Here's the recipe you need for an easy-to-make soft sourdough sandwich bread that turns out every time using only your wonderful starter. You can choose to make this in one day with just a single rise or overnight in the fridge for a longer ferment. Either way you will have a loaf with a tender crumb that's perfect for toast and sandwiches.
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My first attempts at making bread with my sourdough starter was an easy artisan sourdough bread. And it's so good that I didn't really branch out from that for awhile, saving my other sourdough baking for non-loaf breads like English muffins, bagels, crackers, and waffles.
I did make a cheesy batter bread, and without the cheese it is more like a traditional sandwich bread, but the crumb on that loaf isn't as tender as we're used to in a sandwich bread.
Which is where this soft sourdough sandwich bread comes in, filling the hole in my sourdough recipes with a loaf that has that tender crumb we all love.
Not only that, it also hit my other important recipe points by being easy and flexible. You can make this in one day with only one rise (although a long one, since it is sourdough), or you can leave it to ferment overnight in the fridge and then shape and rise in the pan the next day.
Does this recipe use only sourdough starter to raise the bread?
Yes! I was actually shocked when I first started baking with sourdough how many "sourdough" bread recipes actually include commercial yeast. I don't get this at all - is this our modern quest for all things to be quick?
The whole point of sourdough for me is to NOT use commercial yeast in bread (although using up your discard for things like a lemon loaf or sticky bun coffee cake with baking powder or soda is okay, since you're not really making bread).
If a bread recipe says it's sourdough and then in the ingredients yeast is listed, I feel like it's false advertising. It's not really sourdough, then is it?
And just like food labels, you really have to read ingredients - I found one "sourdough bread" on Pinterest that not only called for a whole package of commercial yeast (many only add 1/4 teaspoon), but also baking soda!!
Yes, 100% sourdough bread will take longer to rise. But you'll reap more of the sourdough health benefits, since longer rises also helps ferment the flour more because the sourdough bacteria has more time to work.
Let's fully embrace sourdough as it's meant to be!
Soft Sourdough Sandwich Bread Recipe
Let's talk more about the ingredients that help make this bread soft, tender, and turning out consistently every time.
This reliable softness is because this is a rich bread dough with eggs and milk, bringing up the fat content, which also helps keep the bread and crust soft like a sandwich bread. After trying many different sourdough sandwich loaves, using a rich dough like this has produced the best quality bread time after time.
Here's what you'll need to make sourdough sandwich bread:
- Active, bubbly sourdough starter - one that is doubling in 6 hours or less.
- Unbleached flour, or a combo of unbleached and whole wheat.
- Milk - I haven't tested almond milk, though it may work.
My starter is 100% whole wheat and kept at about a 85% hydration level (so slightly dryer than 100% hydration). For the bread pictured, I used all unbleached flour, but the whole wheat in the starter makes it look browner. You can use half unbleached and half whole wheat flour if you'd like to try that, though your bread will be a bit more dense.
If your starter is made with all purpose flour, then for sure use at least 1 cup of whole wheat with 2 cups of unbleached all purpose.
Equipment Note: Since this loaf using just 3 cups of flour, you will need an 8.5 x 4.5 loaf pan (also called a 1-pound pan), NOT a 9 x 5 inch pan. The loaf will not be as tall in the larger pan.
I purchased these USA loaf pans recently and they are wonderful - wish I'd gotten them years ago!
You'll start by mixing all the ingredients into a shaggy dough and letting that sit for 30 minutes for the flour to absorb the liquid. You can wait and add the salt after the rest, but I tend to forget it, so I always just add everything at once.
Then knead the dough for about 5 minutes with a mixer (or about 8 minutes by hand). The dough should be clearing the sides but still sticking to the bottom of the bowl and should be tacky when touched with no dough sticking to your finger.
You will probably only need to add about 1 tablespoon of flour during kneading - this is a pretty easy dough to work with.
As soon as it's kneaded, you can go straight to shaping the loaf and placing it in a pan to raise. Cover with plastic - it's the best thing I've found to keep the top moist during the long rise.
I've had the 'shower cap' type bowl covers for years and simple clean and reuse them. You can see similar ones here.
Why only one rise?
Since we are using a well-fed starter that has doubled, the yeast is already active and a double rising isn't necessary.
Alternative Overnight Rise in Refrigerator
If you'd like to have a longer ferment, or are needing an overnight rise for timing, this recipe works for this, too!
Steps for an overnight rise:
- After kneading, place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator overnight (8-12 hours).
- In the morning, remove from the fridge, shape into a loaf, and place in greased pan.
- The cold dough will need a bit more time to rise, so find a warm spot and let it rise 4-6 hours.
Let the dough rise in a warm area for 3-5 hours, until it is 1/2-1 inche above the edge of the pan, like pictured above.
TIP: Rich doughs like this need warmth to rise, so find a good spot somewhere! I use my oven with the light on.
Optional Slashing: If you'd like, you can slash the top down the middle with a sharp, serrated knife to reduce cracking along the sides. I didn't in these photos, and there was a crack down one side, but it's not noticeable in the sliced bread.
Bake about 40 minutes, let cool in pan about 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
Do not slice the loaf until the bread is completely cool, or the crumb will become gummy (though you can slice off an end to eat warm!).
How to Store Sourdough Sandwich Bread
I slice the whole loaf, keeping out the amount we will need in the next couple of days and freezing the rest in a freezer or bread baggie.
Homemade bread starts to get stale after a few days at room temperature, so freezing in slices so you can remove what you'll need is really the best way to go.
Soft 100% Sourdough Sandwich Bread
- 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan
- 3 cups (378 grams) flour* plus 1-2 tablespoons for kneading
- 1 cup (227 to 250 grams**) active sourdough starter, reliably doubling in 6 hours or less
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk lukewarm
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter, melted plus more for pan and top of loaf
- 2 teaspoons (1/2 ounce) honey or maple syrup, or cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons (12 grams) salt
- Combine all ingredients*** in a large mixing bowl and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until all the flour is mixed in and you have a shaggy dough. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Using a dough hook on a mixer, knead for 5 minutes until the dough pulls away from the sides, but still sticks to the bottom, adding a bit of flour as needed (up to 1 to 2 tablespoons). Alternately, you can knead by hand about 8 minutes or use a dough cycle on a bread machine. ****See notes for overnight rise instructions at this point if desired.
- Grease a 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan with butter, coconut oil, or avocado oil.
- On a floured surface (I use a tea towel for easy clean up), shape dough by patting into a rectangle the length of the pan, rolling up tightly, and pressing the seam together. Pull the short sides under to create tension on top of the loaf. Place shaped dough into prepared pan.
- Using a pastry brush, spread some melted butter over the top to help keep the cover from sticking as it rises. Cover the bread with a plastic "shower cap" or wrap (a damp tea towel will dry out over the long rise, so plastic is best to keep the top soft). Optional: Before covering you can slash the top of the bread if you'd like to minimize cracks on the edges of the bread.
- Place loaf pan in a warm area (I use the oven with the light on which is 95-100 degrees) and let rise 3-5 hours or until dough is 1 to 1½ inches above the pan. Warmer kitchens will need less rise time, cooler will need more.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees (remember to remove your pan if you're using your oven light!). Bake loaf for 40 minutes, rotating as needed for even cooking, until brown and bottom sounds hollow when tapped. You can also use an instant read thermometer inserted in the middle of the loaf - it should read 195 to 200 degrees.
- Cool in the pan 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.
- Slice and use within 1 to 2 days at room temperature or freeze slices for longer storage.
- After step 2, place dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and place in the refrigerator overnight, 8-12 hours.
- Remove dough from fridge, shape into a loaf, and place in pan as in step 4.
- The cold dough will need a bit more time to rise, 4-6 hours.
- Once the dough is above the edge of the pan, bake as directed.
Other Sourdough Recipes to Try
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