Whole-Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread

September 28, 2021
9 Ratings
Photo by Maurizio Leo
  • Prep time 20 hours
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • makes 1 pan loaf
Author Notes

Once school starts, I feel like my loaf pans begin working overtime. It seems every week I’m making at least one big “square bread,” as my kids call it, and usually doubling many of the recipes to keep one loaf in the freezer on emergency standby. The secret is, though, that I love pan loaves because they’re a little more carefree than their free-form counterparts: There’s no worrying about misshaped dough or loaves that spread a little too much in the oven—the structure of the pan keeps everything in place. Plus, because of the added support of the pan, they’re a fun way to experiment with different flour blends and mix-ins (oats, seeds, olives!).

But perhaps one of the best things about this sourdough pan loaf recipe is just how few ingredients are called for: The flour is a 50/50 mix of whole-grain wheat and all-purpose flour, and unlike many store-bought loaves, there’s no refined sugar (I use honey) and no preservatives or additives (just olive oil!). The flavor of this loaf is mild and ever-so-slightly sweet, thanks to the added honey, while the olive oil brings softness to the crust and crumb. To increase the nutrition just a bit further, I like to top the shaped dough with a thin coating of rolled oats. The flattened oat topping further excites my kids as they look forward to each slice with the “flattened pancakes” on top—if only as adults we got excited about such things (okay, maybe I do).

In this recipe, I like to make a dedicated levain (an overnight preferment), but if you feed your sourdough starter often and it’s not overly acidic, you can mix in your ripe sourdough starter in place of the called for levain (skip making the levain the night before, and add 100 grams of ripe sourdough starter to the mix in Step 2). I like to bake this bread in a 9x4x4-inch Pullman pan (without the lid), but a regular loaf pan (an 8x4 inch or 9x5 inch) will also work just as well—just be sure to lightly oil or butter the pan.

Need some ideas on what to put between these slices? Check out our new podcast The Sandwich Universe, where co-hosts and longtime BFFs Molly Baz and Declan Bond dive deep into beloved iconic sandwiches.Maurizio Leo

What You'll Need
  • Levain
  • 53 grams all-purpose flour
  • 53 grams water
  • 5 grams ripe sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • Dough
  • 227 grams all-purpose flour
  • 274 grams whole-wheat flour
  • 336 grams water
  • 27 grams extra-virgin olive oil
  • 25 grams honey
  • 10 grams fine sea salt
  • 100 grams ripe levain
  • Rolled oats, for topping (optional)
  • Butter or olive oil, for greasing
  1. Make the levain (9:00 p.m. the night before baking)

    In the evening, when your sourdough starter is ripe (when you’d typically give it a refreshment), make the levain. In a medium jar, combine 53 grams all-purpose flour, 53 grams water, and 5 grams ripe sourdough starter (yes, it’s a small amount, but trust me, it’ll be fine). Cover the jar loosely and let the levain ripen overnight at warm room temperature (I keep mine around 74°F to 76°F/23°F to 24°C).
  2. Mix the dough (9:00 a.m. the next day)

    To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the 227 grams all-purpose flour, 274 grams whole-wheat flour, 336 grams water, 27 grams olive oil, 25 grams honey, 10 grams salt, and the ripe levain. Set the mixer to low speed and mix until all the ingredients are combined and no dry bits of flour remain. Turn the mixer up to medium-low and mix for 5 to 6 minutes, until the dough clumps around the dough hook.

    Transfer the dough to another large bowl or container for bulk fermentation.
  3. Bulk ferment the dough (9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)

    Cover the dough with a reusable airtight cover or plastic wrap and let it rise at warm room temperature (76°F/24°C) for a total of 3 hours. Set a timer for 30 minutes and let the dough rest, covered. After 30 minutes, give the dough its first set of stretches and folds. During this time, you’ll give the dough two sets of “stretches and folds” (see next step for explanation) to give it additional strength. The first set is performed 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation, and subsequent sets at 30-minute intervals, then the dough will rest for the remaining time.

    For each set of stretches and folds: With wet hands, grab the north side (the side farthest from you) of the dough and stretch it up and over to the south side. Then, in the same way, fold the south side up to the north. Then, perform two more folds, one from east to west, and one west to east.

    After performing the two sets of stretches and folds, let the dough rest, covered with the same airtight cover, in the bulk fermentation container for the remainder of bulk fermentation.
  4. Preshape the dough (12:30 p.m.)

    At the end of bulk fermentation, the dough should have risen in the container, look puffy, and perhaps have a bubble or two on the surface. If the dough still feels tight or dense, give it another 15 minutes to rest and check again. Once the dough is ready, gently scrape it out to a clean work surface using a bowl scraper. Then, using a bench scraper in one hand and the other wet or floured, gently form the dough into a loose round. This preshaping will help set the stage for final shaping. Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 35 minutes.
  5. Shape the dough (1:05 p.m.)

    I use a 9x4x4-inch Pullman pan that has a natural nonstick liner, but even so, I like to lightly butter my pan (or grease with olive oil) to ensure my loaf cleanly removes. If you don’t have a Pullman pan, a typical loaf pan (8½x4½x2½ inches) will also work.

    Lightly flour the top of the preshaped dough and your shaping space. Using a bench scraper, flip the preshaped dough over to the floured work area. Fold the sides in toward the middle to form a long rectangle in front of you—the width of the rectangle should be just short of the width of your baking pan. Then, starting from the top, roll the rectangle down toward your body, pushing lightly at each revolution to form a tight tube of dough.

    Using both hands, pick up the ends of the dough and drop the tube right into the prepared baking pan. If the sides, top, or bottom need a little tuck, gently push it down into the pan to ensure the top of the dough is smooth. If you wish to top the dough with oats, sprinkle a thin layer of them on top of the dough in the pan.
  6. Proof the shaped dough (1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.)

    Cover the baking pan with a large reusable piece of plastic or bag and seal shut. Proof the dough at a warm temperature (74°F to 76°F/23°C to 24°C is ideal) for about 1½ hours. The dough is ready to bake when it has puffed up, feels light and airy, and a gentle poke springs back very slowly. If there is any resistance felt in the dough when poked, let it proof another 15 minutes and check again.
  7. Bake the loaf (3:00 p.m.)

    It’s necessary to steam your oven when baking this loaf. I like to use a small baking pan filled with culinary lava rocks, but any pan placed at the bottom of your oven to heat along with the oven will work. Once you place your dough into the oven to bake, carefully throw 1 cup of ice into the heated pan and shut the oven door to steam the oven.

    Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

    When the oven is heated, slide the loaf pan into the oven and steam the oven as directed above. Bake for 20 minutes with steam. Then, remove the steaming pan, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C), and bake for an additional 20 minutes until the internal temperature of the loaf is 200°F (93°C), and the top is deeply colored.

    Remove the pan from the oven and tip the dough out to a cooling rack to cool for at least 1 to 2 hours, until cool to the touch. If this bread is cut too early, the interior could be gummy.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • mchavez
  • liltrukr
  • Jeremy Murray
    Jeremy Murray
  • Liz Summers
    Liz Summers
  • Maurizio Leo
    Maurizio Leo
Maurizio is the software engineer-turned-baker behind the award-winning sourdough website, The Perfect Loaf. Since baking his first loaf of bread, he's been obsessed with adjusting the balance between yeast and bacteria, tinkering with dough strength and hydration, and exploring everything sourdough. His New York Times Bestselling sourdough cookbook, The Perfect Loaf, is now available.

35 Reviews

Summerclayden June 10, 2023
Can I omit the honey?
angi January 18, 2023
Can I make this with bread flour instead of all purpose, and if so, would the measurements be the same?
Fritz L. January 5, 2023
Do you have advice on how to adjust this recipe to a larger Pullman pan? Is it just a matter of scaling all ingredients up by 50%?
Maurizio L. January 5, 2023
That should work, I usually like to use about 1300g in those larger Pullman Pans!
Fritz L. January 6, 2023
Thank you! “The Perfect Loaf” is awesome.
Berger March 23, 2023
Hi there, love your recipes. I'm just trying to sort out weight measurements for my 13x4x4 Pullman Loaf Pan. I see you said you like to use about 1300g in those larger Pullman Pans. But I can't figure out how you get 1300. My math, if I add up each of your ingredients (=999g) and add 50% of each ingredient, I get 1,498? Maybe there's another size pan in between small and mine? Thanks!
Britt W. August 24, 2022
Can I put in the fridge to ferment for a while instead of on the counter for an hour and a half? Also if I want to add oats to the top is that before or after fridge proof?
Maurizio L. August 24, 2022
Yes, absolutely! After shaping, cover the pans and place in the fridge. Bake next day in the morning or early afternoon. Add the oats right after shaping.
Britt W. August 25, 2022
Thank you so much the loaf turned out beautifully! My husband said it’s the best I’ve ever made so thank you!
mchavez May 8, 2022
This came out great! Excellent rise and a nice soft crumb. Any thoughts about increasing the honey or substituting the honey with molasses?

I love your recipes (here and on your website).The timing guidelines that you provide are key. Can’t wait for more recipes!
Maurizio L. May 8, 2022
So glad it worked out well for you! Molasses would work just fine in lieu of the honey. If you increase the honey drastically, it may affect fermentation (slow it). If you increase the honey, just be aware of this and adjust the fermentation time as needed (increase bulk and/or proof). Enjoy and thx for the comments!
wrightc0812 January 29, 2022
This bread is delicious! Mine also did not rise as much as yours. How much should it rise in the pan before baking? I used a pullman loaf pan and it was about halfway up the side when I baked it, but it was light and airy. Maybe I should have let it rise further? Also, is the honey 100% necessary for the dough or is it more for flavor? Thanks for another great recipe! I will definitely be making it again.
Maurizio L. January 29, 2022
Glad to hear that! I would let it rise more, it likely needed more time. It should fill most of the pan. The honey does add a bit to the fermentation (at low %), but you can omit, just be sure to give it a bit more time, especially if you leave out the honey.
wrightc0812 January 29, 2022
Thanks for the tips!
liltrukr October 31, 2021
Whole-Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread! I made two loaves and they came out good 👍thank you @maurizio for this lovely recipe. P.S. made them with just starter...🥪🍞 100%
Maurizio L. November 1, 2021
So glad to hear they came out well!
liltrukr November 1, 2021
Thank you so much Maurizio, have posted the pictures on then pictures on Instagram if you wanna look you can see them out of the 🍞🥪
Jeremy M. October 23, 2021
Hey! I just baked my first loaf. I’m super excited to try it and it smells so good (still cooling), but it definitely did not rise as much as yours or as much as I expected. My (most recent) starter is very new (I’ve used TPF recipes for about two years of on and off baking), but it’s been very powerful, usually tripling it’s volume in 12 hours. Any ideas where this loaf could have gone wrong?
Maurizio L. October 25, 2021
Hey, Jeremy! Do you think it might have been under proofed? Usually that results in huge rise, but it's possible that might have been the cause. Additionally, it could be over hydration, if the dough felt excessively wet.
Jeremy M. October 25, 2021
I proofed right on mark with your timing in the recipe. I do use a proofing mat for heat. Could too high of heat been the issue? Dough tends to proof around 84-85° on that mat. It did feel on the wetter side. What increments would you adjust water by for testing? Thanks!
Maurizio L. October 25, 2021
Wetter for these pan loaves is usually better--you get a more tender interior! But at some point it will compromise rise. I'd try holding back maybe 25g water and see how that bakes up.
bdejong October 23, 2021
I've been on the lookout for a good whole wheat sandwich bread, and this one did not disappoint! I started it late in the day and put it in the fridge overnight after shaping to bake the next morning. The first time I added sesame and sunflower seeds (about ½ cup total) and it was great, although I didn't score it so the side burst out. The next time I did pumpkin and sunflower seeds and did score it, and it was perfect. This time I added a LOT of chopped dates and about ½ cup of walnuts and it is delicious! Thank you for this!
Maurizio L. October 23, 2021
Awesome, happy to hear it when well both times! If you're seeing a lot of blow outs on the side, try proofing for a bit longer to tame that oven spring a bit, it'll result in a tenderer loaf, too. Have fun and enjoy!
liltrukr October 21, 2021
Hi Maurizio, I decided to double the recipe and made two loaves, so glad that I did, absolutely delicious 🤗😷🙏🥪
Maurizio L. October 21, 2021
Super glad to hear that!
Liz S. October 5, 2021
LOVED this!! I did sub 30 grams of spelt for 30 grams (trade) of whole wheat because I like a bit of spelt or rye when I make a whole wheat anything.

Also, I baked in an oblong clay baker (with cover). I noted that you specified steam and it was late for me ... so instead of a bread pan, I decided to do the clay baker. My baker is 13 x 5 x 4 so my loaf was long and not as tall, but that works for me. Instead of steaming the oven, I allowed the baker to handle that. I did slash the dough and I want to try again without a slash. The loaf did have an ear, and looked artisanal, but the crust was soft and the crumb perfect for a sandwich loaf. I am curious to see what happens without a slash, i.e. will the crust "hold" vs breaking ?? At any rate, it is an easy and delicious sandwich loaf. Thank you, Maurizio!
Maurizio L. October 21, 2021
That's awesome to hear, Liz! I'd love to see what that would do with out a score too.. Probably a nice domed top. Either way, delicious!
Liz S. October 23, 2021
Yesterday I made a variation(s) ... I wanted a bit larger amount to fill my oblong clay baker ... and I wanted a rye loaf. I decided to try 120%. With rye, I knew I wanted my white flour to be at least 50% of the flour total. Anyway, I did this: 132 g starter, 403 g water, 330 g white, 190 g rye, 80 g spelt, 32 g olive oil, 32 g honey, 11 g salt, 1 tsp caraway (I ground the caraway seeds with the salt). The rye flour was KAF whole rye, white is WheatMT AP (but it is 13% protein aka bread flour), spelt is a sprouted spelt. I do the "throw all in the mixer" vs overnight levain: water, then starter, then flours, then the rest. Mix until combined, let rest for 30ish minutes, mix to "whap-whap-whap" and then into an oiled bowl for the bulk. I started about 6:30 a.m. and called the bulk about 4 p.m. (very cool house: 64F). After shape ... baked at 7:30 p.m. And this time, no slash. I had some blow out. I read your comment above so will try a longer rise next time, but except for appearance, it was a wonderful loaf with a soft crust and beautiful crumb. It ended up what I wanted which was a kind of deli-sandwich-rye.

So ... another argument for weight measuring as that makes it so easy to scale up or down, even just a little bit. AND, sticking to overall % while trying different flours ... although the baker needs to understand that some flours, like rye, need some special consideration.
palin52 October 5, 2021
Interesting recipe. Since you have a lot of American readers, did you consider using parallel measurements for the ease of your consumers (cups, tablespoons, etc.)?
palin52 October 5, 2021
By the way, this is really directed at Food 52, not the Italian whose recipe it is; he knows the measurements he’s used to, but Food52 might want to be a little more inclusive.
Maurizio L. October 5, 2021
No worries, it's a great question. With baking, I prefer weighing ingredients instead of using volume--it's far more accurate. Scooping/tamping/leveling off flour in a scoop can lead to inaccuracies depending on how it's done and the flour itself, and this is also seen with every other ingredient (especially salt). So in the end, it's not about region or excluding an audience, it's just a move toward accuracy (and it's what most bread bakers do in bakeries, too!).
Liz S. October 5, 2021
As an American that has measured by weight and not volume ... for years ... and if you go to any of the "bread specific" sites .. mostly U.S. persons ... serious bread bakers measure by weight for all of the reasons that Maurizio state.

Writing a "bread" recipe in volume leads to a LOT of failures in my experience because of the inaccuracy in volume measures. It has nothing to do with being inclusive ... and I will admit that that word provokes a knee jerk reaction for me even though the complaint about weight comes up often ... it should not among those who want to bake successfully.

And an example. I made this recipe. I wanted to add a bit of spelt flour as I like a little spelt in with whole wheat. Additionally, I use a local to me flour that is 38 g = 1/4 cup vs many AP flours that are 30 g = 1/4 cup. When I measure all flours by weight and keep to the overall weight for the recipe, I have zero issues.
Maurizio L. October 6, 2021
100%, Liz!!
FrontRangeBaker October 2, 2021
Just baked this loaf today and it is wonderful - smells and tastes heavenly. I liked how easy it was and the overnight levain (only 5 grams of starter?!)
Maurizio L. October 3, 2021
So glad to hear you liked it! And yes, that's the power of our starters!