Slicing Bread: reflections from many loaves sliced
Have you ever sliced bread hot and fresh out of the oven? Did the dough stick to the knife, seem a bit under-baked, and have a squashed, gummy texture?
My reflections from many years and many loaves of sliced bread:
First: cool bread on a cake cooling wire to prevent the bottom of the loaf sweating and causing condensation to form on the loaf. For the same reason, ensure the loaf is tipped out of the baking tin (if using) soon after baking.When to slice: bread should be well cooled for effective slicing. When the internal temperature of the bread is still high from baking, the starches and proteins are still 'setting' completely. Technically, the bread may still be hot enough to be cooking inside.
When is it cool enough? Depends how hungry you are!
If you can wait, aim for the loaf to be not warm to pick-up as a starting point (less than 28 C internal temp). In my classes, I aim to have a sourdough loaf baked early enough so it will have been cooling for around 3 hours before we cut and taste. Flavours are also more pronounced in a cooler loaf.
As a side note, don't be completely surprised, or upset, if a bakery prefers to not put their fresh bread through the bread slicer - your compliance will save you from a squashed, ripped apart loaf, as commercial bread slicing machines are effective but rough.
How to slice: most breads benefit from a fine-serrated-edged bread knife. If the edges are too large and harsh, the loaf crumb (inside texture) can be ripped apart. A sharpened knife is always good too.
Use your other (non-knife-holding) hand to firmly hold the loaf steady, not squashing down, just hold. For a formal situation, for example if you are presenting the bread to guests, a clean tea towel can be used between the holding hand and the bread.
Start with small sawing to allow the teeth of the knife to 'grip' the crust. The beginning of the slicing is the high-risk time for the knife slipping on the crust and effectively slicing your hand.
The "teeth" on the bread knife are designed for a 'sawing' action, not a 'pressing' action. Lots of patient horizontal sawing motions with a gentle pressing will yield lovely slices.
Other methods: it's not a "toaster friendly" method, but simply dig your fingers in and tear the fresh bread apart with your hands and enjoy!
Someone (you or a baker or a bread-making-machine) went to lots of effort to make a delicious loaf of bread, so consider slicing well, and enjoy that slice of bread.