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Italian bread like ciabatta is always a favorite, with its chewy crust and air-pocked center. Unfortunately, Italian bread seems to go stale more quickly than other yeasted bread, even if it’s home-baked.
What can you do to stop your loaf from going dry and crumbly? How do you keep Italian bread fresh?
To keep Italian bread fresh, you need to store it wrapped in paper, plastic, or aluminum foil in a bread bin and at room temperature. Never keep Italian bread in the fridge. To extend the bread’s shelf life, freeze it. Refresh dry Italian bread in the oven or reuse it as a bruschetta, bread topping, or salad.
People are drawn to the rich flavor of Italian bread and love the flaky crust and doughy center, with its hints of olive oil. But it’s disappointing to have a couple of slices, only to return to a hard, stale loaf. Let’s look at five ways to can keep your bread fresh for longer.
How to Keep Italian Bread Fresh
All bread goes stale in a natural process of moisture loss, where the water molecules slowly move out from the inner starchy part of the loaf towards the crust and then evaporate. Fat (like butter) in the dough and preservatives can help retard this process.
Because Italian bread is a freshly baked product, usually made with oil rather than butter and without preservatives or additives, it won’t last any longer than two to three days, no matter how well you store it.
These tips will help you keep your loaf as fresh as possible for those two to three days.
1 – Keep It at Room Temperature
The first rule in keeping Italian bread fresh is to keep it at room temperature, which means between 60 and 80°F (15-26°C). At this temperature, your bread should last for two to three days.
If you store your bread in a warmer environment, there is a good chance of mold developing on the loaf, especially if it is humid. So, if you’ve baked your own Italian bread, let it cool completely before storing it.
You may think that the top of the fridge or dishwasher counts as room temperature. However, these appliances tend to give off heat, so you are unwittingly storing your bread in a warmer environment. Instead, place it on a countertop or in the pantry.
A cooler environment will cause the bread to go stale even more quickly. That’s right – never store your Italian bread in the refrigerator as this dehydrates bread six times faster than leaving it out on the counter. Refrigeration encourages moisture to evaporate from the bread.
Unfortunately, if you live in very hot and humid conditions, you may have no alternative but to refrigerate the bread to avoid mold. However, your bread won’t last for longer than a day or so before becoming stale. It’s probably best to toast any bread you’ve stored in the fridge or refresh it in the oven before eating.
Commercially produced bread contains preservatives, so you can happily leave it in the fridge.
2 – Put It in a Bread Bin
Another way to maximize the shelf-life of your Italian bread is to store it somewhere cool and dry – like a breadbox.
A breadbox creates a balance between humidity to keep the center of the bread soft with air circulation to keep the crust crisp. It also protects the bread from sunlight and heat, which are mold-creators.
Choose a large enough breadbox or bin to comfortably store the needed amount of bread – overfilling a breadbox will create humidity and lead to mold.
Also, ensure that the bread has cooled before placing it in the breadbox – this is especially the case with freshly baked bread.
Ceramic, bamboo, and enamelware breadboxes are all excellent choices.
If you don’t have a breadbox, store your bread in a pantry, cupboard, drawer, or even the oven or microwave (when not in use).
3 – Slice It Properly
Although the saying goes that there’s little better than sliced bread, this is not the case for Italian bread.
As soon as you slice bread, you create a moisture leak, which allows the tender bread to dry out. The warmer the bread when you slice it, the quicker it will dry out as well.
Never buy ready-sliced Italian bread, as this is a recipe for disaster. Nor should you slice off an end as you usually do.
Always use a sharp, serrated knife for cutting Italian bread, as this will prevent the crust from being squashed as you cut.
The best way to slice Italian bread is to cut the loaf down the middle, cut off a slice, and then press the open halves back together. This odd slicing method avoids leaving an exposed surface and prevents moisture from evaporating from your ciabatta.
If you cut off the end, it’s not a disaster. Wrap the end crust against the exposed area, or use an old heel of bread to protect the new loaf.
4 – Wrap It Tightly
How you wrap your bread is also a way of keeping your Italian bread fresh for longer.
If you’ve bought a loaf, keep it in its original packaging for as long as possible. Allow home-baked bread to cool completely and then wrap as below.
Once you’ve opened the bread, follow these guidelines for wrapping your bread:
- Never wrap damp, warm bread or bread with any condensation on the crust. It must be cool and dry.
- Choose reusable bees’ wrap (cloth permeated with beeswax), plastic, paper, or tinfoil over cloth wrapping. You can purchase strong, reusable bread storage bags.
- If your bread comes in a paper bag, seal the open end by folding it over or tying it off.
- Wrap the paper bag in tinfoil or plastic wrap and keep it in the bread bin.
- For those who live in a warm, humid climate, choose foil as a wrapping rather than plastic.
Wrapping your bread like this will retain inner softness but may affect the crust, making it somewhat soft as it traps moisture. To restore the crunch, toast the bread or pop it in the oven.
5 – Freeze It
If you’re organized and have bought bread in bulk or want to keep your bread fresh for more than two days, the best storage method is to freeze it.
This tip may sound counterintuitive after rejecting the fridge as a good storage place. However, the freezer stops the process of dehydration, so it will prevent your bread from becoming stale.
Always keep frozen bread in the coldest part of the freezer, which means furthest from the door, the warmest area.
You can leave Italian bread in the freezer for up to three months. You can still eat the bread safely after that, but the quality of the bread and its unique texture will be affected.
How to Freeze a Whole Italian Loaf
To freeze Italian bread, wrap the loaf in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and then place it in a freezer bag, gently squeezing out as much air as possible.
Tight and secure wrapping will prevent the crust from tearing the wrapping and avoid moisture escaping and the dreaded freezer burn.
To thaw frozen bread, remove it from the freezer bag and defrost at room temperature. It is essential to take it out of the freezer bag to avoid water pooling and making the bread soggy as it defrosts.
You may want to refresh or heat the bread in the oven to bring it back to springy, crusty life.
How to Freeze a Sliced Italian Loaf
Slicing bread for freezing is the only time you should pre-slice an Italian loaf. Freezing slices makes a lot of sense if you know you won’t eat the whole loaf in a single sitting or a couple of days.
If you plan to eat the bread a slice at a time, especially toasted, freeze piece by piece or portion the loaf into sliced sections for sandwiches that you can thaw individually. Wrap individual slices in wax paper or place each into a Ziploc bag.
You can thaw individual slices in the toaster or microwave.
A One-Week Bread Storage Solution
It’s possible to buy a loaf of Italian bread and enjoy it at its best for a whole week. Yes, Italian bread is only fresh at room temperature for a day or two – so let’s look at a bread-storage solution that enables you to extend the shelf life of your loaf.
On the day you buy your loaf (or bake it and allow it to cool), cut off enough for you to eat that day and the next.
Wrap the portion you plan to eat immediately and store it in the breadbox or other room temperature storage.
Slice the rest of the bread and portion it appropriately for each day’s bread eating. (How many slices do you think you and your family can eat in a day?) Wrap these slices in plastic wrap or foil, separated by wax wrap for easier freezing. Then place in a freezer bag and freeze.
Eat the bread from the storage bin. Freeze any remaining bread.
Each morning (or the night before, if you want morning toast), remove one portion of bread from the freezer and allow the portion to thaw at room temperature.
Once the bread is thawed, either eat it, toast it, or keep it in the breadbox until you want to eat it on that day.
It’s a good idea to toast or reheat frozen bread as the heat releases the starchy moisture and makes the bread taste as good as it did when freshly baked.
What to Do With Stale Italian Bread
Despite your best intentions and storage methods, sometimes your gorgeous artisanal Italian bread will turn stale – beyond French Toast stale, I mean.
But there’s no need to get rid of stale Italian bread. Italians who lived through two world wars would be horrified if you threw out bread just because it was dry.
Moldy bread is another story. Always discard bread with mold growing on it as it is a food hazard.
Let’s look at a couple of ways to use stale Italian bread.
Refresh Stale Bread in the Oven
If your bread is only a few days old, it can probably be revived by a blast of heat in the oven. Try doing this:
- Preheat your oven to a moderate 300°F (150°C). A medium oven will allow for more moisture, rather than a hot, dry oven.
- Immediately before placing it in the oven, dribble water over the loaf’s crust, avoiding the cut area. You can also spray or spritz the loaf to moisten it. This step is crucial as the water will steam in the oven and make the loaf soft again.
- Wrap the loaf in aluminum foil.
- Put the loaf in the oven for five to ten minutes, depending on its size.
- As the bread heats, it will absorb moisture and revive.
- Serve the bread as soon as possible as it will go stale quickly.
Bruschetta is a kind of Italian toast, often eaten as a snack or appetizer.
- Preheat your oven to hot, 450°F (200°C).
- Slice your bread into one-inch-thick slices, preferably on the diagonal.
- Lay the thick slices of bread flat on a baking sheet.
- Brush the bread with olive oil and turn it over.
- Toast the bruschetta in the oven for five to six minutes or until the edges brown.
- Top with fresh, chopped tomatoes, basil, cheese, olives, or cold cuts.
There’s nothing so delicious as the combination of crunchy crust and springy center you get from Italian bread. But there’s nothing so disappointing as finding your Italian bread stale.
To keep Italian bread fresh, store it well-wrapped at room temperature, preferably in a breadbox, or freeze for longer shelf life. Never refrigerate Italian bread.