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How to store your bread and baked goods

If you want to prolong the shelf life of your bread and baked goods, do not store them in the refrigerator. Tests have shown that baked goods, such as breads, cookies, cakes, and muffins actually stale faster in the refrigerator than at room temperature. Yet these same items can be stored perfectly well in the freezer for long periods of time. Why doesn’t the freezer have the same effect on breads and other baked goods as the refrigerator?

Staling is inevitable over time. In a process known as retrogradation, starch molecules reorganize to form crystalline structures in the presence of the moisture within the baked goods themselves. This eventually leads to a hard, dry texture at room temperature—no matter how well wrapped the item was during storage. The cooler temperature of the refrigerator speeds up this process, but the freezer actually halts it. The water molecules in the cake or bread freeze, which immobilizes the starch molecules and prevents them from forming the crystalline structures that translate to stale texture.

So if you aren’t going to finish that loaf of Beach Lake Bakery bread right away, don’t be tempted to pop it into the fridge. Instead, wrap it tightly, first in aluminum foil and then in a large zipper-lock bag, and store it in the freezer. To thaw the bread, take it out of the plastic bag, leaving the foil on it, and place it on the center rack of a 450°F oven for about 10 minutes. Carefully remove the foil (watching for steam) and recrisp the crust in the oven for a few more minutes. It will taste as good as freshly baked.

–Courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated

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