I’ve tried a lot of bread recipes over the years, and all my loaves have varying results. More often than not, I end up burning my bread or overbaking it until the crust is hard enough to chip a tooth.
For the longest time, I couldn’t help but wonder what secret techniques grocery stores and bakeries used to create perfect loaves with a delightfully soft crust. Did they whip the bread dough into submission? Did they add a special ingredient that kept the crust from hardening? Did they worship some unknown bread god or sacrifice flour, sugar, and yeast to the Pillsbury dough boy?
Turns out the secret to a softer crust isn’t as crazy or difficult as I initially thought. These simple methods will ensure each loaf bakes with a perfectly soft crust, every time.
1. Bake at Lower Temperatures
Many artisan bread recipes will have you cook your bread at a higher temperature to crisp the crust and then a lower temperature to ensure an even bake. My peasant bread recipe, for example, will have you cook your bread at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes and then at 375 for another 15 to 20 minutes. This technique gives the bread a flaky, slightly crisp crust.
But if you want a melt-in-your-mouth soft crust, you need a much lower temperature for a longer period. For sandwich bread and similar recipes, you’ll likely want a temperature between 325 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and to ensure an even bake, you’ll need to set aside anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour of oven time.
2. Brush With Butter
Few things feel more satisfying than slathering butter over a slice of fresh bread. But even though I love putting butter on after I’ve baked my bread, I often forget that you can put butter on before it goes in the oven.
As a repeat example, my peasant bread recipe requires that you brush the loaf with butter before you cook it. Butter contains fats that retain gases during baking, ensuring the dough rises properly in the oven and softening the crust.
If you forget to brush the dough before you bake, you can still apply it as soon as you take it out. The butter will minimize the amount of crisping a loaf will do as it cools.
3. Sweat It Out
If you want to lose weight, or you simply don’t want to use half a stick of butter with every loaf, don’t sweat it. Or rather, do sweat it.
Bread right out of the oven produces a lot of heat and steam. When the hot air hits the cold air, the water vapor condenses, or “sweats.” If you cover your bread with a towel or bowl, you can trap that water in your bread, resulting in a softer crust.
I’ve turned otherwise rock-hard loaves into soft, tasty treats this way. Of course, I’ve also had otherwise delicious loaves turn into soggy mushy balls of dough using this technique by accident, too.
4. Try a Recipe That Incorporates Milk
The most basic bread recipes require few ingredients: yeast, flour, sugar, and salt. Additional ingredients affect the texture, flavor, and rise of the bread. Eggs, for example, allow the bread to rise a little higher. Oils add flavor and improve the shelf life of your bread, but they also inhibit gluten formation, so your bread won’t rise as high.
When you add milk to your dough, the lactose (milk sugar) will add a subtle sweetness to your bread, and the milk proteins will increase its nutritional value. Better still, the milk fats help retain carbon monoxide gases during baking, so your loaf comes out softer.
If you want especially soft bread, use milk with a higher fat percentage, and try one of my recipes that use milk as a key ingredient. Take a look at the tags to the right, and click on the #milk.
5. Use a Pain de Mie Pan
You are probably already familiar with the typical bread pan. But have you ever tried a pain de mie, or Pullman loaf, pan?
A pain de mie pan has a sliding lid that keeps the bread covered during baking. It effectively traps in steam that normally evaporates during baking, and the shape allows for more symmetrical loaves, so it works well for sandwich bread.
You can purchase a Pullman loaf pan at a variety of brick-and-mortar stores, such as Walmart, but if you want to buy one online, you can find a Pullman pan on Amazon.com.
How Did Your Bread Turn Out?
These tips have helped me improve the texture of my bread, but I’d love to know how they helped you. Share your experiences in bread making in the comments below. If you have additional tips, please don’t hold back! I’d love to know how to make better bread.