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Old 08-28-2012, 11:32 PM   #1
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ISO comments re/cloth bags for bread?

From time to time I read about keeping bread in a cloth bag. It sounds counterintuitive to me. I live in a damp climate (west coast just about right on the water) and my bread dries out in a couple of days. I usually use plastic bags. My friend who lives nearby has a problem with mouldy bread. Sometimes I envy her -- at least her bread is moist!


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Old 08-29-2012, 05:17 AM   #2
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Some old cookbooks suggest wrapping bread in a clean tea towel or a damp tea towel. I think this was simply a case of using what was available to them. I think if the old girls had some wax paper or plastic wrap they would have used it.

In your friends case, living in a damp climate the cloth might wick away the moisture from the bread into the cloth to reduce the chance of mold. I would go to the extra step of putting the diapered bread into a plastic bag.

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Old 08-29-2012, 09:51 AM   #3
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To get a grip on keeping bread after baking, you have to understand that bread going stale is not just a matter of it drying. The bread continues to undergo internal changes after baking. It is thought that starches are altered in baking so that they absorb water, and during storage, the starches revert somewhat to the former state and release water. The water is taken up by the gluten, changing the bread's texture. And, understandably, the crust, being dry, draws water from the interior, changing both crust and crumb.

Storing bread in the refrigerator speeds those changes. (Freezing does not, but that's a different longer-term storage.) So, water is moving around, and changes are taking place. You can see why a tightly sealed bag encourages mold in the crust as it takes on water. A cloth bags and ventilated bread boxes are about as good as you can do, and both are really no better than leaving it out, except for bugs and dirt and such (and the temptation of seeing fresh bread every time you walk by - but fresh bread being out in a kitchen sure looks homey).

Plastic bags can do nothing to retard the natural changes going on and can merely encourage mold. The phrase, "day-old bread" means something. Most breads do not keep well beyond the first day. The may be palatable on the second or even third day, but they are not unchanged. So that's subject to the individual's tolerance. Second-day bread is, however, almost always fit for toasting, if done at a high enough temperature to reconvert the starches, which reverses many of the changes we interpret as having gone stale.

Different breads do better after baking. Baguettes and other lean dough breads don't last long. Wet dough breads last a bit longer.

And, of course, we understand we're not talking here about the chemically engineered abominations sold in supermarkets as plastic-bagged bread in a partially cooked state to give it "shelf-life."
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Old 08-29-2012, 11:12 AM   #4
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I, too, live in California steps from the Pacific ocean. Store bought breads go into the refrigerator in their own plastic bags, minus the cellophane wrap. That's good for about a week. Home baked bread and the Boudin sourdough I buy in San Francisco, I put into Debbie Meyer Bread Bags. I buy the sourdough loaves 6 at a time, have the Boudin Bakery put them into the bread bags, and when I get home one goes on the counter and five go into the chest freezer.
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Old 08-29-2012, 11:41 PM   #5
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To "GLC" -- Thanks for all the details! I have a science background and this is the kind of information I need to satisfy myself.
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