Home-made bread's freshness
I've made home-made with fairly good success in the past. However, no matter how great the bread is, 99% of the time by the second day that it's baked, it would have gone stale or hard. Exception for bread with tons of fat and eggs, like a brioche or cinnamon buns. Sure a little toasting can sort of bring it back, but overall it's just not good eats.
How come store bread doesn't have that problem? If you say because they add preservatives, how come I don't see that on the ingridents' label? And even the 'good ones' like Grace Baking or Acme? (I guess good compared to Safeway brand etc.)
Is that just something I have to accept as a home baker? Eat bread the same day it's made? We are a family of two, we can't eat that fast!
For most of history, the goal was to have stale bread, not fresh. Stale bread has many more uses in a subsistence diet than fresh bread does. The whole point of soups, gruels and porridges in Western cuisine -- the fundamental food of peasants for millennia -- was to make long-term use of stale bread. Fresh bread had limited usefulness. Think of stale bread as the grain equivalent to cheese vis-a-vis milk/cream.
I make my own very wheaty bread each week. After the first day, I just store it on the counter in a zip lock bag and it's ok that way for another 2 days. However, I do toast it b/c I always prefer toasted bread to anything that's not extremely fresh. However, I've also made PB&J sandwiches to take to work and found it to be edible, though a bit tough. still, it's not bad left in a plastic bag...
It's interesting because my brother and I were discussing this: he lives in Florida, I live in NYC. His homemade bread goes stale within a day and moldy within 2-3, mine stays fresh for at least two days (although it's NEVER as good the second day - my favorite cookbook only recommends eating it the day you make it) and doesn't turn moldy for at least a week, sometimes longer.
Could your weather/geography play into it?
Home-baked bread ages fast, so I agree with everyone who says it should be frozen if you're not going to eat it immediately. I don't understand what you say about the "good" breads - I've bought Acme and thought it was fabulous when absolutely fresh but distinctly different a day later. It's more noticeable with the crusty light breads like baguettes and less so with the dense chewy ones.
I guess 'good bread' are ciabatta or walnut cranberry bread from Acme and the likes. They do lose something after the first day, but it's still edible on 2nd or 3rd day. While mine tend to go kaput after the first day.
But it seems like the general concensus is that that's the way it is. I have to freeze/toast and live with it.
I bake all of our whole grain sandwich bread. As soon as it's cool, I slice, bag and freeze it. I can then remove as many slices as I need later, and it thaws quickly at room temperature. If I'm making sandwiches to take to work and eat later, I don't bother to thaw the bread first, as it will be perfect by the time it's eaten.
Store bought bread (as in pre-sliced bread packaged in plastic bags) does contain a small amount of preservatives that is written in the form of propionic acid, sodium propionate, calcium propionate (most commomly used in bread preservative), potassium propionate, and whey powder (considered as a "natural" preservative, so bread companies don't have to consider it as a preservative).
For storing your home baked bread, I would keep it in the freezer after the first day of baking. Unless of course, your bread contains some type of fat to prolong the life of your bread.
Unfortunately, fresh bread doesn't usually last very long. You can try freezing what you don't want to eat in the next day or so. That usually works for me.
Also, I think I remember reading in one of Nigella Lawson's cookbooks that if you use the water from boiling potatoes, rather than plain water, in your bread it helps the bread keep a little longer. I've tried this and I haven't really noticed a difference, but it's worth a shot.
I've made most of our bread now for years, and what's interesting is that I've noticed my bread lasts much longer than the supermarket stuff before going stale or getting moldy.
I make a fairly rich bread, but nothing like a brioche: 1 egg, 2Tbsp oil, 2Tbsp sugar, 2 tsp salt, 1-1/4 C water or milk, enough flour to make a dough. I close the bread tightly in plastic bags with twist tie closures to store it, and it lasts on the counter for quite a long time without any deterioration in quality.
What kind of bread do you make?
commercial store bought white bread certainly contains preservatives as somebody noted below. Breads made with starters or multifermentation steps (country bread types) tend to keep longer than faster versions, which most of our american bread types are.
Go for a traditional rye or country style loaf, rather than a baguette, "cuban bread" or classic white bread and you will see. the wet dough southern italian breads, and french country loaves, which use starters and multi fermentation steps are good examples of long-keepers with their hard crusts and holely elastic interiors.
In addition to drying out, homemade breads, if moist, are especially vulnerable to molding. If you are not going to use your bread up within a day or two, its good to freeze it as soon as it cools.
we store our breads cut side down on the cutting board, not in a bag or in the refrig - it seems to stay fresh better that way, but for american style breads, freezing is the answer for keeping.