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Why Bread Goes Stale

Ever wonder why bread goes stale? What is “stale” bread anyway. It’s not just dried out…


Soda bread pan-fried in a little butter until it is golden brown and delicious.

Ahh, leftovers. When we had two teenagers living in the house it seemed like there was never enough food. Now that the nest is empty we often find ourselves with a little more food than we can finish in a meal. We’ve gotten so used to having leftovers for dinner that my husband will often ask, “Are we having leftovers for dinner?”, and I have to remind him that we actually have to make something to have something left over. There is no such thing as self perpetuating leftovers, unfortunately.

So now that I’ve made oatmeal soda bread, brown bread and corned beef for St. Patrick’s day I’m left with a 1/2 full container of buttermilk, 1/2 a corned beef and several partially eaten, slightly stale, loaves of bread. What to do? What to do?

Well, the buttermilk is easy. I use it in mashed potatoes, just replace regular milk with buttermilk. I love these mashed potatoes so much that I now buy buttermilk just to make the potatoes, and then I have left over buttermilk to use up so I make some scones…hmmm maybe there is such a thing as self perpetuating leftovers.

Of course left over corned beef is perfect for hash. I fry cubes of corned beef with onions, peppers and potatoes in a little butter until everything is crispy and top it with a fried egg. I’m pretty sure my husband prefers corned beef hash to the original dinner. But, honestly, he’s on board with anything that has a fried egg on top.


Blood orange marmalade is the perfect topping for pan-fried soda bread.

That leaves me with the stale bread.

What is stale bread anyway? Here’s Why Bread Goes Stale…

The reason day-old bread is crumbly and hard has less to do with loss of moisture and more to do with a process called retrogradation. As bread bakes the starch molecules in the dough gelatinize and absorb water. Once the bread is out of the oven and cooling the starch molecules begin to crystallize. The starch molecules need to solidify enough for you to be able to slice the bread without squishing it. But the process goes on after the bread is cooled. The starch molecules continue to crystallize and eventually release some of the water taken up during baking. Some of this moisture will migrate to the crust of the bread, which is why that nice crisp crust will become soft as the bread goes stale. Retrogradation, along with loss of moisture, is why bread goes stale.

Can This Bread Be Saved?

Yes, you can reverse staling if the bread is not too far gone. Reheating to 140°F will allow the starches to gelatinize and take in some of the lost moisture and the  crumbly texture is softened. That’s why toasting or re-heating slightly stale bread makes it more palatable.

To revive a whole loaf of bread just rub a little water over the crust, wrap it in foil and warm in the oven. Unwrap and return the loaf to the oven to crisp. It’ll be almost as good as new.

My favorite way to reheat slightly stale bread is to pan fry it in a little (ahem, maybe more than a little) butter. I use a cast iron skillet to get really great color on the bread. I do this with left over soda bread, muffins, scones, biscuits, well you get the picture. Top it with a little marmalade and you’ve got a delicious breakfast. I love the slightly bitter edge of the marmalade with the rich buttery bread.




Oatmeal Soda Bread with Apricots
Oatmeal Soda Bread with Apricots
blood orange bars 1a
Blood Orange Bars

kathy Cavanagh Blount

Monday 16th of March 2015

What great ideas! Who would have thought?…Guess YOU did. Thanks, great ideas

Eileen Gray

Monday 16th of March 2015

Thanks, Kathy. I hope you're enjoying the posts.