While you're not supposed to store bread in the fridge, you can freeze bread if you think it's going to go stale or get moldy. But how do you freeze bread so it doesn't get dry and crusty before you have a chance to enjoy it? And how do you defrost bread properly without destroying it in the process?
The first step is to make sure that no air can get to your loaf while it's in the freezer. According to the experts at Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, MI, that means removing the bread from its original packaging and either double-bagging the loaf in plastic bags or tightly wrapping it in plastic wrap so that no air can get in. And you want to freeze the bread as soon as you can. As Zingerman's managing partner Frank Carollo explains, "The fresher the bread is that goes into the freezer, the more moisture will remain in the bread when it comes out of the freezer."
Carollo doesn't recommend keeping bread frozen for more than a couple of months, though it's not necessarily a problem if you do. "There’s nothing that can harm you that will happen," he says, but the quality of the bread will almost certainly decline the longer it's kept frozen. "That will allow some of the moisture to condense on the inside of the plastic and at some point, at some length of time you’ll end up having a little freezer burn," he says.
Once you're ready to defrost the bread, you have two options. The first is pretty straightforward. Preheat your oven to 350°F, take the bread out of the freezer, remove the plastic, and place the whole frozen loaf into the now-hot oven. Let the loaf bake for about 40 minutes to revive it. While 40 minutes sounds like a long time, this particular procedure works great, according to Carollo, leaving you with bread that smells and tastes like it's freshly baked (because it kind of is).
If you don't want to run your oven that long though, you can first let the loaf of bread defrost on your counter for a few hours. Once it's soft, take the plastic off the bread, and bake the loaf in the oven at 350°F for 10 or 15 minutes. Be sure to keep the loaf inside the plastic wrap as it comes to room temperature. Otherwise you'll lose all the moisture, and the defrosted bread will be sad and dry.
Don't try to refreeze defrosted bread. "Once you put it in the oven like this, you should plan to consume whatever whole piece you have at one sitting," Carollo says. "Heating it up again will release the water cells and make it seem moist and steamy like it just came out of an oven. But then it will lose all of that moisture." Trying to refreeze the loaf will be pointless because it'll get rock hard.
That's why Carollo recommends freezing the loaf in smaller chunks, even going so far as cutting the bread into slices before wrapping it in plastic and freezing. That way, he explains, "you can get a really nice effect by just popping it into a toaster. Then you can eat the loaf one slice at a time for as long as that takes you," rather than sit there and eat an entire defrosted loaf in a single sitting. (But if that's what you're into, there's no judgment here.)