How Long Should I Let Bread Cool?

Every bread baker goes through the temptation of tearing into a freshly baked loaf of bread. Coming out of the oven, a loaf of bread smells incredible, and the hardest part of baking bread is not cutting into the loaf right away.

There are very good reasons for letting your bread cool down before you make that first slice, so you may be wondering how long you should let the bread cool? Allowing that incredible smelling loaf of bread to cool down to room temperature can take up to thirty minutes for the small roll types and up to eight hours for the larger boules. 

Why You Should Let Bread Cool Down

Letting your bread cool optimizes its flavor and texture, and there are theories to explain why this is true:

1. Steam escapes

Cutting into hot bread allows for steam to escape much faster than if you allow the loaf to emit it slowly. When the bread sits to cool, the steam will release at a natural pace. If the steam escapes too fast, your bread will become dry more quickly. 

2. Loss of flavor

Your bread develops flavor as it cools down. Sourdough bread should cool six to eight hours before slicing as these breads will increase their flavor more than the standard varieties. If your bread has a high percentage of rye flour, cooling down is even more important for both moisture distribution and development of flavor. A rye flour bread should be given twenty-four to forty-eight hours to cool.

3. Starch molecules gelatinize

In raw bread dough, starch molecules start to swell as they absorb moisture when the dough reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit. When you take the loaf out of the oven and its temperature falls below 150 degrees, the starches begin retrogradation.

Retrogradation means the molecules start to shift as the water which was absorbed while it was baking is expelled and then evaporates.

Starch retrogradation is what gives your loaf a dry, hard texture. This starch process is why you can reheat a loaf of bread in the oven and make it soften when you reheat its temperature to 150 degrees.

As the bread cools down, starch retrogradation is occurring. Water will continue to move outward, drying up your loaf and firming the crumb.

Cutting a loaf before this process completes, puts your bread at risk of becoming gummy, doughy, or sticky in texture. It will cause the molecules to remain dense and water-logged.

Cutting a loaf of warm bread will give it sticky, squished slices instead of the airy and firm ones most prefer. 

If a warm loaf of bread from the oven still tempts you after these theories, and you can’t wait for that first slice of bread, you should rip the bread rather than cutting it with a knife. When you rip the bread, you avoid squashing the starch molecules.

How to Cool, Cut, and Store Baked Bread

You do not do your fresh-baked bread any justice if you cut into it too soon. To cool your loaves, you should transfer them from the oven and onto a cooling rack.

By placing them on a rack, it will allow the air to circulate around the loaves and keep the crust from becoming soggy. While the cooling process is happening, the starch retrogradation will complete as the water moves out evenly towards the crust.

If bread is not cooled adequately, it can negatively impact the quality of the loaf. If cooled excessively, the bread will become drier and firmer, which will give it a brittle, harsher eating quality.

When cooled to quickly, the loaf will become dehydrated, and the loss of moisture will contribute to it becoming stale quicker.

If the loaf has not had enough cooling time, the sidewalls will be weak and can collapse when being sliced. You will end up with ragged slices, or the bread may tear from the excess moisture, which makes the loaf and the crumb too soft.

If you are using an electric slicer, a loaf without enough cooling can gum up the slicer blade. You can also end up with too much moisture in the storage bag when you put an uncooled loaf in it.

When your bread is ready for slicing, use a serrated knife that has deep serrations to make it easier and neater to cut even slices. Some bread products do better being torn by hand, such as the baguettes, as it gives them a more attractive texture.

Baked bread will always taste its best on the day it was made. If you have used a pre-ferment, your bread can stay good as long as three to five days.

Pre-ferment. Why some bakers use a pre-ferment is the fermentation period is extended. The natural enzymes and yeast that are in flour have time to take action on the proteins and starches in the dough. The process releases a more significant amount of food for the yeast to ingest and turn into energy. Pre-fermenting can impact the flavor of the bread by making it taste better. 

The amount of fat your bread contains will affect its shelf life as the fat will act as a preservative.

To store your bread at room temperature, you should keep it in a paper bag, especially if it is a loaf of sourdough bread. A paper bag allows for air to circulate around the loaf.

If your bread has been baked with commercial yeast, you should store it in a plastic bag for a couple of days. The plastic bag will help the crust to become soft, and you can re-crisp it easily by heating it in an oven at 350 degrees for five to ten minutes.

Sourdough bread will last longer than yeasted bread by several days. It is not suggested to store your bread in the refrigerator as this will accelerate the process of it becoming stale.

Bread can be frozen when well wrapped in plastic bags for at least three months. Whole loaves or sliced bread should be wrapped airtight in plastic wrap, then placed in resealable plastic freezer bags.

When you are ready to eat, take out of the freezer and allow to reach room temperature and if you want it warmed, heat in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit just long enough for the crust to crispen before serving.