The aroma of freshly warmed bread triggers all your best senses. It evokes memories of foreign travel to lands where bread dominates all life, or, perhaps your thoughts are on the bakery down the street and the heavenly aroma that seeps under the door on early mornings. Bread, as it’s sometimes known, is the “staff of life,” and it comes to life when pulled from the oven. Today’s hectic lifestyles leave little time to make bread, so we’re often relegated to buying French or Cuban loaves, baguettes, olive oil-drenched ciabatta, and even Middle Eastern pita and Indian naan. All usually end up in the freezer to be used in the future. When it’s time to warm that frozen or dried-out bread, you can use one of a number of kitchen tricks to help bring it back to life.
Short- and Long-Term Bread Storage
Preserve your homemade bread by wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap. Foil and freezer paper also work, but a snug-fitting covering of plastic wrap works best. Stash it in the freezer for up to three weeks. The bread you bring home from the market can be stored in the plastic bag it comes in, but an even better method is to rewrap it tightly in plastic wrap. It’ll stay safe for about three weeks.
Long-term storage also includes a tight covering with plastic wrap plus an outer coating of foil. You want to prevent any air from getting into the bread. Six months is the maximum for freezing bread. Longer than that, and you risk freezer burn and a stale taste when it’s reheated.
Defrosting and Reheating
If you know in advance that you’re going to serve that crusty French bread at dinner, let it sit in the refrigerator overnight or all day. It will slowly defrost, allowing you to reheat it for just a few minutes. If time is at a premium, take the loaf out of the freezer and run water over the entire loaf. Even if it has a cut end, let the water hit it everywhere.
The water creates what becomes steam, and it’s the steam that softens the bread. Put it into a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven for 7‒12 minutes, depending on how much drenching you’ve given it. Don’t wrap it, and don’t coddle it. Just plop it onto the rack and give it a good warm. Set the timer to remind you when it should be finished. There’s nothing worse that burned bread!
French bakeries like to ensure their customers that any leftover bread can taste as good as fresh if you reheat it with care. The same goes for reheating delicate pastries. The butter in croissants and brioche needs to be softened after a day left languishing in the refrigerator or freezer. Drizzle water over your rolls, and let a low-temperature, 315F oven do the work.
If you love gadgets, bread warmers are available in ceramic, pottery and fabric with a magnetic closure. All are designed to produce moist bread when it’s reheated. All cost more money than plastic wrap and foil. You decide whether a pricey loaf of good bread is a better investment than a pricey bread warmer.
A General Rule
When reheating any bread-based food, water is your friend. A little drizzle or a generous drenching all combine with the heat of the oven to create the steam that bread needs to breathe again. Bread pudding, breaded chicken, bread-based turkey stuffing ‒ all spring back to life with a sprinkling of water.