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I have a recipe that calls for a loaf of "stale country bread". Instead of waiting for the bread to stale, I'd like to engineer it.

I plan to take the loaf and place it in a paper bag. But for how long? Is this the right approach?

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    will you end up using the loaf whole, or sliced or in cubes? – Kate Gregory Nov 6 '20 at 3:26
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    Do you want it to be actually stale, or just dry? – FuzzyChef Nov 6 '20 at 6:07
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    Or neither? I've seen recipes that call for stale bread simply to reassure the reader that the bread doesn't need to be fresh. – Sneftel Nov 6 '20 at 8:55
  • Sorry for the lag in response. Looking to buy sliced bread and use it as such. For a savory bread pudding. Stale is the term they used/ – Jason P Sallinger Nov 6 '20 at 13:06
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Don't use a paper bag, it actually helps the bread keep somewhat longer.

Your best approach is to put it in the fridge. This is the temperature at which the starch crystalizes at the highest speed.

Update, shamelessly stealing from Tristan: If you cut it up first, you will speed up the process too. The more surface you have exposed to airflow, the better.

You'll still need to give it time, but it's maybe half the time it needs at room temperature.

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  • Do you suggest leaving the bag open? Or the loaf out of the bag altogether? – Jason P Sallinger Nov 6 '20 at 13:07
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    @JasonPSallinger take the loaf out of the bag. A large part of bread going stale is it drying out, and so you want airflow around it if you want to get it stale fast – Tristan Nov 6 '20 at 14:23
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It may not behave exactly the same as actual stale bread, but a reasonable approximation can be made pretty quickly by slicing the bread (to expose the crumb and allow moisture to escape), placing on a wire rack so the bottom also gets airflow and baking at about 140ºC (290ºF) until it starts to dry out and firm up (check it after 10 minutes)

Even with the rack you'll probably want to flip the bread occasionally to keep the sides even. Thankfully this temperature is low enough that the bread shouldn't start to brown or burn so you shouldn't need to worry about accidentally making toast instead (it should also end up with a much more even level of drying, unlike toast where the inside is usually meant to remain soft and moist)

Thinner slices will dry faster, but may be less suitable to later stages of your recipe. If you're going to be turning the bread into breadcrumbs or similar though, you probably want to slice as thinly as practical

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    You can also just spread out the slices (on a rack), and leave them out overnight if you don't need them immediately. (this is useful for making french toast in the morning). Although, I'm starting to wonder how well it would work to put a tray of slices (on a rack) in the fridge overnight would work. As you'd get both the faster drying from your answer, plus the starch crystalization from rumtscho's answer. – Joe Nov 6 '20 at 14:37

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