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To Cool, or Not to Cool

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Sonja asks via Twitter:

“Do I HAVE to let bread (quick or yeasted) cool to room temp before slicing into it?

Hi, Sonja,

Of course you do not. I expect that the first few loaves that anyone makes, or the first couple of loaves you’ve taken a break from bread baking and start back up again, will be eaten fresh from the oven. How can any human being resist the joy of letting the butter melt onto the bread from its initial baking heat? No human can, so indulge.

But.

Now that you’ve gotten past the initial, visceral reaction, and you’ve indulged your id, it’s time to think about what you’re losing. Because you are losing something. Take a look at the following picture:

Do you see those big holes in the crumb (the crumb is the part of bread that isn’t the crust)? Look just to the right of the center, and see that bit that’s so thin that you can almost see through it, but it’s still solid. All of the structure of the crumb will disappear if you cut into the bread early.

Like anything you cook, bread isn’t finished baking when you take it out of the oven. All you’ve done is set the stage for the bread to bake. Aside from the lovely gluten which forms your structure and allows those lovely holes to come into existence, another part of the interior of the bread is starch. When you heat up starch, it absorbs water and spreads out and fills in a lot of nooks and crannies. There’s a lovely sheen on a properly baked crumb, and that comes from the starch. 

When you just remove the bread from the oven, the starch is still filled with water and relatively pliable. If you cut into a loaf at this point, you are exerting a lot of pressure in one direction, which squishes the bread. If the starch is still hot and filled with water, that’ll stick the bread together like a group of third graders who escaped supervision in a paste factory. When it does cool and dry, it’ll dry stuck together in a gummy fashion, and there’s nothing you can do to save it.

Let the bread rest between 20 and 45 minutes, depending on if your will is of bronze or of iron. If you can make it 45 minutes, you should have about as lovely of a loaf of bread as you can bake. Twenty will do well, and you won’t be disappointed, but 45 is better.

The same goes for quick breads, but it’s not quite as urgent. The holes are much smaller, and you’re generally more concerned with the goodness inside than the structure, but you’ll still be better off waiting until it cools somewhat. 

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  • User avater
    TheFoodGeek | 04/26/2010

    Thank you, gayleo.

    PrettyKitteh, I have to say that I'm not personally a fan of raw bread dough, but if it makes you happy, that's the important thing. As for the second warming, the water has already been drawn out of the starch, so it won't have a chance to go gummy again.

  • User avater
    saskgayle | 04/15/2010

    Great info. I always knew it was best to leave the bread alone 'til it cooled off but know I know WHY. Love the 3rd grade analogy. Tooo funny.

  • PrettyKitteh | 04/15/2010

    ....well, I've perfected eating bread before it even gets in the oven. I love raw bread dough, in fact, haven't met a dough or batter I don't like to eat. In spite of that many loaves of bread do make it into the oven. I live in a very humid climate and find that it is best to let the bread cool completely but then I pop it back in the oven before serving to warm through and crisp up the crust. For some reason that second warming doesn't seem to cause any trouble with crushing the air pockets. I also find a decent bread knife also cleanly slices through the bread which helps too.

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