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.
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.
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.
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.