My wife and I are having a debate over where to keep the bread. I prefer to keep it at room temperature, but she says that bread should be stored in the refrigerator. Which is better?--Art
Bread kept in the fridge goes stale about four times as fast as it does at room temperature.
Why? Staling can occur either when the bread dries out through evaporation or when cooked starch molecules in the bread cool and form a crystalline structure (see Leftover Rice in Fried Rice). Crystallization forces water out of the starch molecules and causes the bread to become more firm in texture. We think of staling as being a loss of water when in fact, the water content may still be the same, just no longer trapped by starch molecules. The cooler temperature of the fridge increases the speed at which crystallization occurs.
As long as it hasn't actually dried out, bread that is stale from crystallization of its starch molecules can be made palatable again by reheating it. This usually only works well one time, though.
So, for soft textured bread, keep it in a bread box or paper bag. This will hold some of the moisture in, while keeping the crust firm. Some people prefer to use a plastic bag, which will keep the bread softer longer but encourage spoilage by holding moisture in. It will also soften the crust.
Bread kept in the fridge may spoil slower, but it will go stale much faster.
If you don't usually finish a loaf before it starts to spoil at room temperature, freeze part and thaw it at room temperature later. Frozen bread neither spoils nor goes stale quickly and can be kept for several months.
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