Nothing makes your house smell as welcoming as fresh homemade bread, warm from the oven. It would be nice to enjoy that fresh bread every day, but that's not usually a practical option. Instead, it makes more sense to bake up a batch and freeze extra loaves for later use. When it's time to use the bread, your best option is to let it thaw gently over a period of hours. If you're in a rush, or if you want hot, fresh-smelling bread to go with your meal, you can heat a loaf right from the freezer.
Heating your bread directly from the freezer is always a compromise — it smells, feels and tastes fresh-baked when it's first out of the oven, but its charm fades as it cools. Reheating dries out the bread, no matter how careful you are, so any leftovers will quickly become stale and dry. Essentially, by warming the loaf, you've committed to eating it all in one evening. That's not usually a hardship, but it's something to be aware of. Here's a few directions on how to do it:
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Choose a clean kitchen towel, wet it with warm water, and then wring it out thoroughly. Remove the loaf from its packaging and wrap it in the damp towel.
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Over-wrap the loaf with aluminum foil, which traps the towel's moisture as it turns to steam.
Warm the bread in the pre-heated oven until it's heated all the way through — 20 to 30 minutes for most loaves. If it's a crusty, artisan-style loaf, unwrap the bread for the final 5 minutes so the crust can dry and regain its naturally crisp texture.
Let the bread rest for 5 to 10 minutes, until warm rather than hot, before slicing.
Judge thawing time by the type of bread and its size. Baguettes or flat, oblong European-style loaves might need only 15 to 20 minutes. Standard-sized sandwich loaves typically need 20 to 30 minutes, while a large, dense country-style boule of wheat or multigrain bread might require 40 minutes or more.
If you have more time at your disposal, and the bread doesn't need to go directly from your freezer to the table, it's best to let it thaw first. Remove the bread from its packaging, wrap it in a towel or paper towel to absorb any excess moisture as it thaws, and then place the bread in an airtight bag. After 2 to 3 hours on the countertop, it will be fully thawed. You can slice as much bread as you'll need for the meal, wrap it in foil, and warm it in just 5 minutes or so in a 400 F oven.
If you only eat a few slices of bread each day, your best bet is to slice the loaf before it's frozen. That way, you can pull out a serving any time you want it, without having to thaw — and potentially spoil — the remainder of the loaf. Sliced bread will thaw in just 5 to 10 minutes on the counter, protected from drying by a plastic sandwich bag.
To heat the thawed bread, you can microwave it for just a few seconds, or wrap it in foil and warm it in your toaster oven for 5 minutes at 350 to 400 F. If you plan to toast the bread, it can simply go into the toaster without thawing first.
For bread to be at its best when it's reheated, it should be frozen at its best. That moment comes shortly after the bread is baked, as soon as it has cooled to room temperature. Bag the loaves carefully, squeezing out as much air as possible before sealing each bag. Carefully wrapped unsliced loaves will retain their quality for 2 to 3 months. Sliced loaves aren't as durable, especially if you're opening the bag every day to take out a few slices, and should be used up within a month or so.