Learning how to shape a sourdough sandwich loaf and bake it with steam are essential skills for sourdough bakers.
Sourdough sandwich loaves are something we make every week in our household.
In this post you’ll learn my favorite methods, techniques, and tips for successful sourdough sandwich loaves.
What is the difference between a Country Loaf of Bread and a Sandwich Loaf?
The main difference is the shape and the baking method.
Nearly any recipe for free-standing country loaves of bread or boules can be used to make a sandwich loaf.
So an easy place to start is by using a recipe you are already familiar with if you’ve made a few country loaves (round loaves). Or check out the section below for some recommended recipes to try!
Preparing for the Perfect Loaf
There are many key parts of creating the perfect loaf of sandwich bread.
Below I go over every part of what makes a sandwich loaf successful.
You may already have a firm grasp of what a healthy and active sourdough starter is, ingredients, and fermentation.
But make sure you review the sections below in case there’s something you may have overlooked and don’t miss the shaping and baking tips!
What is an active sourdough starter?
First of all, make sure that you begin your recipe with an active sourdough starter.
This key ingredient needs to be at the optimal stage to create the best results during the fermentation process. See this post about the stages of sourdough starter and to learn more about care: What is a sourdough starter?
Old or sourdough starter discard will not give you good results since the wild yeast is spent and not at a healthy state.
What are the best ingredients?
Start every recipe with good ingredients. Especially for basic sourdough bread, you only have a few ingredients (mainly flour, salt, water) so make sure you source quality flour.
Bread flour is the best white flour for sandwich loaves. All-purpose flour will not give you the best results, but if it’s all you have then use what you’ve got! I recommend using less water when you have to use all-purpose flour.
My favorite bread flour brands are King Arthur Baking and Central Milling Company.
Whole wheat flour is a favorite in my house, I often blend it with bread flour. I love using whole wheat flour because it adds more fiber and texture to my breads and I enjoy supporting family farms that I source my wheat from.
What are Stretch and Folds and do they matter?
Stretch and folds are a technique to develop the dough by taking an edge of dough, pulling and stretching it up, then folding it over the whole. I usually do this at four points around the dough, like a compass.
Coil folds is another way to do stretch and folds.
Once your dough is in the bulk fermentation stage, I recommend doing at least one stretch and fold 30 minutes after mixing.
Stretch and folds help develop the strength and texture of the dough for better shape and rise. You can do 1-4 sessions 30 minutes apart. See this post to learn what this technique looks like.
Temperature and Timing
Pay attention to temperatures.
The weather and room temperature will impact the rate of fermentation.
If you are new to sourdough baking, the timing is considerably different than bread recipes that use commercial yeast.
So when using the range of bulk fermentation and proofing, my rule of thumb is that in summer weather it is the first half of the range and in winter weather it is the second half of the range.
In most of my sourdough bread recipes, my timing is 4 to 7 hours for bulk fermentation. So I estimate 4 to 6 hours in summer and 5 to 7 hours in winter.
I have a time planning workbook here or free sourdough time planning worksheets you can check out here:
- Sourdough time planning workbook and baker’s journal
- Free Sourdough Time Planning Worksheets (sample)
Optimal Bulk Fermentation
Don’t shortcut the bulk fermentation step.
Before you shape, make sure your dough is fermented enough.
After bulk fermentation or the first rise, dough that has fermented enough will shape more easily and shouldn’t be too thick and sticky (underfermented) nor should it be falling apart and slimy (overfermented).
FAQ: How do I know if my dough is fermented enough?
A: This post has tips and a video to show you what to look for!
Pre-shape and Bench Rest
Once your bread dough is at the optimal volume and texture after bulk fermentation, it’s time to do a quick preshape. See the first video for review on how to preshape.
Your bread dough should be on a clean unfloured surface. Use a bench knife or dough scraper to fold half of the dough over itself to create a smooth top. Then use quick, short movements to push or rotate the dough into a round shape. And then let it rest!
There are many periods of resting the dough in sourdough baking. These are actually important steps even if it seems like not much is happening.
After doing the preshape, make sure to let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes, up to 60 minutes, before the final shaping. This bench rest allows the dough to stretch more easily and be more elastic.
FAQ: Do I need to cover my dough while it rests?
A: If you are doing a longer bench rest, the air is dry, or you are concerned about other household members (e.g., kids, pets), then cover it with a kitchen towel (not plastic wrap). If you are only doing a 20-minute bench rest and aren’t concerned about those other factors, you can leave it uncovered.
The Loaf Pan
While your preshaped dough rests, you will prepare your loaf pan. Here are the top two takeaways from this section, in case you want to skim:
- Material matters: thin-walled bread pans work best.
- Parchment lining time saver: this technique is easy, cleaner, and can be reused.
Using a thin-walled loaf pan or pullman pan will allow the hot heat of the oven to quickly penetrate into the dough for a better oven spring. Note: In the video I’m using one of my cast-iron loaf pans, but this loaf pan is my new favorite after hundreds of bakes.
To make sure your bread releases easily from the loaf pan, I recommend lining it with parchment paper. Especially a higher quality brand like If You Care Parchment paper that holds up to high heat and I usually get a few reuses out of the liner since it removes easily and doesn’t fall part like some brands. And its great for sticky quick breads too.
To do this, you will cut a large piece of parchment paper, turn your loaf pan over, then make four cuts at each corner. Fit the cut parchment into the loaf pan by folding the long edges behind the flap. See the video below for the step by step process.
Note: If you are on this page, it is very likely that you are learning how to bake sourdough as a way to bring healthy, real food in your home. So when it comes to preparing your loaf pan, you may want to consider the following for health factors.
Many quick bread and fermented bread recipes that use loaf pans will tell you to spray the pan with nonstick spray. However, these sprays are made with inflammatory, processed oils. Coconut or avocado oil or butter are stable and work for high heat baking and cooking. They can be rubbed into the pan with a paper towel, just make sure to get all the corners and edges so the bread removes easily.
But parchment paper is still my preferred method. If you are concerned about baking or cooking in loaf pans made with aluminum (most thin-walled pans are), then the parchment paper also becomes a good barrier.
Final Shaping for a Loaf of Sourdough
After your bench rest, your dough should be elastic and respond nicely to the final shaping folds.
- Lightly four the top of your round of dough. Rub the flour in gently with your hand. You shouldn’t feel any stickiness on the top of the dough. If you do, add a little more flour. Scrape up any excess flour on your work surface.
- Use a bench knife or dough scraper to pick up your dough in one piece then flip it over so that the floured side is down and the unfloured, sticky side is up.
- Take the side edges and gently shake and stretch the dough into a larger square-like shape. Do the same with the top and bottom of the dough.
- Take the top two corners of the dough and fold into the center so that they meet as a triangle shape. Pinch them together.
- Take the two sides of the dough and fold in to meet the triangle shape in the center of your dough. Press to seal.
- For the final fold, pick up the top edge of the dough above the center and fold it over the center to meet the bottom half. Press the seam to seal.
- Now that you have a log shape, use the bench knife, dough scraper, or your hands to crate tension. Make sure the dough doesn’t flip over, pull it towards you using the sticky seam side to tighten with that tension created by the unfloured work surface. Do this until the loaf shape is taught and firm. Pick it up with your bench knife or dough scraper and place it in your prepared loaf pan with the seam side down.
Proofing your Perfect Sandwich Bread
Once the dough is inside your prepared loaf pan, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it time to proof.
Usually, I recommend 1-3 hours, but find that sometimes leaning on the longer end of the time is better.
I highly recommend chilling your dough before baking to create a good score (cut vent on top of the dough) and oven spring.
Allow the dough to rise to at least the top of the loaf pan, I usually wait until it is about a half inch or so above the rim of the pan.
The texture shows readiness when a finger pressed on the dough leaves an indentation that slightly rises up.
FAQ: How do I know if my dough is proofed enough?
A: Gauge the proof by the dough’s volume and texture, see this post for tips and recommendations to judge the end of the proof: When is sourdough finished proofing? The signs and a test
Steaming the oven
Towards the end of the proofing time, begin preheating the oven to 500 degrees F with a metal pan filled with 1/2 to 1 inch of water on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven for at least 20-30 minutes to make sure the water is steaming enough. Here’s a post about using manual steam: How to Bake Sourdough without a Dutch oven: Manual Steam Method
Score your loaf along the edge or along the top of the proofed dough about 1/4-1/2 inch deep (see important tips below!). Then place the loaf on the center rack of the oven.
Use a spray bottle filled with water to add some sprays of water to the walls of the oven before quickly closing the door to trap the added steam.
Turn down the oven to 450-470 degrees F (depends on the recipe) and bake for 20 minutes.
Baking with high heat and steam in the first part of the baking process is essential to get the bread to expand to get a good rise and make sure the dough springs nicely.
To complete the bake and produce a good crust, remove the steam pan and turn down the temperature to 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan onto a cooling rack.
When is it baked?
The golden brown or rich brown color is one indicator of a complete bake.
The internal temperature should be 200-205 degrees F.
One final baker’s test is to turn the baked loaf over and thump the bottom with your hand or knuckles–it should create a hollow sound.
Cooling is an often overlooked step in the bread making process. However, when it comes to sandwich bread, I like to let it cool overnight. Once the loaf has cooled enough the structure of the bread is set it is easier to cut thin sandwich slices.
Baking at night is how I make sure the bread lovers in my house don’t try to get a slice before it has cooled enough.
5 Tips to create a Great Oven Spring
- Cold proof: My favorite sourdough sandwich loaves that had the best oven spring, were usually ones I put in the fridge to cold proof for 8-14 hours
- Chilling the dough at end of proof: If you do a room temperature proof, put your proofing dough uncovered into the fridge for 30 to 60 minutes. This makes the dough less sticky and easier to score.
- Lightly flour the dough: Before you cut your score, add a very light coating of flour to make sure the top is less sticky for clean scoring.
- Scoring: Use a razor blade or bread lame to get the most precise incision. Cut along the length of the top of the loaf along one edge or down the middle with curves at the end like a long skinny crescent. This score shape allows the bread to open like a hinge.
- Steam: Make sure to prepare the oven with manual steam so the bread stays soft and elastic for the best dough rise during the first half of the bake.
Favorite Sourdough Sandwich Loaf Recipes
Here are some sourdough recipes you may want to try for making your next loaf:
- Sourdough Country Bread
- Sourdough Whole Wheat with Honey Millet Mix and Seeds
- Easy Sweet & Soft Sourdough Bread Master Recipe
- No Knead Sourdough
Savor and Share
Share these tips and techniques with a friend!
After you try these tips, send me a note, leave a review comment, or tag me on facebook or instagram @livingbreadbaker
I love empowering bakers in the kitchen, so its fun to see what amazing breads you create!
Need more sourdough help?
A competent guide is the big difference from floundering in sourdough with information overwhelm to having confidence and ease in your sourdough baking.
If you are just getting started in sourdough, I’d love to support you with my books or online courses.
My Intro. to Sourdough online course is comprehensive with video tutorials for each stage of the process to help new or aspiring sourdough home bakers gain a solid foundation for sourdough, the traditional way, to learn all the basics, language, techniques, and the process from start to finish to make sourdough bread. My teaching is straight forward and makes the whole process seem simple. I have helped launch hundreds of eager sourdough bakers onto their own inspiring sourdough journeys.
I also have a Once-a-Week No Knead Sourdough online course, which is my strategy for busy weeks to have sourdough on hand ready to make into country bread, sandwich loaves, English muffins, pizza, bagels, and more! This course is great for absolute sourdough beginners to just get familiarity with sourdough or for veteran sourdough bakers who need to simplify their baking schedule.
If you are just starting on your sourdough journey, you can get my free Quick Start Sourdough Guide to begin learning some of the key terms and concepts in sourdough. Learn the difference between the sourdough stages of active sourdough starter and sourdough discard as well as how to care for a starter.
Perfect for new or experienced bakers, I have a full Sourdough Time Planning Workbook with 8 templates ready to fill in and a baking journal. The 8 templates include 4 different ways to make classic sourdough country breads, 3 time planning worksheets for enriched sourdough bread depending on serving time target, and a blank template. The baking journal goes over baker’s percentages and how to take notes on your sourdough bakes.
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