The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

The Most Ignorant of All Questions: Cooling of Bread

CountryBoy's picture

The Most Ignorant of All Questions: Cooling of Bread

Ok, this is bed rock ignorant but here goes: artisan baking is all about the details and I have not figured out about the cooling part.

Peter Reinhart says he enjoys his bread warm but that his Parisian baker friend says the bread must cool 2-3 days for it to mature.  Others say that as well.  Who is right?

And when cooling is it necessary to cover it with cloth and if so why?



Felila's picture

We had a go-round on this a few months ago, when I asked the same question. 2-3 days seems extreme (unless it's what you need for extremely heavy artisan seeded breads, which are not what I bake). Howver,  leaving the bread to cool completely does often complete the cooking. If you cut into the bread before it's cool, it may still be just a tiny bit gummy inside. If you want tasty moist bread and your dough starts out soft and wet, this is likely.

But it's hard to wait! Many folks here admitted to sneaking a piece whenever they couldn't stand waiting any longer. 

Still, any cooling goes towards completing the cooking. Myself, I put my boules on rack, set the timer for 30 minutes, and distract myself. I don't put a cloth over the loaves. Why would I want the lovely crunchy crust to get soft?

fancypantalons's picture

Wow, just thirty minutes?  I let mine cool for at least 2 hours, or 45-60 minutes if I'm using a fan to accelerate the process.  Basically, I let it cool until there's very little residual heat in the loaf.

That said, I agree, the crust is just too delicious not to eat right away. :)

Barkalounger's picture

I have a rule that seems to work well.  I wait until no one is looking.

kanin's picture

Cooling matters more with rye breads. The moisture needs to redistribute inside the bread and it can take a while, at least 24 hours in some instances.

My personal rules of thumb:

  • Anything over 1.5 lbs gets the overnight treatment.
  • Small breads are best straight out the oven.
  • Anything with a considerabe amount of rye (25%)gets at least 24 hours.

dmsnyder's picture

I think the texture of most of my sourdough breads is best when they are completely cooled to room temperature (but not later!). So, I almost always wait to cut them. Cutting them while still hot yields a mushier texture and, sometimes, tearing.

Some breads just taste different when first cooled than they do the next day. Multi-grain breads, especially, benefit from time to meld flavors.

I happen to love fresh baked (but cooled) rye breads. The ones I usually make are very good for at least 5 days if kept in a bakery bag.

I haven't felt larger loaves need to be left for multiple days before cutting. They do take longer to cool, of course, but that's like 2 hours instead of 1 hour. Now, a lot of the larger loaves I make use high extraction flour, and those do taste better on the day after baking, most often.

Enriched breads, which I seldom make, are nice still a bit warm from the oven.

A slice of just cooled sourdough - wheat or rye - is a great bedtime snack. It ends the day on a positive note for me.

So, there are lots of variables, the most important of which is ... ta,ta ... personal preference.


LindyD's picture

I've been baking primarily sourdough breads and have found they just don't develop the optimum taste until they are completely cool - that means the next day for me, although I have (in a weak, starving, moment) cut into a loaf about four hours later. It was better the next day.

I don't cover my cooling loaves in the winter, but in the summer I will toss a lightweight cotton towel over them simply to keep off any bugs that might have snuck inside.

Rosalie's picture

When I visited France many years ago, I made sure to buy a fresh baguette every day.  I loved that bread, and never found any other bread in Europe that tasted as wonderful.  But I couldn't finish the whole baguette in one day (and my husband wasn't as excited about it as I was), and by the next day it was stale.  Letting that bread cool for 2-3 days would be counterproductive.

The breads I make myself these days last much longer.  I generally allow myself a taste of freshly baked bread as soon as it's cooled, a couple hours after it comes out of the oven.  But, invariably, it tastes better the next day.

I think the Parisian baker friend is being a bit anal giving a strict rule like that.  It is better a day or so later, but it is fine just an hour or two later.  I guess "fine" is not good enough for him.


CountryBoy's picture

It all sounds as if the answers are relative with no real need to cover the bread while cooling.  Thanks.

verminiusrex's picture

I cool the bread until I can bag it without condensation gathering on the inside of the plastic. 

 I cover it while it's cooling if I need to hide it from hungry family members while I'm busy in the kitchen.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

compared to smelling and listening to a freshly baked loaf popping and cracking as it cools...

Ahh the aroma...

Mini O

CountryBoy's picture

Hamelman in Bread on pg. 28 advises that bread with a high proportion of rye should cool 24-48 hours.


dmsnyder's picture

Far be it from me to argue with Mr. Hamelman.

The ryes I make don't qualify as having "a high proportion of rye," actually - less than 50%.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I've noticed time and time again that when rye flour is half or around 50%, strange things can happen.   It's better to go 60% or 40% and handle as a rye or a wheat accordingly.  50% is the grey zone when it comes to rye.  I think that's why the epoxy method was developed.

Mini O

suave's picture

With sourdoughs I try to leave them for 6-8 hours.  For yeast breads couple of hours is enough.


Wild-Yeast's picture

I used to be guilty of breaking the 20 minute rule but then my skills improved to the point where it was nicer to look at a thing of beauty that also smelled and compelled the ultimate in temptation..., alas, I am cooling a sourdough loaf now on the counter without cover. It will go into a breadbox for an additional 6-8 hours before being placed in a plastic bag and then into the refrigerator. Key factors in this sequence are the sudden decrease in temperature after removing the loaf from the oven followed by a period in which the humidity is slowly adjusted to ambient (I think the old term for this was atemperate). I've found it important to reduce the amount of air circulating around the loaf which accounts for the breadbox rest. Sourdough bread has a definite advantage in its "keeping" quality - maintaining it's edibility for nearly a week under these conditions.

Another reason for not breaking fresh crust (at least for me) is that the novelty has warn off and my outlook has changed from one of performing novelty baking to one of providing a highly desirable bread as a part of our diet. I guess this is much like it was before the manufactured food revolution...,


P.S. I think Barkalounger deserves an award for the best method!

MmeZeeZee's picture

That's my brain speaking to me.

I have a three-year-old and a hungry husband.  20 minutes?  Are you kidding?

This may be the answer to improving many a bread.  Thanks.

eatbread's picture

i wait until it's barely warm, then split a most enjoyable crusty nub with my boyfriend.