The French have their crusty baguettes. The Germans, their dark rye. We Americans are happy to adopt breads from cultures all over the world; but if there's one special bread we like to call our very own, it's the simple sandwich loaf.
Yes, you can make a sandwich on just about any kind of bread. But we're talking classic American sandwich bread here: baked in a loaf pan, high-rising and close-grained, sturdy enough to slice nicely — yet soft enough for a gap-toothed 7-year-old to enjoy.
Join us now as we survey the comforting world of sandwich bread. Learn how to create bread complementary to both prosciutto — and peanut butter. Just like America itself, sandwich bread is ready for anything.
Key ingredients for a successful loaf
Let's start by examining the specific ingredients that go into the perfect sandwich loaf.
Flour is the heart and soul of bread, its main ingredient and the basis for its structure. Using a high-quality, consistent flour is key to sandwich loaf success.
- Unbleached all-purpose flour and bread flour, with their high level of gluten-forming protein, are ideal for sandwich bread. Use them interchangeably, though bread flour needs a bit more liquid to produce a smooth dough.
- Whole wheat flour, while high in protein, also contains a lot of bran — which is sharp, and damages gluten. Thus breads made with 100% whole wheat flour won't typically rise as high as those made with white flour. A good compromise? Combine whole wheat and bread flour for whole-grain goodness and a lofty rise.
- Rye, oat, and other whole-grain flours contain little or no gluten. Use them in combination with all-purpose or bread flour.
Yeast is the ingredient that makes bread rise. When fed with flour and water, yeast grows and creates CO2. Trapped in the loaf's web of gluten, this gas causes the bread to rise.
Yeast is readily available in three types: instant, rapid or quick-rising, and active dry. These can be used interchangeably, though they each act a bit differently as they work. For a comparison of these three yeasts see our blog post, Which yeast to use: choosing the best type for any recipe.
Salt, aside from being bread's chief flavor enhancer, regulates yeast growth. Bread dough made without salt will rise very quickly; and since much of bread's subtle flavor is developed during rising, saltless bread will taste flat — both due to lack of saltiness, and to the absence of flavor a long rise would have given it.
Kosher salt, sea salt, extra-fine salt and table salt, and will measure the same by weight. However, if you're measuring by volume you need to measure them differently. By volume, use about twice as much Diamond Crystal kosher salt or Maldon Sea Salt as you would table salt; and about 20% more Morton's kosher salt or Fleur de Sel.
Sugar isn't necessary to feed yeast. Despite what you may have heard, yeast is perfectly capable of finding the sugar it needs by breaking down the the starch in flour. A bit of sugar — about 1 teaspoon per cup of flour — will give yeast a welcome jump start. But too much sugar — more than 1 tablespoon per cup of flour — will slow yeast down.
The most common sweeteners used in sandwich bread are granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and molasses. When substituting a liquid sweetener for a dry one, reduce the liquid in the recipe just slightly.
Fat helps bread rise, and keeps it fresh and soft.
Vegetable oil, butter, margarine, egg yolks, and the fat found in dairy products all contribute to bread's texture and shelf life. Up to a point, the more fat you add to bread dough, the softer/more tender the resulting loaf will be. Too much fat, though, interferes with gluten performance, and can reduce bread's rise. Fat helps keep bread fresh and soft; in the case of butter, it can also add flavor.
Liquid is necessary for yeast to live and for gluten to form. It also accounts for much of sandwich bread's typically soft texture.
Water, milk (both dairy and nut/plant-based), eggs, and the liquid in other dairy products can all contribute to the total amount of liquid in sandwich bread.
The balance of liquid and flour in your yeast dough (called "hydration") makes a critical difference in the resulting loaf's texture. Within certain parameters (and broadly speaking), the higher the percentage of liquid, the coarser the bread's texture, and the higher it will rise. As you reduce the amount of liquid, the loaf will have finer texture, and won't rise as high.
Choose your pan
The pan you choose will determine the size and shape of your loaf. Choose your pan based on the amount of flour in the recipe; and whether you want an American- or European-style loaf.
Aluminum or aluminum/steel pans are the best heat conductors, and will help your loaves rise to their full height. Stainless steel, glass, and stoneware pans may have trouble producing a golden brown bottom crust; and you may find certain loaves don't rise quite as high if you use a pan made from these materials.
8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan
- Creates the classic American-style domed loaf.
- Suitable for recipes using up to 3 1/2 cups flour/grains.
9" x 5" loaf pan
- Creates the classic American-style domed loaf.
- Suitable for recipes using up to 4 1/2 cups flour/grains.
Pain de Mie pan
Making the dough
"Mix all of the ingredients. Knead until smooth. Let rise, shape, let rise again, and bake." Sounds pretty simple, right? Yet so many beginning bread bakers are wary of making dough: scared of yeast, unsure how to knead, worried about shaping. Let's demystify the process.
- Mix all of the dough ingredients together in a bowl. Stir until there are no dry spots.
- Knead the dough until it's soft and smooth, adjusting its consistency with additional flour or liquid as necessary. Methods for kneading dough:
- By hand, on a lightly greased or lightly floured work surface.
- Using a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook; or an electric hand mixer with dough hooks.
- Using a food processor equipped with a dough blade.
- Using a bread machine set on the manual or dough cycle.
- Let the dough rise. (This can be a pain point for new bread bakers; see our blog post, The bread also rises, for some helpful tips.)
- Deflate the dough, shape it, and place it in a pan.
- Cover the pan, and let the dough rise again. When fully risen, the loaf should crown about 1" over the rim of the pan.
- Uncover the pan and bake the bread.
See how it's done —
Tips for top-notch loaves
- Brushing your loaf with milk, cream, or melted butter before baking will help its top crust brown. Brushing with an egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water will yield a satiny/shiny crust. Brushing with a whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water will yield a shiny, dark-brown crust.
- For enhanced tenderness and flavor, brush bread's top crust with melted butter as soon as the loaf's out of the oven.
- Remember, your loaf will rise quite a bit as it bakes. Position your oven rack so it's no more than halfway up the oven, and make sure there are no racks above it. Baking bread on a rack that's too high will result in an over-browned top crust.
- While you may add steam to your oven when you're baking baguettes, there's no need to do it for sandwich loaves; steam may make the bread's crust tough and leathery.
- If your loaf is nearly as brown as you like, but still has 10 to 20 minutes left in its baking time, lay a sheet of aluminum foil gently across the top; this will prevent the top crust from over-browning.
- Letting yeast bread cool in the pan will result in a tough crust. Most breads can be turned out of the pan onto a rack to cool as soon as they come out of the oven. If the sides seem wobbly and soft, let the bread rest in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring it to a rack.
- Raisins, nuts, a swirl of cinnamon, chunks of cheese, rolled oats — these and more add flavor and their own texture to bread. If the bread will be used mainly for sandwiches, however, be judicious with add-ins; they can interfere with bread's "sliceability," and may clash with the flavors in your favorite sandwich fillings.
Let's bake! Enjoy some of our favorite recipes —
Classic sandwich loaves
Keeping bread fresh
- Store bread, unsliced and tightly wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for several days.
- Except under conditions of extreme heat and humidity, don't store bread in the refrigerator; chilling makes bread stale.
- For best long-term storage, slice bread, plastic-wrap it in packages of several slices, place the packages into a large airtight plastic bag, and freeze. Thaw just what you need at room temperature, still wrapped. If slices seem stiff or dry, toast before using.
You might have some questions about baking sandwich bread, especially if you've never tried it before. Why didn't my bread rise as high as it should have? How come the loaf crumbles when I try to slice it? Contact us: we can help.
And while we're a wealth of knowledge around sandwich bread baking, our area of expertise extends far beyond that. Our seasoned staff of bakers knows bread and pizza, cookies and cake, scones and biscuits and muffins. If you can't figure out why your cake crumbles or your sourdough isn't sour enough, we can help. We're available via phone, email, or live chat 7 days a week.
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