Baking bread is a brewing process and thus full of chemical reactions. These chemical reactions determine almost every aspect of your bread from its taste and texture to its colour and smell.
When bread dough warms up in the oven, starch molecules weaken and allow water molecules to enter, swelling the starch granules and thus creating that warm and fluffy texture we associate with a loaf fresh out the oven. Unfortunately the minute this lovely, squishy loaf begins to cool down the reaction is reversed as the starch molecules dry out, crystalize and harden in a process known as retrogradation (I bet you weren't expecting a science lesson!)
Because our artisan loaves don't contain any funny business (artificial ingredients to slow dehydration) the staling process is particularly apparent. Catch 22 - The longer the fermentation and no additives - the tastier the bread, but the shorter the shelf life.... So, what can you do to help your bread shine on its few short days on this earth??
1. DO NOT REFRIGERATE ME - The cardinal sin when it comes to looking after your loaf. It may seem counter-intuitive but the condensation and dehydration that occurs in your refrigerator to remove moisture and thus provide your veg and cheese with a longer shelf life is the precise reason why bread stales SIX times faster in a fridge!
2.FREEZE ME - Bread is at its best 1-2 days from baking - after that it great as toast, bread crumbs, bread and butter pudding or Panzanela!! However, if you like your bread the fresher the better and only buy it ocassionally, your freezer is really an absolute saviour. Freezing bread stops the retrogradation process FULL STOP, allow it to thaw out on the side or in a microwave - you'll find it comes out fresh as a daisy! Do remember to only thaw what you need - the freshness will last for a day or so, but the bread can last for months in the freezer!
3 REFRESH ME - you slave over a delightfully spiced butternut squash soup and go to your bread bin only to find a slightly unappetizing, dry loaf... - that soup could have really benefited from a crusty, soft loaf with lashings of butter.... Help is at hand with this nifty trick! It really is as simple as a sprinkling of water and a hot oven for 5-10 minutes. The warmth and moisture is enough to revive your bread to the loaf you once new, and whats more, warm bread and butter is one of the most comforting things you'll experience in life! (cue warm fuzzy feelings and nostalgic memories)
So really you see... it's as easy as one, two, three... so please, please, please look after me!