Authentic French baguettes, made from nothing more than flour, water and yeast, have a vanishingly short shelf life. They are fresh and delicious for only about half a day after baking. By day two, they're not even fit for sale as "day-old bread," as muffins and pastries sometimes are. To keep a baguette fresh for more than a day, you have only one real option: the freezer.
Prepare a fresh baguette for freezing as soon as possible after purchase or baking. Let the baguette cool completely. Place it in an airtight freezer bag, squeeze out the extra air and zip it closed. If the baguette is too long to fit into the bag, cut it into pieces.
Store the baguette in the freezer until several hours before you need it.
Remove the frozen baguette from the freezer bag, wrap it in a tea towel and thaw it on the counter for two hours, or until fully thawed.
Heat the thawed baguette in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for a few minutes to warm it, if desired. Don't leave it in the oven for longer than a few minutes or it will dry out.
Keep a partially eaten baguette fresh for several hours by wrapping the cut end with aluminum foil. Do not leave the cut end uncovered. It will become dry and inedible quickly. Don't store the baguette in a plastic bag or container, as this will make its texture gummy.
Stale baguettes are indispensible ingredients for cooking and baking. Use them to make French toast, crostini, croutons, bread pudding, breadcrumbs and stuffings.
If you have no immediate use for stale bread, freeze it and defrost when needed.
Whole-grain bread and sourdough varieties have better longevity than ordinary white-flour baguettes, and you may get to enjoy them for as long as 24 hours or so before staleness sets in. Store whole-grain baguettes as you would regular ones.
Cindy Pineo has been writing about diet, wellness and culture since 2002. She is coauthor of the book "The Atkins Diet and Philosophy." Pineo holds a Master of Arts in English literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Arts in humanities from the University of Chicago.