Does bread ever get too stale to be useful for something?
February 19, 2007 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Does bread ever get too stale to be useful for something?

Most of the breadcrumb recipes (if you can call them that) I've seen call for "just stale" bread, or stale bread pieces that are collected in the freezer. But what if you have no freezer and it's been sitting on the counter for a week or even a month, and completely dried out (not moldy)?

Is that bread still usable for breadcrumbs? For other things?
posted by Caviar to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Bread pudding works. French toast probably wouldn't if it's totally dried out like that.
posted by serazin at 11:20 AM on February 19, 2007

In some other AskMe thread on this very subject (which I am too lazy to look up), someone posted an idea for stale bread which totally rocked my bread world:

- soak stale bread slices in milk for a couple seconds
- sauté in olive oil until golden brown
- serve with honey and walnuts

I can't believe how good this is. I deliberately leave bread out to stale now just so I can eat this.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:22 AM on February 19, 2007 [11 favorites]

Note that my question is not specifically about uses for stale bread, but at what point bread is too stale to be usable, if it ever reaches that point.
posted by Caviar at 11:36 AM on February 19, 2007

Try it, dude.
posted by grobstein at 11:39 AM on February 19, 2007

Breadcrumbs would be fine.

If you have a baguette that's stale, or just find yourself with too many baguettes, make up a little pesto or flavored olive oil, brush slices of baguette with it, and make yourself some yummy crunchy things in a low oven (200-250 or so). They're good party food.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:40 AM on February 19, 2007

No, bread does not get too stale to be useful for something.

Yes, the bread is still usable for breadcrumbs.

Yes, other things. (I would specify, but you asked that we not do so.)
posted by desuetude at 11:44 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't think staling ever makes bread poisonous, if that's what you are asking. I suspect you're going to get a lot of recipes because really stale bread is, AFAIK, only useful when it is revived to a cuttable/chewable format. Crushing it to breadcrumbs certainly seems like a good application, although it might not be all that easy to reduce a brick to crumbs in a controlled way that is also safe to eat.

(I suppose rock-hard stale bread could be used as-is if you were using it as a projectile or structural material. )
posted by janell at 11:44 AM on February 19, 2007

Staling is a change in the configuration of the starch in the bread. It remains "usable" when stale - it just doesn't have a desirable flavor or texture. Most recipes involving stale bread either regelate its crystallized starch (eg panzanella, where the stale bread is first soaked in water, then dressed) or else toast it (eg breadcrumbs).

The bread is no longer edible once it has been colonized by spoilage organisms.

For more, see Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking.
posted by goetter at 11:48 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Stale bread, baugettes especially, are great for french toast.
posted by hatchetjack at 12:11 PM on February 19, 2007

The key thing to remember is that bread is flour, salt, water, and yeast. Bread really "spoil" (go rancid) the way that other food does because it lacks fat, milk or anything that naturally decomposes (like vegetable matter).

I'd be wary of bread that had egg (challah), cheese, or anything other than maybe olives (which are cured and fairly resistant to spoilage).

The only funny scene in The Corsican Brothers has them breaking out of a French prison by prying the bars with day-old baguettes.
posted by mkultra at 12:31 PM on February 19, 2007

I'm going to buck the trend on this and say that even if it doesn't spoil, the flavor of the bread will eventually suffer, perhaps significantly, from sitting around at room temperature. For one thing, any oils in the bread will go rancid, which is a chemical process rather than a bilogical one. Also, the bread can absorb any objectionable flavors or aromas that it is exposed to. Taste and smell the bread before using it and you will know if these things have happened. Birds and dogs are not so picky and will enjoy the bread even if it tastes off to you.
posted by TedW at 12:44 PM on February 19, 2007

Addendum: I did not mean to imply the bread would automatically be unsafe, just that it might taste bad.
posted by TedW at 12:45 PM on February 19, 2007

Lean, crusty breads (like baguettes, pain au levain, and most sourdoughs) stale better than enriched breads (soft white loaves, multigrain breads, jalapeno-cheese bread, etc). Because they're not enriched with perishable ingredients (like butter, milk, etc), they're less likely to mold and more likely to just go rock-hard.

When I had a food processor, I'd just throw stale bread in there to make quick breadcrumbs. Now I grate it by hand (takes longer, but it still makes delicious chicken parm).

Another suggestion: Migas (recipes 1, 2, 3). I like to make mine somewhat larger chunks of bread (maybe 1/2-inch pieces) with chorizo, paprika, garlic, scrambled eggs, and halved fresh grapes. It's delicious -- the staled bread gets crispy and absorbs all the flavors.
posted by ourobouros at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Italians will eat a very hard, dry, stale style of bread called biscotti. Basically just chunks of rock-hard dry bread, they shape up very nicely when soaked in water for a bit, drizzled with balsamic vinegar & olive oil, and sprinkled with dried oregano, salt & pepper.

Doesn't exactly answer your question, though. We buy this stuff from delicatessens now, but I have no doubt it was a way of reviving stale bread in the old days.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2007

What grobstein said.

Also, even a rock-hard piece of bread can be soaked in water as long as necessary to make a mush that is then suitable for pappa al pomodoro, or mixing with meat to make meatballs.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:17 PM on February 20, 2007

In fact, I did try it. After grinding up a three week old baguette in the food processor, the resulting crumbs had a very distinct and fairly strong stale odor, and the process produced a lot of very fine dust in addition to the crumbs. There was no odor beforehand, no visible mold, and the bread was dry enough that it broke into pieces easily by hand.

Will toasting eliminate the stale odor?

To elaborate on my question a bit - I'm looking for examples of recipes that specifically call for really old bread. Biscotti are typically twice-baked cookies that are intentionally made that hard, not old bread that's been left out.

Specifically, I'm looking for the point at which less than fresh bread stops being pleasant food (or an ingredient in pleasant food) for humans.
posted by Caviar at 8:55 AM on February 21, 2007

"Stale odor" makes me wonder how your bread was stored. Was it wrapped up? Was it kept near fruit, or in the fridge, or somewhere else where it could have picked up an odor? Or, it might have gotten just a little moldy -- enough to impart an off-flavor, but not clearly visible.

You should trust your nose before any advice/expiration dates/etc. If it smells funky, it's probably not good for you anymore.

Thinking back on it, I don't leave my bread to stale on the counter for more than a week or two. If I feel like keeping the stale bread around, I generally throw it into the freezer in a plastic bag, which keeps it moldless and odor-free.

I have had good results using very old bread (months in the freezer) to make toasted breadcrumbs (in a large frying pan, with a little bit of oil, garlic, and spice). However, if the bread itself is questionable, then you'll just be covering up the off flavors with the stronger flavors of garlic/spice.

And, one more note: sifting the resulting breadcrumbs through a regular wire mesh strainer will give you some control over particle size. The dust might actually work really well for some recipes (fried chicken, maybe?), while the crumbs can be used in the standard breadcrumb way.
posted by ourobouros at 9:23 AM on February 21, 2007

It was wrapped loosely in the paper bag it came in, and left to sit in a wire mesh bin near the rest of my dry pantry stuff. I can't think of anything it would have picked up odors from. A slight mold is possible, but then that begs the question - if this bread, a hard plain bageuette, picked up mold when being left to stale, it seems like all bread would as well.

I understand about saving old bread in the freezer, but that's another preservation technique and that bread is basically the same as "day old" bread.
posted by Caviar at 10:57 AM on February 21, 2007

It was wrapped loosely in the paper bag it came in, and left to sit in a wire mesh bin near the rest of my dry pantry stuff. I can't think of anything it would have picked up odors from.

Bread can pick up odors that your nose doesn't even notice. Eau de pantry will indeed make your bread taste stale, especially if the pantry is at all enclosed. The bread is better off on the counter than in a pantry -- at least the air circulates more.
posted by desuetude at 11:58 AM on February 21, 2007

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