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Why Dry Bread and Stale Bread Aren’t the Same Thing

By Lan Lam Published

Stale bread and bread dried in the oven are both hard. But don’t be fooled into thinking they’re interchangeable.

For stuffing, bread pudding, and bread salads that are moist and flavorful, not overly soggy, the bread you start with is critical. We conducted an experiment to show how stale bread and oven-dried bread have very different capacities for absorbing liquid.

Experiment

We made a batch of bread crumbs with stale bread and another batch with dried bread and put each in a measuring cup. We added 3 ounces of water to each cup and let the mixtures sit for 10 minutes. We then tried to unmold them.

Results

The oven-dried bread absorbed the water so well that it formed a solid puck that wouldn’t budge from the cup. The stale bread, on the other hand, failed to absorb as much liquid, and the watery bread crumbs spilled right out.

Takeaway

Stale bread may feel firm and dry, but it has hidden reserves of water. Its firmness is the result of a process known as retrogradation, whereby cooked starch molecules slowly rearrange themselves into a brittle, crystalline structure that traps moisture already in the bread and limits its ability to absorb more. And that’s a problem, because absorption is needed, whether you’re making a panade with bread crumbs or a stuffing with bread cubes. But you can still use your stale bread in stuffing and other applications. Just make sure to dry it out in the oven first so it can trap lots of flavorful liquid. 

Try These Recipes Using Dried or Toasted Bread

Recipe Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad )

The biggest challenge in making this classic Italian tomato-bread salad is solving an age-old quandary: What's the best way to deal with the bread?

Recipe Rustic Bread Stuffing with Dates and Almonds

We’ve updated our turkey methods but never reworked stuffing. The time had come.

Recipe Pita Bread Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumber (Fattoush)

This Middle Eastern bread salad is hard to beat—if you get the textures right. We set out to preserve the crunch.

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JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.