Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread: dark, dense, and delightful

Artisan baker Maurizio Leo returns for his second post in Flourish. Maurizio’s award-winning blog, The Perfect Loaf, is a beautifully photographed ode to baking naturally leavened sourdough. Check out his previous piece on Naturally Leavened Brioche-Style Kugelhopf.

Sliced sandwich bread was an undisputed staple of my childhood. Unfortunately, it’s earned itself a fairly bad rap over the years. Most of us have come to associate the uniformly cut slices and stark white interior of the typical sandwich loaf with something mass produced and rushed; but perhaps we can help this often slighted bread by taking a different approach: a healthier one.

In this versatile Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread the majority of the flour used is whole grain; the dough is completely naturally leavened; it has no additional sweeteners, and it has a wonderfully assertive (read: sour) flavor profile that still lets the taste of the grain shine through.

Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourThis bread, and its distinctive square slices reminiscent of its forebears, provides the perfect companion to a hearty egg breakfast, a blank canvas for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and is sure to be an all-around favorite of kids (with or without the crust, as kids do). The intentionally tight, but not heavy, crumb is perfect for holding piled-high ingredients and the thin, crunchy crust adds structure and bite.

King Arthur Flour White Whole Wheat Flour via @kingarthurflour

The real star of the show: white whole wheat flour

White whole wheat flour lends its wonderful qualities to this sandwich loaf. This whole-grain flour has a mild, almost sweet flavor profile compared to its more commonly used sibling, red-wheat flour (white and red refer to the color of the actual wheat berry).

This alternative whole wheat produces a wonderfully tender crumb and thin crust that still toasts up crunchy in all the right places. Further, this versatile bread becomes the perfect platform for creatively using what might be lying around in your pantry: seeds and grains as toppings, nuts and dried fruit as mix-ins, and even the substitution of other flours and grains for a portion of this recipe.

One reason I love to bake sourdough in a pan is the pan itself: the rigid structure means it’s possible to push the dough hydration relatively high without the risk of excessive spreading in the oven. Higher hydration dough can be challenging, but the resulting soft and creamy interior is worth the effort. Thanks to this additional structure provided by the pan, the final shape doesn’t even have to be perfect, it just needs to end up in the pan!

Baker’s note: I developed this recipe by weight, using grams. For best accuracy, weigh your ingredients. If you measure by volume, understand your results may be slightly different, due to an unavoidable lack of precision in converting gram weights to volume.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourMultigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread

This recipe makes two 1,200g (generous 2 1/2-pound) loaves, each baked in a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan — a Pullman (pain de mie) pan without the lid will work equally well. You can halve this recipe to make only a single loaf but it’s best to still make the levain, with specified quantities, as described below.

The levain calls for active, mature (a.k.a. ripe) sourdough starter. So if you don’t feed your starter every day on a regular basis, take it out of the fridge and feed it at least twice, once in the morning and once at night, before using it. If it’s been refrigerated without feeding for awhile, you may need to give it several feedings over several days to bring it up to strength. Your goal is a starter that doubles in size and looks quite active.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourDay 1: Prepare the levain

The night before mixing the dough, prepare the levain, using an active, mature sourdough starter. Mix together in a small container:

1/4 cup (30g) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 cup (30g) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1/4 cup + 3/4 teaspoon (60g) water, around 90°F*
1/4 cup + 3/4 teaspoon (60g) mature (ripe, fed, active) sourdough starter

*If your kitchen is cold, use warmer water (up to 90ºF) to help the levain stay warm through the night.

Keep the levain somewhere warm, around 75ºF, for about 10 to 12 hours.

The goal will be to use this levain when it’s mature in the morning. It will be incorporated into the dough after the “autolyse” step below (which takes 2 hours). So when you wake in the morning, give yourself enough time to prepare the dough that it has time to rest for 2 hours before the levain is ready for use.

Day 2: Prepare the dough

This recipe uses an autolyse technique that allows the mixed flour and water (no levain or salt) time to rest after incorporation. This resting period activates enzymes in the flour, giving them time to break down complex sugars into simple sugars. These sugars are then more available for use during fermentation, which ultimately leads to more flavorful, better-colored bread.

Place the following in a mixing bowl and mix by hand until all the dry bits are incorporated:

6 1/4 cups (705g) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
3 1/3 cups (400g) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
generous 1/2 cup (61g) whole rye flour (pumpernickel)
1 1/2 teaspoons (4g) diastatic malt (optional)
4 cups + 2 tablespoons (935g) water, around 90°F*

*The final target dough temperature for this bread should be 77ºF to 78ºF. If your kitchen is cold, use water up to 90°F in the mix to adjust the temperature of the dough to help reach this target.

Cover the mixing bowl and let the dough rest for 2 hours at room temperature.

Keep an eye on your levain at this point; if it looks like it’s maturing faster than expected, proceed to the next step by skipping the remainder of the autolyse time.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourKnead the dough

After the 2-hour autolyse, and when the levain is mature, add 5 teaspoons salt and the levain to the dough, and mix and knead by hand to make a tacky, soft dough that’s starting to show signs of rounding into a ball. If you’d like to use a stand mixer, mix for 1 minute at the lowest speed (“stir” on a KitchenAid), and 2 minutes at the next speed up (speed 2 on a KitchenAid).

If you’re kneading by hand, the dough should start to become smooth, but will remain a little sticky. If you’re using a mixer, the dough will be smoother and start to cling to the hook, though it still may stick to the sides of the bowl here and there.

Transfer the dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for bulk fermentation.

Bulk fermentation (rising)

The dough is going to ferment (rise) for 3 1/2 hours, preferably at an ambient temperature of about 78°F. You’re also going to stretch and fold the dough three times, spaced 30 minutes apart — so don’t just cover it and leave the house!

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourDo the first of your three stretch-and-folds 30 minutes into the dough’s fermentation. For each set, stretch the north side up and fold over to just short of the south side (see above). Repeat for the south, east, and west sides for a total of four folds.

After you’ve done three sets of stretch-and-folds, spaced 30 minutes apart, let the dough rest undisturbed for an additional 2 hours, for a total of 3 1/2 hours.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourThe dough should look something like this. You can see it’s risen significantly. There are some bubbles on top and just below the surface; and most importantly, the edge where the dough meets the bowl is domed, convex. The dough should jiggle when the bowl is shaken; it should look active. These are good signs the dough is strong enough and ready to be divided.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflour

Pre-shape and shape

Dump the dough from the bulk container onto a lightly floured (or lightly greased) work surface. It will be sticky and a little slack; rely on a bench knife and a floured hand to gently divide the mass into two halves. Pre-shape each into a fairly taut round.

Let the pre-shaped dough rest 25 minutes, uncovered. During this time, prepare two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans by lightly oiling them with olive oil.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourSparingly flour the work surface and the top of each resting round; you want to use only enough flour that the dough doesn’t stick to the surface. If you don’t have to use any flour to prevent sticking, so much the better.

Using your hands and a bench knife, flip one round over and fold the top half up and over to the middle, and the bottom half up and over the just-folded top. You’ll have a long horizontal rectangle sitting in front of you.

Turn the rectangle 90 degrees and grab a small portion of the top. Pull it up and fold it over a little bit, pressing down to seal. Take the rolled top and continue to gently roll it downward toward your body, your two hands working together. As you do each roll and work your way down the vertical rectangle, use your thumbs to gently press the dough into itself (see above).

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflour

Proof your loaves

Once rolled up, transfer the shaped dough to a prepared pan. If you weren’t able to shape the dough tight enough to cleanly drop it into the pan, use slightly wet hands to tuck the sides and top into the pan so the top of the dough is fairly taut.

If desired, spritz the loaf with warm water and top with rolled oats. Cover the pan with plastic. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Let the covered pans rest at room temperature for 1 hour before placing them into the refrigerator.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourLet the dough proof (rise) overnight in the fridge, for 14 to 18 hours. The sooner the dough is baked the higher the rise, but less tender the interior. I like to push this proof to 18 hours for a superbly soft crumb.

Day 3: Bake the bread

Preheat your oven for 1 hour at 500ºF.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflourRemove both pans from the refrigerator. The dough should be well risen and either at, or close to, the rim of the pan. Uncover each loaf, spritz them with warm water, and place in the oven.

This bread does well with a lot of steam. You can place a cast iron frying pan in the bottom of the oven while it’s preheating, then add 1 1/2 cups boiling water to the pan at the same time you place the bread in the oven.

Turn the oven down to 475ºF and bake for 20 minutes (use a handheld mister to spritz inside your oven and on the top of the dough, if you aren’t using the cast iron pan method). After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 450ºF and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Finally, turn the oven down to 425ºF and bake for 10 to 20 minutes, for a total of 50 to 60 minutes, or until the loaves test done. To ensure a full and complete bake, the exterior should be well colored and the interior temperature of each loaf should reach at least 200ºF, and potentially up to 208°F to 210°F.

Remove the loaves from the oven, and turn them out of the pans onto a rack. Cool for 1 to 2 hours before slicing.

How to make Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread via @kingarthurflour

This multigrain sandwich loaf takes our old friend, perfectly-sliced bread, in a new direction. Click To Tweet

This versatile recipe is just a starting point for further experimentation and variety with other toppings, fruit additions, and flour choices.

Happy baking!

See the recipe for Multigrain Sourdough Sandwich Bread; or print a copy, if desired.

Maurizio Leo
About

Maurizio is an engineer-turned-baker who bakes from his home kitchen in Albuquerque, NM. He bakes, writes and photographs for his blog, The Perfect Loaf, which focuses on naturally leavened sourdough bread. Maurizio's passion for baking ensures his hands are in dough just about every day.

comments

  1. Margie

    This is exactly the bread I want to make! No extras, just wholesome, healthy bread. Beautiful, too. I can’t wait to try it.

    Reply
  2. Tayelor

    So glad I found this recipe! I love making sandwich bread and I was just gifted a starter from 1974! Can’t wait to try this, thank you for sharing such great pictures and directions.

    Reply
  3. charlotte

    The bread looks amazing! But I live in France and don’t know where to find White whole wheat flour… Could I use traditional whole wheat flour instead?

    Reply
    1. Baker's Hotline

      Charlotte, you certainly can! If the dough feels stiffer than you you think it should (this is a fairly wet dough) feel free to add a tablespoon or two extra water to the autolyse or when mixing the dough. Barb@KAF

  4. jjmcgaffey

    So how does one tell when a levain is mature? Is it just like starter, mature when fully bubbly and before it collapses? I have a very enthusiastic sourdough starter; I suspect if I gave it two feedings and then the levain it would rise and collapse overnight, long before I woke to make the dough. I may try it, making the levain the second feeding, though. This bread sounds wonderful – I love that it’s pure sourdough, no extra yeast.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, you’re absolutely correct that a mature liquid (100% hydration) levain will look exactly like your mature liquid (100% hydration) sourdough starter. If you’re starter is very active and healthy, you may not need the extra revival feedings. In order to slow down the overnight fermentation you could try using cool water. Another option would be to make the levain the afternoon before you plan to bake with it, and then stick it in the refrigerator until you go to bed. This will get it off to a slow start and may help it last through the night, so that it’s ripe and ready when you mix the dough. Barb@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Megan, a sourdough starter or levain will typically go through a cycle after it has been fed at room temperature. It will rise up in the container over several hours as it ferments. You’ll notice the bubbles getting larger and the texture of the starter getting more and more light and airy. Once it has consumed all the available starches it will gradually begin to fall or collapse, until the starter is back to the level where it started, with perhaps some smaller bubbles on the surface. This blog post contains some helpful visuals about what your levain will look like at various stages. Barb@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You might want to check out our recipe for a Multigrain Loaf. It’s another great option for making homemade sandwich bread packed with whole grains; it uses whole wheat flour, oats, cornmeal, pumpernickel (whole rye flour), sunflower seeds, and more! No sourdough starter needed. Hope that helps. Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Cindy, this is a very wet dough with specific needs (i.e. folding/mixing at certain times). It’s not well suited to being made in a bread machine since it requires unique time frames. Instead, if you’re looking to make tasty whole wheat sourdough in a bread machine, try this recipe for Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread. It should give you great results. Kye@KAF

  5. Lynn Brody

    Could this recipe be made using proofing baskets and dutch ovens? If so, what should the oven temperatures and timing be?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Lynn, thanks for your question. While you could consider using a proofing basket to let this dough rise, if you’re proofing it overnight in the refrigerator, you’ll want to use a very well-floured cloth to line the basket. (Check out an example of this in our blog about making Artisan Sourdough Bread Tips-2.) This will reduce the chances of the dough sticking to the basket. Also, be very careful when transferring the loaf from the basket to the Dutch oven, as this dough is going to be more prone to collapsing because of its high hydration. Such a wet dough also relies on the sides of the pan to help make it rise high, which is why we love using loaf pans for this. You may end up with a rather short loaf if you use a larger Dutch oven. If you decide to give it a try anyway, we wish you good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Yolanda, if your sourdough starter is 100% hydration (equal parts flour and water by weight) and is very healthy and active, you can substitute an equal amount by weight of fed (ripe) sourdough starter for the levain in the dough part of the recipe. Barb@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Vince, I tried to bake the entire two loaf recipe in our 13″ pullman pan and it was a little too much dough for this pan. It works, but the loaf rises quite high and takes longer to bake. I got better results when I used the two 9″ X 5″ pans. Barb@KAF

  6. margie laughlin

    Ok, I baked this loaf, and everyday my husband has said ” this is really good sandwich bread”.
    So give it a try!

    Reply

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