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

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.


  1. Ruth

    I have baked this recipe at least three times, and the last was the most successful. However, I still have not achieved the wonderful giant bubble rise after the 3 1/2 hour rise or the wonderful final high rise at the finish. My loaves don’t reach the rim of the pans in the final overnight rise, but they do “pop” in the oven—just not high enough to have the softer open crumb shown in the first two photos. I followed the recipe carefully, but the dough never got below 84-86 degrees. Also I amusing my whole wheat sourdough starter which has been nurtured for 4-5 years and I added 2 T of sunflower seeds and 1 T each of pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Your suggestions would be welcomed.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Ruth! The open crumb you see in the photos comes from a higher hydration. This dough has a hyrdration of about 82%, so it should be fairly sticky when you’re kneading it and it is best not add additional flour unless it really is necessary. Also, a whole wheat sourdough starter will ferment a bit faster than one fed with all-purpose flour, so you’ll also want to make sure that your dough isn’t over-proofing which can result in a loaf that doesn’t rise as high as expected. We hope this helps and if we can chat further with you about this recipe, please feel free to give our friendly Baker’s Hotline folks a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253). Kindly, Morgan@KAF

  2. Shoshana Zucker

    You give tips for a cool kitchen, but not for a warmer one. My levain has been peaking in only 6-8 hours so even when I make it late at night, I mostly have to skip the autolyse step. If I manage to “catch” the levain right before it peaks, could I put it the refrigerator for a while to slow it down. I’m using cool tap water, would cold water from the refrigerator slow down the levain or kill it?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Shoshana, cold water from the refrigerator would definitely help slow things down. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  3. Ana

    When halving this recipe you recommend making the levain without changing the quantities. Do we make it and only use half of it? Or do we use all of it and just halve the dough ingredients?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It should work with everything cut in half, Ana, but if you’re down for some experimentation, you’re welcome to try cutting the levain down by just 25%. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Jason Schmidt

    My oven has a convection option. Should I use the convection or not convection? Like a previous post, my bread has been so crusty that my knife has a problem cutting it.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jason! We’d recommend sticking with a still oven to prevent that outer crust from blowing around and drying out too quickly. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’ve found that oven’s “beep” that they’re ready long before they’ve reached the proper temperature. We recommend letting it go much longer to ensure the oven reaches the high temperature you’re looking for. You’re welcome to cut it down to 45 minutes. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Alexander

    I messed this recipe up in every way possible. I live in China and it’s not exactly a country big on baking so I’m not really sure what my flour is – the translation is roughly accurate, but I can’t be 100% sure (boy do I miss KAF!). As I was weighing the water into the bowl, my scale suddenly broke. I had to roughly guess how much water was left. When I was about to put the dough into the bread pan, I realized my bread pan was the wrong size. I had never thought to measure it and it came with my oven, but I’m now guesstimating it’s around 3 inches wide, not 5. I had to mess with my dough in order to get it to fit (after shaping! Urrgh!). Finally, my oven is a counter-top toaster oven that is practically gaping open around the door – no such things are real ovens here.

    Having said all of that, this bread still came out great! I made it so my girlfriend could bring sandwiches to work, but she ate half a loaf while it was sitting on the counter cooling down. It’s nutty, whole wheat-y and has just a hint of sourdough tang making a really complex flavored bread. The texture is also great – crunchy and fluffy, dense enough to hold toppings but still be enjoyable for a slice of toast. Mine definitely isn’t as pretty as Maurizio’s, and I’m sure the texture isn’t as good, but I went and ordered real loaf pans 5 minutes after trying this bread because I liked it so much. Delicious.

    It was hard to work with – I’ve never had such a sticky dough, but well worth the effort. If I can mess up this many ways and still think it’s great, I can’t wait to see what a properly made loaf will taste like.

  6. Lisa

    Just pulled the loaves out of the oven at 50 min because they were at temperature (203) but the tops are VERY dark almost burnt. What could I have done to avoid this? FYI, I used the cast iron pan method for steam.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for giving this recipe a bake, Lisa. Some ovens hold heat more than others, so it’s possible that yours just didn’t turn down in temp as quickly as others. An overly-browned top crust could also be the result of baking high in the oven, so next time we’d suggest baking on a lower shelf and tenting with foil the loaf if/when it’s reached a deep, golden brown color. Hope this helps to make for an even happier next bake! Mollie@KAF

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