread actually make it crusty again?

Bread that goes stale goes through a science-sounding process called starch retrogradation, where the starch in the bread flour releases the moisture it absorbed in the baking process. When the starch releases the moisture, the bread gets spongy and a little soggy. By adding water back to the bread and then re-baking it just enough, the starch can reabsorb the moisture and trap it in there, instead of releasing it.

. . . Until it does. Starch retrogradation will happen all over again, so enjoy this second bite of the apple — err, bread — while you can.

torn stale bread with butter in background

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