How to store, freeze and preserve the shelf life of your sourdough bread (or any fresh bread).
What’s the best way for storing sourdough? While I receive hundreds of questions weekly about sourdough, many ask about the the best way to store fresh sourdough bread. While it may seem obvious to some, storing and preserving the freshness in bread is really important. So much time is spent caring for our sourdough starters, nurturing fermentation while we bake our first loaf of sourdough but often little thought is given to the storage of naturally leavened bread.
If you have ever taken any of my classes, or baked my recipes, you will notice that I usually make two loaves of sourdough at a time. The reason I always recommend making two loaves is that baking is in part muscle memory. The more you do, the better you get. Professional bakers can shape more loaves in a week than a home baker shapes in a year. Therefore, it is important to practice, practice, practice — but the last thing you want is your hard work going stale and ending up in the compost.
There are many different ways to store bread but in this guide to storing sourdough you will find my favourites. While this guide is meant for artisan breads like crusty sourdough, baguettes and batards I will also talk about softer bread such as brioche and pain au lait.
Staling Bread: An explanation
In order to understand how we can properly store our bread, first we should understand what causes breads to go stale, and some factors that can affect a bread’s shelf life. The moment a loaf of bread is removed from the oven it begins to cool down. Consider that a warm loaf is technically a loaf that is still cooking.
The moment a loaf of bread starts to cool down, it starts to degrade and the staling process begins. Due to the movement and evaporation of water in the loaf, we start to get a degeneration of the crumb. While the loaf is baking, all the water surrounding the starch moves towards the inside. As the loaf stales, it evaporates leaving a bread that is still good but not quite as fresh as the day it was baked.
Factors affecting bread shelf life
We should mention that bread made using preferments have better keeping quality than straight dough breads. Sourdough breads in tend to keep much longer and better than their yeasted counter parts. There are also certain types of sourdough, such as oat porridge sourdough, that may keep a little longer than a 100% spelt bread. Another factor is the bread’s hydration. Higher hydration breads tend to keep much longer than lower hydration bread.
It is important to remember that sourdough breads are very organic. Any breads or baked goods without any preservatives will be a perfect host for mold spores. These spores float in the air and when they fall on organic matter they start to root and grow. It is important to regularly check your breads for spoilage.
- Breads made with preferments last longer.
- House temperature and humidity.
- Whole grain rye breads tend to keep for a very long time even up to 7 days.
Storing Sourdough Bread after Baking
Storing Sourdough – Day One and Two
Let’s be honest here, fresh baked sourdough bread really doesn’t stick around long at our house. Between the three of us, a loaf can disappear pretty fast. For the first day we place the sourdough bread (sliced side down) on a wooden cutting board at room temperature.
Unless you are somewhere very humid, the crust and crumb will stay soft for several days. The hydration of your loaf will play a factor in how long the inside stays moist, but most sourdough breads are good for at least one day. Seasons can make a difference too. Bread in summer months stay soft for longer than in the winter.
On the second day of storing sourdough bread, the loaf will either stay cut side down on the cutting board as we eat it throughout the day, OR wrapped in a towel on the cutting board.
Storing Sourdough – Day Three and Four
If your bread hasn’t been eaten by day 3 and you have not covered it by this point you will want to do so to prevent it from drying out and getting stale. Alternatively you could slice your bread for things like croutons, stuffing, breadcrumbs or our sourdough gazpacho recipe.
For day three and four I like to use Keeki bags. Any linen bread bag works, but keeki bags have a beeswax liner and helps to keep the moisture in the bread. While this will soften the crust a bit, it will generally keep the bread from drying out. I have found by storing sourdough bread in a Keeki bag, it can stay moist for up to a week in the bag.
Another reason I like Keeki bags is that the idea for them started as a conversation in one of my sourdough bread workshops. Nancy, the owner had asked how I store my bread and the idea was born. If you’d like to try Keeki bags for yourself they are currently offering 10% off to any of my referrals using the coupon code ChefMatt.
Storing Sourdough – Day 5 and Beyond
At this point if you have not finished the loaf you should try to finish it or freeze it. Blitzing the bread up and frying it with some chorizo or olive oil can make an excellent topping for fish, vegetables or pasta. If you are not planning on finishing everything today you should freeze it in one of the ways explained below.
How to Freeze Bread
If you don’t have time to bake often, you can make two loaves at once and freeze one once it has completely cooled. The fresher the bread is when you freeze it, the better it will hold up to its time in the freezer.
Freezing Whole Loaves (1-2 months)
When freezing whole loaves, it is important to wrap the whole loaf really really tightly in plastic wrap. As the moisture in the bread freezes it will start to push its way out. This is what causes freezer burn and dries out the bread. For extra protection, you can place the wrapped loaf in a freezer bag (we have reusable ones, but you can always use disposable). You can store whole loaves this way for 1-2 months.
Freezing Slices (2 weeks)
Freezing slices is our most common method for storing sourdough bread longer than the first 5 days. Simply slice the bread as you normally would then put it back together so the slices line up the way they did before you cut the bread. Place the slices into an airtight bag and freeze for up to two weeks. If you leave the bread in the freezer for too long, it will become very dry, crisp and almost brittle after toasting. If you start to see any discoloration or signs of freezer burn you should cut your losses and compost it.
This method is great as you can place the bread directly into the toaster for quick breakfasts and snacks. This can be very helpful in our busy household.
How to Refresh your bread
Not only is making a few loaves and freezing a good way to get practice baking, but it can also come in handy in any household. If we are doing any domestic travelling, we often stock a few loaves in the freezer so that we can take them to a cottage or other local destination.
Refreshing Sliced Sourdough Bread
- For bread that has been frozen sliced, simply put it into the toaster from frozen. Keep in mind it might take a little longer to toast than fresh bread as it will have to first thaw, then toast.
- If you want to use it for croutons, stuffing or grilled bread, take the bread out of the freezer and let it thaw at room temperature before using.
Refreshing Whole Frozen Loaves
- If you’ve been storing sourdough bread in the freezer, take it out of the freezer and let it thaw at room temperature. Remove plastic wrapping.
- Preheat the oven to 176°C/350°F.
- Right before putting the sourdough in the oven, use a spray bottle to spritz water onto sourdough on the outside and then wrap it in aluminum foil. The moisture on the surface will turn to steam in the oven and help bring back that nice crisp crust.
- Put the bread in the oven for about 15-20 minutes (this can vary from oven to oven and type of loaf). You want the bread to have been warmed all the way through to bring it back to peak freshness.
- Remove the loaf from the oven, take off the foil and place back in the oven for 4-5 minutes.
- Remove the bread and let cool for 20 minutes before slicing and eating.
- If you have any left over you can store it as above but I go straight into the Keeki bag as the refreshed bread will be slightly dryer and stale a little quicker than a fresh loaf.
Using Old Sourdough
The good news is that there are many amazing ways to use old bread. In fact sometimes old sourdough can be much better in a recipe than fresh sourdough. One of my all time favourite things is old sourdough that has been drizzled with olive oil, grilled and rubbed with garlic.