One person's warm, soft bread is another person's definition of overly soft. Wrapping bread in foil and placing it in the oven helps to ensure it stays warm without getting hard, but in the process, you lose a crispy crust. For some types of bread, that method works fine. Experiment with different breads and different warming methods to find out what kind of warm bread you like best.
For breads that are meant to have a soft crust, like potato bread or cinnamon swirl bread, wrapping the bread in foil warms it and helps to ensure that it doesn't harden, because the foil keeps moisture in the bread from escaping. Simply wrap the bread tightly in foil and put it in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for 7 to 10 minutes.
Warming bread in a paper bag, such as one you would get from the grocery store, works best when you want bread with a crisp crust, such as artisan loaves, baguettes and French bread. Adding water keeps the interior of the bread from getting hard. When the bag dries out, the bread crust turns crispy. For this method:
- Place the loaf in a brown paper bag and twist the ends tightly. Don't use a bag with any plastic attached to it.
- Wet the bag by spraying it with water from a spray bottle or by running it briefly under running water from the faucet.
- Put the bread in a 400 F oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the bag begins to smell like popcorn.
Turn paper-bag bread into garlic bread by cutting slits in the bread before putting it into the paper bag and buttering the cut places with garlic butter.
Warming unwrapped bread in the oven effectively heats the bread, keeping the inside soft and the outside crisp. Test the bread every few minutes to help ensure it doesn't get hard. To warm bread:
- Spray the bread thoroughly to get it wet all over or pass it under a running faucet.
- Place the bread on a rack in the center of a 325 F oven for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf.
- Gently squeeze the bread after 6 minutes to see if the crust has become crisp. If not, leave it in and continue to check on it every minute or two. Once the crust is crisp, remove the bread.
Once you've warmed the bread, keep it warm at the table in the same way that restaurants do, with a cloth napkin. Or, invest in a product specifically designed to keep bread warm. To keep the loaf toasty:
- Lay a large, heavy cloth napkin or dishtowel over a basket or bowl and place the whole loaf or warm slices inside. Fold the edges of the napkin up over the bread, allowing access but keeping the bread covered.
- Use a commercial bread bag made from heavy fabric. This works in the same way a napkin does.
- Use a ceramic or terra cotta bread warmer in the bottom of your warming bag, basket or bread bag. Heat the warmer in the oven or microwave before using it, then place it underneath a cloth napkin. Add the bread and cover it with the rest of the napkin or an additional cloth.