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
- Prep time 20 hours
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes 1 pan loaf
ripe sourdough starter (100% hydration)
extra-virgin olive oil
fine sea salt
Rolled oats, for topping (optional)
Butter or olive oil, for greasing
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.