Freshly baked bread is a treasure, but a stale loaf can be good eating, too. So good that "stale" doesn't really do it justice. It's more like "vintage." Older bread may have lost a little bit of the spring in its step. However, the wholesome ingredients and dedication to craft that go into any bread that's worth its butter are still there to be enjoyed. Here's how to get the most out of your toast at every stage of its lovely life.
There's fresh bread and then there's "fresh" bread, the kind that is loaded up with so much chemistry it stays as soft as a pillow seemingly forever. We're talking exclusively here about the former - bread that is made out of purely pronounceable ingredients; perhaps simply flour, water, yeast and salt. The ingredients, glorious in their simplicity, are taken to magical heights in the hands of a skilled baker. Such a treasure deserves a little TLC.
How to Store Bread
Truly fresh bread is at its best the day that it is baked. The crunch of the crust contrasts with the tender crumb of the interior. You can perhaps squeak another day of sandwiches out of such a loaf by wrapping it tightly and storing it at room temperature.
But if you want to keep your bread on hand for more than a day, it's best to freeze it. Well-wrapped bread freezes beautifully so be sure that you create an airtight seal for any pain destined for the ice box. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then again in foil or freezer paper to protect your precious loaf from the bite of freezer burn. To defrost, remove the bread from the freezer and allow it to come to room temperature in its wrapping (if you unwrap the loaf while it is still cold, condensation will form on its exterior, compromising the texture). When fully defrosted, unwrap and warm in a moderate oven (300-350°F) for ten minutes or so to crisp up the crust.
Reviving Stale Bread
Bread that isn't stored properly or soon enough will dry out and become stale. But fear - and pitch - not! You can revive bread by restoring its moisture. For bread that's just a bit dry, flick a few drops of water on the crust, wrap it in foil and heat in a 300°F oven for five to ten minutes. Bread that is rock hard needs to get a full bath. Douse it by running the entire loaf under cold water (as if you were trying to rinse something off the loaf), wrap it in foil, pop it in a cold oven, bring the oven temp to 300°F for 10 minutes and, ta-da! You're good to go.
Stale vs Moldy
Public Service Announcement: it's fine to revive and cook with stale bread. But bread that has mold on it - even just a bit -should head toward the compost bin, not your dinner plate. The mold you see is just the tip of the iceberg. Molds send microscopic tendrils of colonies deep into foods so even if you scrape off the coin-sized spot on the exterior of the loaf, there are molds deep down in the bread that aren't visible to the naked eye. While some people aren't sensitive to these molds, they can sicken others who have a lower tolerance for them. Rule of thumb: hard bread is ok, furry is not.
Uses for Stale Bread
You can get a lot of mileage out of stale bread. Overtime, home cooks have developed great ways to use up this tasty ingredient. Not only are they utilitarian in their design, they're delicious. Here are some ideas:
- Panzanella: stale bread ripped and tossed with fresh-from-the-garden ingredients makes for a satisfying salad.
- Bread Crumbs: a quick whir through the food processor, blender or coffee grinder turns stale bread into perfect crumbs. Don't need them right away? Pop them in the freezer until you do.
- French Toast: in New Orleans it's called Pain Perdu ("lost bread") and it is breakfast perfection.
- Stuffing: use stale bread or leave fresh bread out overnight so that it dries out. Your call -either way your stuffing will thank you for it.
- Croutons: keep them plain with just olive oil and salt or add a few unpeeled garlic cloves to the pan for some extra flavor.
This isn't just a great use for leftovers, it's a little bit of kitchen magic. The simple combination of ingredients transforms in the heat of your oven into a rustic, hardy dinner that you will crave. Tender on the bottom, crunchy on top, it has a great combination of textures. And if you have leftovers of the panade, it makes a comforting breakfast when topped with a fried egg.
About 1/2 pound of stale bread cut into 1" cubes (about 2 quarts)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
About 3 cups of a combination of leftovers such as cooked vegetables, turkey, chicken, sausage and/or beans
1-2 cups grated cheese
2 tablespoons pignoli (pine) nuts (optional)
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange stale bread on a cookie sheet and drizzle with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toast the cubes in the oven for 10-15 minutes until dry and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
Stir the minced garlic into your leftovers and set aside.
In a two quart casserole dish layer 1/3 of the bread cubes, leftover mixture, cheese and nuts, if using. Repeat twice. Pour stock over layers. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes, until bubbling and brown. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6.