Why You Shouldn't Slice Into Fresh Baked Bread Before It's Cool

Homemade bread – if we could make a candle out of it, we would. There are few aromas as universally swoon-worthy as bread fresh out of the oven. It makes you want to dig in and tear that crispy crust apart, right? But, hold off. A burnt mouth isn't the only thing you're risking by slicing your hot bread too soon.

Most home bakers know that there's a huge host of mistakes that can affect your finished loaf, like grabbing the wrong type of flour, forgetting salt, or using dead yeast. But even if you nail all these other factors, slicing into fresh bread before it's cool can ruin your loaf.

For an optimal slice, Fine Cooking recommends letting most standard-sized loaves rest for 45 minutes before cutting in. However, this might not be a one-size-fits-all standard. Gareth Busby, founder of Busby's Bakery School, says that a thorough cool-down can take anywhere from two hours for crusty breads to six hours for denser whole grain loaves — so be patient. It isn't just a cruel misnomer: The wait is backed by science. 

How does it work? And why is it necessary? 

Starch retrogradation is still happening

The crucial process here is starch retrogradation. Cooks Illustrated explains that when starch is cooked with water, the starch molecules absorb the water, expand, and soften. This process is called "gelation," and the reverse of gelation is called "retrogradation." Retrogradation is the part where starch products harden and gain their structure. That's why it's important to let that bread cool: Retrogradation is transforming your mushy starch into a sliceable loaf with that aesthetically-pleasing crumb pattern. To help retrogradation along, Crust Kingdom suggests using a wire baking rack to cool; Air can circulate around the loaf, and also prevent a soggy bottom.

In addition to a gummy loaf, slicing too soon can also make the opposite happen and dry out your bread. Cutting into bread fresh out of the oven creates a massive hole through which steam can quickly escape. While that might be great for preventing a burnt mouth, your bread loses moisture when all that steam rushes out at once, per Food 52. Letting the steam seep out naturally, over a greater length of time (aka letting it cool down) helps you avoid ending up with a dry loaf tomorrow. When it has finally cooled, Epicurious recommends using a serrated knife with deep serrations to slice.