Really good fresh bread is a thing of beauty. And so it's always a little disappointing to pick up your perfectly fresh bread from the day before (or a couple of days -- it happens, we know) and find it's already gone stale. But don't toss that once-perfect bread just yet. We've got a trick to bring it back to fresh-baked bread goodness, or if that doesn't work, we've got a few good ideas to use the stale bread up in delicious ways.
First things first, though. If your stale bread is also moldy, toss it. We all hate to create more food waste, but if it's already to that point, it's not worth saving. Second, if the bread is really tough, don't try to cut it. It doesn't matter how sharp your knife is; you're more likely to cut yourself than the bread and homemade croutons aren't worth almost losing a finger.
This two-step tip to revive stale bread works best on bread that hasn't been cut, though if part of the loaf is missing, you can work with that. It also works best on crusty bread like baguettes, sourdough or whole grain boules, or Italian loaves. Sorry, but this trick doesn't work on soft, sliced sandwich bread.
Step One: Get the bread wet.
That's right; stick that entire loaf of bread under running water. You don't have to soak the bread for long, but the crust does need to be wet to the touch. Really crusty bread isn't going soak up a lot of water unless you run the cut side under the faucet, which you don't need to do. Just get the crust damp. (However, if you do get the inside of the bread loaf wet, it's not a problem. This trick works even with a pretty saturated loaf of bread.)
Yes, running a loaf of bread under water is way weird. It goes against pretty much every standard operating procedure for bread. But there's science backing this idea up...
Step Two: Place the bread in a preheated oven.
And that science happens when you put the wet bread in a warm oven for a few minutes. The water turns to steam in the heat of the oven, which rehydrates the inside of the bread and helps recrisp the crust.
Preheat your oven to 300°F and then place the damp bread right on the oven rack. The time the bread needs to stay in the oven will depend on the size of the loaf and if the inside of the loaf is wet, so start checking it after six or seven minutes. You'll know when it's done -- your kitchen will smell of freshly baked bread and the bread will look perfect.
Now all that's left to do is grab your good butter, olive oil, or favorite jam and settle in for a tasty bite of bread.
We promise this genius trick works but there are a few ways to use that stale loaf by design, too. French toast and bread pudding both work best with stale bread, since the drier bread is better for soaking up all the egg and custard goodness. You can also use the day-old bread in bread soup or, for bread that's too hard to cut with a knife, run it through your food processor to make bread crumbs.