The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Shelf Life

Chris downunder's picture
Chris downunder

Shelf Life

I am new to baking and have had some successes (I think anyway) with my breads, basic white loaf, wholemeal with some linseed and pumpkin seed loafs, also the cinnamon and oat meal loaf from this website, but I find that the bread does not keep for very long, and dries out , becoming stale and only really good for toasting after as little as 12 hours after baking.

Is there something I can do to prolong the shelf life, either in my process, or can I add something?

I'd be grateful for any insight.

Thanks. Chris

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Do you attempt at all to cover the loaves while consuming? Some ideas on what you are currently doing (even if just letting it sit on a bread board in the open air) will help us with your question...

- Keith

Ford's picture

I have found that breads that have been enriched by using milk, butter, eggs, lecithin, or whey can be stored in the refrigerator without the crumb hardening quickly. 


Emelye's picture

When I refrigerate my breads I make sure to double bag them and seal tightly.  Otherwise the cold dry air dessicates the bread very quickly.

gary.turner's picture

From my reading, supported by personal experience, refrigeration speeds the staling process. When bread is baked, the crystalline starch is gellated. From the end of baking onward, the starch gel begins a state change back to its crystalline form. The cooler it is, the faster it changes state; From about 13℃/55℉ right down to the freezing point of water, 0℃/32℉. Freezing stops the state change. Freezing is a good long term — say, up to a month — storage solution.

It is this crystal/gel state transformation that explains why a two or three day old stale loaf or bun can be made "fresh" again by rewarming in an oven at 175℃/350℉ for 5―10 minutes. The crystal starch is transformed back to the gel state. The gel state is less stable than the first time around, and the process seldom works a second time.

The OP is asking, if I read this right, about extending the shelf life, in other words Chris wants to have a Vegemite sandwich on not-toasted bread sometime after the second or third day. The keys to shelf life for the home baker come down to fat, dairy, acidity, and hygroscopic ingredients.

Fats and dairy soften the bread. Saturated fats and mono-unsaturated fats also work to increase loaf volume in the range of 2―10% of flour weight. Polyunsaturated fats soften the bread but do not increase volume and may even lower it. Fats and milk do improve moisture holding by encapsulating water. Use too much and you will not be able to achieve a crispy, crackly crust. For sandwich bread, that's not usually an issue.

Sugar, syrup, honey, &c. and salt are common hygroscopic ingredients in bread. They act to keep the bread moist by absorbing moisture and hanging on to it for dear life. Let your taste guide you; it's really easy to overdo.

Acidity is the key player in holding off staleness. Acidity explains why sourdough breads usually keep longer. Whey was mentioned above. Whey is the serum, the watery part of milk, as opposed to the coagulated parts. For examples, the liquid removed in cheese making, or buttermilk. Whey works to extend the bread's life due to its acidity, lactic acid.

I use dry buttermilk at 10% by weight of water, and usually get 5 or 6 days of good sandwiches from a loaf. I use the dry buttermilk because if I get a carton of buttermilk, I'll drink it before I have a chance to bake. ;) You can also use sour milk or cream, or clabbered milk or cream. To clabber, simply add a dab of vinegar or lemon juice to your milk or cream, cover and let set at room temp until it thickens.

In a nutshell, for sandwich bread, add dairy for softness and acid in the form of sourdough or sour dairy for longevity.



Ford's picture

I do differ with you on the point of enriched bread.  The fats, milk, etc. added to the enriched breads lower the  transition points of the starch so that this bread does not harden as readily as does bread containing only the "holy four" ingredients, i. e. flour, water, salt, and leaven.

I normally freeze my loaves then thaw them as I need them then keep them in the refrigerator for a week or more without noticeable hardening of the crumb.  They are kept in a closed plastic bag during the storage.   The white sourdough is made using 21.7% water (in the starter), 55.5% milk, 1.7% salt. and 3,5% butter.  The 50% whole wheat sourdough is made using 21.9% water, 59.6% milk, 1.8% salt, and 3.5% butter.  (Percentages are baker's percentages, of course.)

These are facts, not suppositions.


gary.turner's picture

What point did I make regarding enriched breads? That dairy and fats enhance keeping power? We both seem to agree on that. That sugar/syrup/honey and salt enhance moisture keeping properties? You didn't deny that point, though you don't use sugar in your formulas.

We both seem to agree that acidity is a Good Thing©. So, where is the disagreement? Refrigerated storage. You say you get a week's worth of goodness storing cold. It may well be that enriching the bread moves the curve. I'd suspect that the sourdough's acidity is responsible more than the dairy, etc., but that's moot, and in any case is at best an anecdotal debate.

What is not anecdotal is the science behind staling, or starch retrogradation.

Emily Buehler, Bread Science p.217

The surrounding temperature also plays a role in staling: starch retrogradation, one aspect of staling, happens faster at lower temperatures, such as those you might find in a refrigerator.

Jeffrey Hamelman, Bread p.28

Baked breads will stale most quickly at temperatures between 32° and 50℉. Clearly, the worst environment for bread is in the refrigerator.

Michel Suas, Advanced Bread and Pastry p.123

This process [staling] is more active when the bread is kept at approximately 40℉ (4℃), which is why keeping bread in the refrigerator should be avoided.

I don't doubt your bread keeps well in the fridge, I also don't doubt it would keep as long or longer on the kitchen counter, at room temps.



Chris downunder's picture
Chris downunder

Hi Gary,

Thanks for your scholarship and learning. I always learn so much form the forums, and I also love the vigorous debate and differences of opinion. I will try some of the suggestions and see what happens.

Thanks for taking the time, and I look forward to a nice sandwich bread with vegemite.

Cheers Chris

Yerffej's picture


Sourdough will bring extended shelf life to any baked good. 


clazar123's picture

Do you live in a particularly dry environment or a high elevation? Do you have a heating system on that dries the air? Do you bag the bread in any way after it is thoroughly cooled?

Refrigeration may harden the bread faster but it can inhibit mold, if that is an issue.

Some enrichment will help in the shelf life of most loaves and that can come in many forms-oil,butter/shortening,milkfat in milk additions (yogurt,buttermilk,milk,sour cream,etc.), egg yolk.

Using a water roux or a mash can improve the shelf life as can using sourdough. 

Sweeteners can help attract moisture to a loaf, esp honey or molasses.

Also, a simple autolyse can help make sure that all the flour is hydrated before it is baked,esp with wholemeal but even with all refined (white) flour. Add a small amount of additional moisture to make the dough slightly more tacky and just let the dough sit for 30 minutes after mixing.It will absorb nicely. Then stretch and fold or raise to double and complete the process as desired.

Try one thing at a time and see which results you like the most. I'd start with the simple autolyse.

cgmeyer2's picture

i live in phoenix, az. to extend the life of my bread, i add lecithin, vit c, & olive oil. a 1# loaf of any type usually lasts 1-1/2 to 2 weeks. i leave it out in a food-grade bag for ~ 1 week & then refrigerate it.

hope this helps, claudia