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Retrieving your loaf from the oven, smelling so great, it can be so tempting to dive right into it.
But cutting into warm bread isn’t always the best idea as the bread hasn’t quite finished the baking process. Cooling bread can be seen as the last important step in making bread.
Bread should be allowed to cool until it is around body temperature before slicing to allow the interior to set. Rolls and baguettes will take 30 minutes, small loaves 1 hour, and larger loaves and sourdough around 2 hours.
I’ve put together some tips on how to cool the bread and what to do if you don’t have a cooling rack. Firstly, let’s look at why we need to cool it for so long.
How Long You Should Wait
Loaves of bread with a smaller crumb-to-crust ratio, such as baguettes, are not as critical to cool fully. But large, dense loaves are really important to cool properly before slicing.
I find sourdough the longest to cool – I think it is the long fermentation period.
This also depends on the size of the bread. Smaller loaves and rolls will take a shorter time to cool. Homemade sourdough and crusty artisan loaves might take up to 2 hours.
You can eat bread straight from the oven, but it is not fully developed in terms of flavor and texture. You might also struggle to cut the bread because the inside is still very wet and gummy.
Bread is best cooled until only slightly warm before slicing as the texture and flavor are still developing. Bread takes so long to cool because it is initially still cooking when it comes out of the oven. The bread is still very hot inside and contains lots of steam.
You do not have to wait until it is completely cold. A bit warmer than room temperature is best (around body temperature) that way you can still enjoy the experience of warm, freshly baked bread.
But I wouldn’t advise eating it right out of the oven. A short wait is better than no wait!
A good bread knife is key if you don’t have one already. I recommend this top-rated Mercer bread knife off Amazon which slices cleanly and effortlessly as it’s so sharp.
Why Bread Needs To Cool Before Cutting
The interior starch of the bread turns into a gummy, paste-like consistency when it cooks. As the bread cools, this interior returns to a solid state. If we cut too early then it will be difficult to slice cleanly, the bread will tear and the knife will have gummy residue.
The cooling period is important as it finishes the development of the crumb. See it as the final bit of cooking the bread. If you skip it, you miss out on the best your bread can be.
While it is tempting to cut open freshly baked bread, it is always better to allow it to cool.
It’s also important for storage – we need to allow it to cool and dry before we cover it up otherwise we can see mold form.
Why The Crumb Is Not Finished Setting
When the bread is cooking, the starch in the flour gets hot and hydrated in the oven. It gets gelatinized – think molten jelly-like dough. This is why the inside is weak and sticky when hot.
Once the bread starts to cool, the process starts to reverse. The starch starts to recrystallize, and this causes it to firm up. This sets the crumb in place, gives the bread strength to not collapse, and allows us to cut nice clean slices.
The starch has swollen up with water and releases it later – the basics of bread going stale.
When it cools the excess moisture in the starch is let out which dries the bread. The process continues for days until the bread goes fully stale.
How To Cool Bread After Baking
To cool the bread there are two main methods. The main goal is to allow air to circulate around the bottom and stop the underside from steaming itself and becoming soggy.
The first option is to place it on a wire rack so that air can circulate fully. Most people have a wire rack in their kitchen and it works as a straightforward way to raise the bread.
You can buy a cheap wire rack on Amazon if you don’t have one.
The second way is to turn the bread on its side so that the base of the bread is not touching the worktop. Just rest the bread loaves up against something that won’t move. If you don’t have a wire rack or you’ve cooked lots of bread, you can do this instead.
Avoid Covering Bread When Cooling
You should not cover bread while it is cooling. When the bread is cooling, water is evaporating from the interior crumb. If you were to cover the bread then this moisture will condense on the crust and go soft.
To keep the crust nice and crunchy we want to have air circulate around the surface. That’s why elevating the bread is a good idea and avoid covering it for the first day.
Once it is cool, you can store bread uncovered for day one. After this, you can transfer it to a cloth bag or wrap it in a kitchen towel which slightly maintains the crust crispness.
After a few days, the bread should be stored airtight which will stop it from going stale, but the crust will turn soft.
How Long To Let Bread Cool Before Wrapping
Bread should be left until it reaches room temperature before it is wrapped. This is because the interior is still evaporating steam and this will condense and form a soggy crust if wrapped too early.
The time it takes depends on the size of the loaf and how dense the crumb is. For a medium-large size sourdough, this will be around 2-3 hours.
Cooling Bread Overnight
If you make bread in the evening you can leave freshly baked bread out on the counter to cool overnight and it will not be stale by the morning. You can do this uncovered which is best because steam is still evaporating. The bread will become soggy if you cover it.
The bread will be fine overnight because it has a firm crust which keeps the outside crunchy but keeps the interior moist.
Homemade bread stays good uncovered for about a day. After this point, it will start drying out and going stale. If you’ve cut it, place the cut side down to protect the interior crumb.
How To Cool Bread Without A Cooling Rack
To cool bread without a cooling rack you can balance bread on its side and rest it against something firm. This allows air to circulate around the bottom to stop it from going soggy.
This is better in round-shaped loaves rather than loaves made in a loaf pan because rectangular-shaped bread still has a flat side to go soggy.
I hope I’ve answered all your questions about how long to cool bread before cutting.
It is very tempting to cut open warm bread from the oven – it smells so good! Most bakers know that waiting a little bit longer is an important last step in making great bread.
Next time you make bread, make enough dough for two loaves. You can then try one that has been cut early and one that has been cut after fully cooling and see the difference for yourself. Both are two very tasty loaves with completely different outcomes.