Most people don’t realize that the final stage of baking bread is letting it cool properly. If you were to slice into a hot loaf of bread you would not be doing it any justice. To cool your loaves properly you need to quickly transfer your loaves from the oven and onto a wire cooling rack. The air that circulates around the bread will keep the crust from becoming soggy. As the breads cool, the process of starch retrogradation is completed and the water molecules move outward, evenly, toward the crust. If you were to cut into a hot loaf, the crumb is still too soft and the bread won’t slice neatly, it will tend to be gummy and stick to your knife. Allow your loaves to firm up and cool to about body temperature before slicing. Breads that can be eaten while they are still warm are rolls and baguettes, because the crust-to-crumb ratio is so high, and there is not much further internal cooking that has to take place.
Store your breads at room temperature preferably in a paper bag especially for sourdough, so that air can circulate around the bread. Breads that are made with commercial yeast can be stored in a plastic bag for a couple days. The crust will become soft, but you can easily re-crisp it by heating it in a 350 degree oven for five to ten minutes. Sourdough breads keep longer than commercially yeasted breads, up to several days. Don’t store your breads in the refrigerator, as this accelerates the staling process.
Bread can also be frozen in a plastic bag for several weeks. To reheat the bread, allow the frozen bread to come to room temperature, and then bake in a 350-degree oven to crisp up the crust just before serving.