Monday, January 24

How To Shape Bread Dough into Sandwich Loaves and Some Simple Bread Baking Tips

I'll be posting my Farmhouse White bread recipe later this week, it's up! and I thought I'd first offer up these instructions on how I make my sandwich loaves so nice and big. For more bread baking tips, check out my Ten Tips on How To Bake Better Artisan Breads at Home.

Freshly Baked Farmhouse White (recipe here)

People often ask me how I get my sandwich bread loaves so nice and tall, and the answer is simple: I cram a lot of dough into the pan.

Most sandwich bread recipes call for 9"x5" loaf pans, about a pound of dough per pan, and letting it rise until it's just above the rim. I use a smaller pan, put in a lot more dough, and let it rise well above the rim of the pan before putting it in the oven.

I love my Chicago Metallic commercial 1-pound loaf pans, which are a  joy to use, come with a lifetime warranty, and will last forever if you treat them well. I've been using some of mine for several years and they still look new. I often bake 2-pound loaves of bread in them.

If I want shorter, more square shaped bread, I use my Chicago Metallic commercial 1½-pound loaf pans, which are closer in size to a standard 9"x5" pan. Both size pans are also great for baking quick breads, like Beyond Easy Beer Bread, and cakes, such as this Orange Yogurt Loaf Cake.

Same amount of bread dough in two different sizes of loaf pans

How much difference does the size of the pan make? The two whole grain loaves pictured above weigh exactly the same. The left loaf was baked in a 1-pound commercial loaf pan, and the right loaf in a 1½-pound commercial pan.

A digital kitchen scale is great for evenly portioning out bread loaves and rolls and all sorts of other things. I often use my 11-pound Oxo Good Grips scale (which was voted #1 by America's Test Kitchen for good reason) several times a day. The pull out display is awesome.

Here's another trick. A few years ago I started baking all of my pan loaves on the heated baking stone that I use for freeform loaves, and the results have been wonderful. The bottoms of the loaves are nice and evenly brown, and I think that initial burst of heat directly on the pans makes the loaves end up even taller.

Just like with pizzas and free form loaves, you need to preheat your baking stone so that it's very hot when you put the bread in. I usually bake my sandwich loaves at 375° (as opposed to 500° for pizza), so 30 to 45 minutes of preheating  the stone is usually enough.

Loaf Pans of Farmhouse White Sandwich Bread ready for the oven
Farmhouse White risen and ready for the oven

There are many ways to shape a lump of dough into a standard sandwich loaf. The easiest way is to simply pat the dough into the shape of the pan and plunk it in.

Whichever way you choose to form your loaves, the most important thing to remember is that the finished loaf should touch the short ends of the pan so they can help support the dough as it rises.

One popular technique is 'jelly-roll' style: Press the dough into a rectangle that is as long as the loaf pan and slightly less than twice as wide as it is long. At the narrow end, roll the dough tightly, jelly-roll style. Pinch the ends and seam to seal, turning the ends under if necessary.

I've also seen a similar version where the dough is rolled out to 1/4-inch thick with a rolling pin. That is way too much work for me, but it would be interesting to see the resulting loaf.

I use the 'log' method, and it comes from the pages of the excellent book, Amy's Bread: Artisan-Style Breads, Sandwiches, Pizzas, and More from New York City's Favorite Bakery. These instructions are pretty much word for word, with my notes in brackets, because if you're like me and have trouble thinking three-dimensionally, this isn't the kind of thing you want to try paraphrasing (thanks, Amy!). It does take a little practice.

"When shaping your loaves, the most important thing to remember is to be gentle with the dough. Your goal is to form an even loaf with a taut skin, while leaving some larger air holes inside. 

Very lightly flour the work surface. Start by forming an envelope: Place the dough on the table. Press and flatten it gently with your fingertips to form a rectangle with a short side facing you, leaving a lot of air bubbles in the dough.

[If my dough has lots of air bubbles, I use a French rolling pin to gently flatten the dough because I don't want big surprises hole, like the one pictured above, hiding in my sandwich loaves.]

How to shape bread dough into sandwich loaves 1

Fold the top edge down over the middle of the rectangle, then fold the bottom edge up. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process, folding the top edge down and the bottom edge up again and overlapping the edges slightly in the middle so the dough looks like an envelope. Pat the seam to seal it. Now you have a smaller, tighter rectangle.

Form a cylinder: Starting from the top edge of the rectangle, fold the top third of the dough over itself with one hand. With the heel of your other hand, gently press the seam to seal it.

How to shape bread dough into sandwich loaves 2

Fold the dough one third of the way down again and work from one end to the other to seal the seam. Try to keep the skin of the dough smooth and tight but not so tight that the skin tears.

How to shape bread dough into sandwich loaves 3

Repeat this process one or two more times, until the loaf is a nice round log. Seal the final seam completely with the heel of your hand. Ideally your seam should be straight and tight with no openings or flaps of dough hanging out; with patience, this will become natural.

How to shape bread dough into sandwich loaves 4

If any dough is protruding from the ends of the log, poke it back in with your finger. [I tuck the ends into the log and then pinch them closed; I find this makes a neater looking loaf.]

How to shape bread dough into sandwich loaves 5

The plain log shape can be placed seam side down in a loaf pan [I dust the tops of my loaves with flour so the damp tea towel I drape over them while rising doesn't stick to the dough, and also because I like the way it looks when baked] or left on a cloth for a free-form second rise. From the log shape, you can make other cylindrical shapes."

Which method is best? If you're making three loaves of bread at a time, the best thing to do is shape each one using a different technique and see how they compare. I found that shaping mine into logs resulted in the best looking breads, and I've been shaping them this way for years.

©, the slowly rising foodie farm blog where there's nothing better than a kitchen that smells like freshly baked bread—except one that smells like homemade pie and bread.


  1. That sounds delicious! Homemade bread toast with homemade blackberry jam is one of winter's truest pleasures.
    The only thing that might possibly be better on a cold morning is homemade cinnamon rolls, which my husband sometimes spoils me with... blended cream cheese (or goat yogurt) & maple syrup makes a great frosting!
    (OK, you've officially made me hungry, can you tell? I'm now fantasizing about homemade baked goods.)

  2. Love the tips and pictures! I love making bread, the kneading and shaping is therapy for me. I don't get to do it often enough though. Seeing those beautiful loaves might just make me find some time...thanks!

  3. I am new to making bread (so I started with your pizza dough and it was fantastic!) and today's post reminded me that I'm ready to try actual bread...but I have 8x4 clear glass loaf pans (have had them forever and have only used them for quick breads). Any opinions on glass versus metal pans for yeast bread?

  4. i love making bread!!! thanks so much for all the tips, I'll be sure to refer back here next time i finally get around to baking a batch---unfortunately not as often as I'd like. Speaking of which, is it possible to make a big batch of dough and freeze some for later?

  5. I have been so busy with life in general, that I have not visited the blog in awhile. I have to say it is like comming home to be able to come to your site. Thanks for all the hard work.

  6. Susan, I love it when you write posts about making bread and share your expertise with us! Do you know that January is National Wheat Bread Month?!

  7. I love, love, love your oatmeal bread. Between batches I think I'll try another kind, but just end up making this one. My family doesn't go through bread very fast so I usually make a single large loaf (We go through just baked bread really fast) and then use mini loaf pans for the rest of the dough - putting about 12 oz in each. My little son enjoys the small sandwiches and then when I eat most of the loaf I don't feel so guilty ;-)

    Thanks for your blog - I love seeing the happy pictures!

  8. Thanks so much for the great pictures along with the bread shaping instructions. I've been using this technique for a while now, but always felt a bit uncertain that I was "doing it right"! The pics give me more confidence! Of course, the other confidence-enhancer is how nice the loaves turn out. Since I've been using this shaping method I haven't once ended up with a tunnel through the loaves from an air pocket!

    Many thanks for the really good update!

  9. Hi Everybody,
    Thanks for the nice comments. I'm looking forward to hopefully writing a lot more about bread baking this year!

    Hi Melanie,
    I'm so glad you had success with my pizza dough recipe and are now ready to move on to bread! The Farmhouse White is a perfect learning loaf, and I should have the recipe up in the next couple of days.

    As for baking yeast breads in clear glass pans (such as Pyrex) versus metal pans:

    You can certainly bake bread in glass pans. In fact, that's what I used when I first started baking bread because, like you, that's what I already had.

    The bread came out okay, but I often had trouble with it sticking to the sides of the pan, despite greasing them well. This was especially true with heavier whole grain breads. I don't think I ever actually baked white sandwich bread in them, because, like many people, I wanted to start right away with whole grain flours. Only later did I realize that it's so much easier (and less frustrating) to master a plain white bread first, and then move on to heavier loaves.

    Anyway, I also moved on to metal loaf pans, and I really prefer the way the breads come out when baked in them - especially if you use nice heavy duty commercial pans like the ones I rave about above (and in about 20 other places on this site, LOL).

    I would go ahead and start by using your glass pans, and then if you find that you enjoy baking bread, consider investing in one good metal loaf pan (which will only set you back the cost of a few loaves of bread). Bake one multi loaf batch (my Farmhouse White makes three loaves) using both types of pans and compare the results. Warning, though - once I tried one of those Chicago Metallic pans, I refused to bake bread in anything else! :)

  10. Those are beautiful. The smell of baking bread is something you can't ever forget.

  11. Hi Rubberducky,
    It is possible to freeze bread dough and bake it later, and I'm sure this works great for some people. For me, though, once I've mixed up the dough, I find it's much easier to simply bake two or three loaves at once and then freeze the baked loaves. That way you don't have to deal with packaging up the dough, defrosting it (which can take a while), etc.

    Also, in my limited experience freezing dough, the results aren't as good. After reading about it in a magazine, I once shaped some small pizza shells and then froze them, unbaked. The idea was that you could just pull one or two out and have instant pizza, but when I defrosted them, they ended up with a really weird color and texture and didn't rise properly in the oven.

    I do regularly freeze small hunks of dough to use as 'old' dough in recipes like my Oatmeal Toasting Bread, but this dough is mixed in with a much larger fresh batch, so the texture isn't quite as important.

    When I freeze dough for old dough, I wrap it in plastic, then put it in a zipper sealed plastic bag, but I would put a larger batch straight into a large zipper bag. The dough will probably rise some while cooling down, and this will be more apparent with a larger batch, so you'll want to allow a little extra room for expansion.

    If you do freeze some bread dough and bake it later, I hope you'll come back and let us know how it turned out! :)

    Hi Homegrown Countrygirl,
    Thanks! I didn't know January is National Wheat Bread Month. How fun. :)

    Hi Heidi,
    I'm thrilled to hear that your family is hooked on my Oatmeal Toasting Bread, and I love the idea of little 12 ounce mini loaves! That dough also makes awesome rolls and burger buns. But you're right - it's definitely hard to stop eating when freshly baked. ;)

  12. Great tips! I love making bread but they don't always come out how I visualize it in my head...these tips will definitely help!

  13. Makes me hungry! I need to get over my fear of bread baking. This looks amazing.

  14. Heather,
    I used to fear bread baking, too, but it's really not scary at all. If you haven't already, start with pizza dough and move on from there. You can find my easy pizza dough recipe here. :)

    One thing I forgot to mention regarding the glass loaf pans. For safety's sake, I wouldn't bake them on a baking stone - that direct blast of heat might cause them to crack or shatter.

  15. Great information and thank you for the time you spent writing it.

    Been baking bread off and on since the early '90s. Every once in a while one of my loafs bulges out the side. What in the world is my problem?

    As I read your blog, you said, "the most important thing to remember is that the finished loaf should touch the short ends of the pan so they can help support the dough as it rises." IS THIS THE ANSWER?

    Sometimes I feel like my bread is mimicking the way I feel. In all seriousness, have you ever ran into this and what is your answer?

    Thank you...Mary Rose

  16. Hi Susan
    thanks a lot for pictures and trick and tips

    would you include video for shaping ? it is easy to visualize

    Best Regards

  17. Thank you so much for your wonderful recipes!!!! I love the step by step directions and photos. There is 1 photo that I would love to see if at all possible..... When you do the first rise….. I would love to see a photo of the “sticky, shaggy dough” (just to make sure I understand and am getting it right).
    I have made it twice and it is not quite right yet, but I will keep on trying. (Thanks for the 1 loaf directions, which will save me ingredients!!!!) I have tried it with 2 different yeasts and I think that they were both too old. I am going to the store today and get some fresh yeast and will try it this afternoon.
    THANKS again!!!!

  18. I've been trying to get good at baking whole wheat bread. I have a tasty recipe. And all goes well until I put the loaf in the oven. The nice little dome flattens and I get major muffin top!

    1. It sounds like your yeast is exhausted by the time the dough gets into the oven, which is a common problem. When you poke your finger gently into the risen loaf, you want the dough to still spring back a little.

      Try reducing the second rise (proof) by about 10 minutes to see if that helps. If you're making more than one loaf at a time, you can experiment and put them in the oven 5 or 10 minutes apart and compare the results. :)

  19. I love bread, and have been making bread in a machine for years. only lately have I begun to use the machine to make the dough (so much easier) and bake it in the oven mostly to get better sandwich loaves with out the loss of 1/4 the loaf with the crater in it, but to my surprise the taste and texture are so much better also. Why would that be?
    Maybe the extra rise after the machine is done and "loafing" it in the pan?

  20. Also, I know you have your own recipe for white bread on here, (and it is delicious) but I'd like to share one i have used many times to make my own burger buns. It is ultimately one of the simplest breads I have ever made, and is perfect for those who want to "master the white bread loaf" (as you put it, and is excellent advice.)Originally all I made was burger buns with this, but found that many times I could barely get them out of the oven and onto the cooling rack before they were being snatched up by my girls (wife included...)I had to stand in the kitchen and guard them to make sure there were enough left when the hamburgers came off the grill.
    I then wondered if I could make a loaf with the same recipe. The answer is yes. (I know, someone is thinking "well duuuh" but I didn't know, I had only followed the recipe till this point)

    here it is:

    1 cup lukewarm water
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 large egg
    3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 1/4 teaspoons salt
    1 tablespoon instant yeast

    I live in Colorado where it is dry so some adjustment to the water:flour ratio may need some adjustment to get a nice smooth silky dough.
    now I throw all this into the bread machine, set to dough, and let it do a majority of the work. Although you'll need to babysit it till you get the water:flour consistency right.
    Then just as Susan has said, form the loaf, and let it rise till doubled in size.
    Preheat oven to 375 F (I also use a stone under the pans, so I preheat for about 45 min) and bake loaves for 30-40 min. (30 min gives a nice light crust, and done, but very soft bread inside.) allow to rest on cooling rack for at least 15 min before slicing.

    1. P.S. I forgot to mention...
      I make these in 2, 5 x 9 x 3 inch glass loaf pans.
      I shoot them with an olive oil cooking spray, plop the dough in, let it rise, and bake. Been baking 2 loaves every 2 weeks for almost a year... Never had them stick once. :)


December 2015 update: Hi! For some reason I can't figure out, Blogger hasn't been letting me leave comments on my own blog (!) for the last several months, so I've been unable to respond to your comments and questions. My apologies for any inconvenience! You're always welcome to email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

Hi! Thanks for visiting Farmgirl Fare and taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

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