What aging bread can learn from brown bananas
I haven’t bought a loaf of bread for myself since 2014. I was living in New Zealand, and the food is pretty unremarkable.
Their produce was good, their bar food was fine, and I was in love with a little bulk food store near my place. But the restaurants? The Bakeries? I was living in a trailer park in Te Puke when I decided to start baking my own bread, and I continued to do so as I hitch-hiked across down the country, where I eventually found myself living in a little ply-wood shack in Christchurch. It was pretty cold, and I liked to point out that my room was heated by the refrigerator, and one day I did the math and realized that most of the time my living quarters were actually colder than my fridge. I mean, I was storing food in the fridge out of habit and for good form, but it turns out that putting stuff in the fridge was actually serving to heat it up.
It was at this time that I cultured a cold-tolerant sour-dough. I didn’t bring it back to Canada with me (because most homes in Canada are constructed with something we like to call insulation), even though I was quite proud of it. Sometimes you just have to let go.
But it’s pretty easy to start your own sour dough. And if you happen to also make your own kombucha, you can have your starter ‘from scratch’ in less than a day.
For the most part, I worked out my bread systems by trial and error, and avoided the online baking culture and a lot of the terminology that seems to go with it. A lot of problems I was having were a matter of timing, and while the optimal duration of the first and second rise seem to vary from loaf to loaf, it is the post-bake timing that I wish to discuss today.
Because the thing is, I usually can’t comfortably eat a whole loaf of bread before it goes bad. And so timing has become a thing.
Once it’s out of the oven, I will leave it exposed for a day or two while I slice it. I don’t have a bread box, and if you put it in a bag too early you will end up with a lot of condensation (which will enhance mould formation and reduce the lifespan of your bread).
By the third day I’ll put it in a plastic bag, and a day or two after this, it has to go into the fridge (it seems to grow mould even more quickly if it’s not sourdough – when I make bread with ‘store-bought yeast’ I doubt it can last until the third day without growing mould), But that will only get you so much more time, and then it’s got to go into the freezer.
And at this point I must share with you a treasured innovation.
A friend of mine once told me that when he freezes bananas for banana bread, he peels the bananas first. This brilliant – because the peel isn’t doing anything for you when it’s frozen, while peeling a frozen banana can be a pain in the ass. So why freeze the peel??
To be sure, tossing a brown or black banana in the freezer whole is incredibly convenient. But putting the peeled bananas in a container in the freezer saves that trouble of an ice-cold unpeeled banana — you won’t have to mess with the frozen banana: just thaw and smash.
And so, considering the significance of pre- and post- freezer processing led me to start slicing my bread before it went into the freezer – this being the optimal time to slice it.
Sure, if you are buying wonderbread, it’s already sliced, because that stuff lasts forever without getting mouldy. But when you slice bread, you are increasing it’s surface area and thus it will mould and/or dry out more quickly. So it’s usually best to slice it as you require portions of your loaf.
But when it’s time to admit that you aren’t going to finish it before it moulds, I have found it best to slice it before putting it in the freezer. These frozen slices can be taken out as needed and prepped in the toaster at leisure.