Remember that loaf of sliced Italian white you stuffed in the freezer? You just came into some prime prosciutto di Parma, so now would be a good time to defrost it. If you’ve done this before only to be disappointed by dry, stale bread, your technique could use some tweaks. We’re here to help: Here are some tips for how to thaw frozen bread, plus how to freeze it correctly in the first place.
How to Prep Bread for Freezing
It’s a sad day when we see our favorite loaf of sourdough creeping towards expiration. If the loaf will go moldy before you can finish it, the freezer can save it from the garbage can. The fresher the bread when it goes in, the fresher it’ll taste when it’s thawed, so freeze it ASAP once you realize it’ll likely go to waste if left out.
First, think about what you’ll use the bread for once it’s thawed. Sandwich bread should be sliced before freezing. Crusty baguettes or loaves that aren’t precut can technically be frozen whole, but cutting them into slices or at least quarters will make defrosting easier. If you *really* for some reason want to leave it whole, just be prepared to wait longer for it to thaw.
Wrap the bread in clear plastic wrap before freezing (either slices or loaves). Don’t skimp, either; a small air gap can leave the bread susceptible to exposure and freezer burn. If the package of bread is unopened, pop the whole thing in its original bag in the freezer. If it’s been opened, remove the original packaging. To freeze individual slices, wrap each in plastic wrap and foil (if you want to be extra safe), then stick them in a freezer bag before storing. This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s your best chance against freezer burn. To freeze a whole loaf, wrap it in plastic and foil, stuff it in a grocery bag or two, wrap it tightly and store. If you’re worried it’ll get crushed, put the whole wrapped loaf in an airtight container. Slices and whole loaves should both last about six months in the freezer.
Whatever you do, don’t store your bread in the fridge. It can speed up the hardening of starch molecules in the bread, making it go stale faster. Store-bought bread contains preservatives that can more or less protect it in the refrigerator (though the freezer is always a better bet), but when it comes to homemade bread, it’s a recipe for trouble.
If You’ve Frozen Individual Slices
Thawing sometimes takes a little patience, but there are a few ways to speed things up. If you froze individual slices, you can pop a frozen slice straight into the toaster or the toaster oven on the defrost setting. You can also use the microwave or oven to prevent being left with stale bread. Place the slices uncovered on a microwave-safe plate and nuke them for 15 to 25 seconds. Don’t have a microwave? Bake them in the oven for a few minutes at 350°F. Both methods help fight retrogradation, the process of starch molecules absorbing the bread’s moisture, which leads to dry, stale bread.
If you have lots of time on your hands, there’s always the old-school method of letting it warm up to room temperature at its natural pace. Set the slices on the kitchen counter and let it slowly defrost. It could take a few hours, so consider taking it out the night before you plan to use it.
If You’ve Frozen a Whole Loaf
It’ll take longer to thaw an entire frozen loaf on the countertop than individual slices, so give yourself enough time to let it warm up. Leaving it in the fridge overnight works too. Once it’s at room temperature, put it on a baking sheet and warm it up in the oven at 350°F for about ten minutes. This helps revive a crispy crust and ensures the center of the loaf is thawed. You can also skip the countertop step and go straight for the oven; it’ll just need to stay in there longer (about a half hour, give or take).
How to Keep Bread Fresh Once It’s Thawed
Air is bread’s biggest threat. It sucks out its moisture, leaving you with a crusty, stale loaf. This is why the best place to store it is wrapped tightly and stashed away at room temperature. If you don’t have a bread box, the microwave will keep air out and maintains steady temperature and humidity.
Just remember that bread shouldn’t be refrozen, so only thaw what you’re going to eat within a day or two max. It’ll harden quickly if it isn’t eaten before then. You also shouldn’t refreeze bread that’s been defrosted. Heating it up releases its moisture and you won’t be able to get it back after a second stint in the freezer.