There are few things in life that are more rewarding than slicing into a loaf of bread that you made at home. A loaf from the store just can’t replicate the smell, texture, and heavenly taste of homemade bread—and feeling a good dose of pride because of your beautiful creation doesn’t hurt either.
Making your own sandwich bread is an easy, beginner-friendly entry point into working with yeast and making breads. Being able to make your own bread is a wonderful tool to put in your self-reliance toolkit—if the stores are out of bread or you can’t get to the store, no problem! You can whip up your own loaf in just a few hours. Below, you’ll find a complete visual step-by-step tutorial to walk you through the process, so let’s get baking!
How do you make sandwich bread at home?
Making yeast bread is one of those things that intimidates a lot of home cooks (it did me for a while), but it’s actually incredibly simple. Let’s walk you through the basic steps to making this sandwich bread:
Step 1: Proof the yeast
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large mixing bowl if mixing by hand, combine hot tap water, cold milk, honey or sugar, and dry active yeast. Yeast likes warm, but not too hot, water to activate it, so we find that combining hot tap water and cold milk makes a temperature that yeast is very happy with! Set this mixture aside to activate (or “proof”) the yeast. After about 5 minutes, the mixture should look nice and foamy—like the head of a beer. This is how you know your yeast is alive and ready to go!
If your yeast doesn’t foam up after five minutes, it might just be that it needs a few more minutes to do its thing. If you still don’t see any activity after 10 minutes, your yeast might be old or dead, and it’s time to invest in fresh yeast.
Do I have to proof the yeast?
Some bread recipes skip the step of proofing the yeast, but I find that I get better, quicker results by activating the yeast first—plus, it helps me know early on if my yeast is sluggish. No wasting precious ingredients later on just to find out your yeast isn’t active!
Step 2: Mix up the dough
Now that your yeast is raring to go, it’s time to make the dough by adding in the remaining ingredients: melted butter or oil, salt, and flour.
You can then mix by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until it comes together to form a sticky, loose dough.
Step 3: Knead the dough
Kneading dough is how you activate the gluten in the flour to make the dough smooth and elastic. To knead dough, you push, stretch, and pull the dough until it turns smooth and easy to work with. You can either knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface, or you can do it in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook on medium-low. Either way, you’ll need to knead for about 7-10 minutes to get the desired smoothness. When it’s ready, the dough will be a smooth ball and lose almost all of its stickiness.
Step 4: First rise
The next step is to do the first of two rising periods—this is where you let the dough sit in a warm area (room temp or slightly above) to let the yeast activate and multiply. This gives the bread its yeasty flavor, but also helps give the bread its fluffy, soft texture.
Grab a clean, medium-size bowl, and add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil (olive oil and avocado oil both work), place the dough in the oil, and then rotate the dough around so it’s all covered in oil.
Cover the dough to keep in moisture—you can use plastic wrap, a damp tea towel, bowl covers, or even plastic shower caps! Place it in a warm place to rise.
The first rise is finished when your dough ball has roughly doubled in size. The time on this will vary wildly based on the activity of your yeast and the warmth of your kitchen—so we can’t give you an exact time frame. But when the dough looks roughly double the size, you’re ready to move on to the next step. If you are having a hard time estimating what “double the size” looks like, they sell bulk fermentation containers that are clear and have lines on the outside so you can easily tell when you’ve reached the double mark.
Step 5: Form into a loaf
Once your dough has doubled in size, lightly flour a work surface, and dump the whole bowl of fluffy dough out. When you pour it out, the mixture should look fluffy, stringy, elastic, and be full of tiny bubbles/holes. Yay! You’ve successfully completed your first rise. There is no need to “punch” down the dough as you see on TV a lot—the process of shaping the loaf will deflate it enough, and punching it down might remove too much air and make for a denser loaf.
Using floured hands, quickly form the dough into a loaf shape. You really don’t have to worry about it being too perfect or fancy because we’re going to do a second rise that’ll smooth out most of the bumps and imperfections. Transfer the loaf into a greased loaf pan (a bench scraper makes moving the soft dough into the loaf pan easier, but it definitely isn’t necessary).
Step 6: Second rise
Once the loaf is shaped and in the pan, it’s time to let it rise again. You’ll want to cover the loaf pan again to prevent drying out, but this time, I recommend using something that can give the dough some space to rise. I like using either oiled plastic wrap (it’ll rise with the dough and be easy to remove later), or a plastic storage bin turned upside-down over top of the dough. This second rise time will go quite quickly, so it’s not absolutely necessary to cover the dough at this stage, but doing so will keep your crust softer.
How to tell the bread has risen enough: the poke test
For this rise, you’re looking for two landmarks to tell you your dough is ready to bake. First up, you want it to pass the poke test. Using the knuckle of your pointer finger, press into the dough about 1/2″.
You can tell how well risen your bread is by how the indentation behaves:
- Bounces back immediately or almost immediately: the bread is under-risen (AKA: under-proofed), and could use some more rise time. Try again in 10-15 minutes.
- Bread or indentation collapses (like popping a bubble): the bread is over-risen (AKA: over-proofed) and needs to be dumped out, reformed into a new loaf, and re-proofed.
- Indentation bounces back slowly—over a minute or more: your bread is ready to bake!
A second indicator is that the bread rises about 1″ over the side of the loaf pan at the crest of the bread. This isn’t as accurate as the poke test because loaf pans vary in size (more on that down below), but it’s a good backup indicator if you’re looking for more confirmation about the second rise.
Step 7: Bake that sandwich bread!
During the last few minutes of your second rise, preheat the oven to 425°F. When the bread passes the poke test, pop it in the oven, and immediately reduce the temperature to 375°F. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when you rap on it with your knuckles. Do your very best not to open the oven door to check on the bread while it bakes—especially in the first 10-15 minutes. The high oven temperature will help give the bread “oven spring,” which is the rapid rise that happens when cold (or colder) dough hits a hot oven—opening the door reduces the oven temperature dramatically, and that reduces the oven spring.
When the bread is ready, pull it out and set it out to cool for at least 15 minutes in the loaf pan before removing.
After you get the loaf out of the pan, let it cool completely on a wire rack. Homemade sandwich bread slices much better when completely cooled, but it’s so hard to wait that long!
Step 8 (optional): Soften the crust
Homemade sandwich bread tends to have a crispier crust than store-bought sandwich bread, which is great for serving alongside soup, but less great when you want a PB&J. There are two ways you can soften your sandwich bread crust, and both work equally well!
Soften the crust using butter
I learned this trick from my friend Melissa at Bless This Mess (who got it from her mom)—immediately after the bread comes out of the oven, brush or slather butter on the hot crust. The butter will absorb into the bread and create a soft (and buttery) crust!
Soften the crust using a damp tea towel
I’ve used this trick for years to soften homemade bread—if you’re short on butter, you can also soften the crust by lightly (lightly!) dampening a tea towel, and then wrapping the entire warm loaf of bread in the tea towel as soon as it comes out of the pan. Let the wrapped loaf cool completely on a wire rack before unwrapping. The bread might feel slightly soggy immediately after unwrapping, but after a few minutes of air exposure, you’ll have a soft bread ready for your favorite sandwiches.
This sounds great, but I’m scared to work with yeast!
Once you get the hang of baking with yeast, you’ll wonder why you were ever afraid. There are a lot of hardcore bakers out there that will give you very specific rules and requirements about working with yeast—it can definitely be a science—but I honestly don’t think it has to be that complicated. Here are my two main suggestions:
- Keep your yeast fresh—I like to store mine in a closed canning jar in the fridge or freezer. If you keep it in the freezer, it’ll last pretty much indefinitely.
- Don’t kill your yeast with hot water—Very hot temperatures will kill yeast. In this recipe, we combine cold milk and hot water to lower the temperature of the liquid to make it yeast-friendly.
What kind of yeast should I buy?
You’re looking for dry active yeast for this recipe—but rapid rise/instant and bread machine yeast will also work in this recipe. There are slight differences between them all, but in this recipe, you can use them interchangeably.
You can purchase yeast in either small, single use packages or in larger glass containers. I highly recommend springing for the glass containers—once you catch the homemade bread bug, you’ll wish you had more yeast!
Brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast will not work in this recipe—they are not the same thing as active baking yeast.
Do I need a special bread flour?
Bread flour is simply flour that has a higher protein content than “regular” flour. That extra protein can help make breads rise better and have fluffier, more tender end results, but it is absolutely not a necessity. While the quality of your flour can impact your final results—my favorite flour for this sandwich bread recipe is King Arthur’s Organic Bread Flour—you’re still going to have excellent results using run-of-the-mill all-purpose or whole wheat flour. We’ve tested this recipe using both high-end organic bread flour and store-brand all-purpose flour, and while the difference is noticeable, it’s not enough for us to recommend one over the other.
Can I make this sandwich bread whole wheat?
Sure can! We’ve tested this recipe using 100% all-purpose (white) flour, 100% whole wheat flour, and a mix of half and half—all with excellent results. The 100% whole wheat version is slightly denser and it required a longer rise time in our kitchen, but it was a wonderful, nutty whole grain bread!
Should I use a scale to weigh ingredients or measure them by volume using measuring cups?
We highly recommend using a kitchen scale to measure all ingredients for bread making, but especially the flour. A kitchen scale is the most accurate way to ensure the same results every time you bake. We’ve tested this recipe multiple times using volume measures (cups) and weight measurements (grams), and when using weight measurements, the results were exactly the same each time. When using volume measurements, there were slight variations in the texture and behavior of the dough, which could be really frustrating for a first-time baker.
If you must use volume measurements for measuring the flour, be sure to use the scoop and sweep method for measuring the flour. If you just scoop the flour out of the container, you’ll end up with a very dry dough/bread.
What does the salt do in this bread recipe?
Saltless bread is flavorless and pretty darn sad! The salt in this recipe adds a lot of flavor. Just make sure to add it in in the order we suggest—salt can kill yeast if you aren’t careful.
Can I make this bread gluten-free?
We’ve never tested this recipe using gluten-free flours, and wouldn’t recommend it—this bread is specifically formulated to be used with wheat flour. We do have a wonderful Cashew Grain-Free Sandwich Bread recipe that is not only gluten-free, but also free from all grains.
What size loaf pan should I use?
Our favorite size loaf pan for this recipe is a 10″x 4 1/2″ loaf pan because it results in wonderful tall slices, but a regular sized 9″ x 5″ loaf pan works as well—it’ll just give you more wide, pan-style slices.
Can I make this recipe in a bread machine?
We’ve developed this recipe to be made without a bread machine, but there is no reason it shouldn’t work in one. We haven’t tried it out, so if you do, let us know in the comments!
Help! My kitchen is cool and I don’t have a warm spot to rise my dough.
No worries, you can easily manufacture a warm spot for your dough to rise. Here are a few options:
- Use the oven. Many modern ovens have a “proof” setting. Turn that on and place your covered dough in there to rise. If you don’t have that setting, an oven light often pumps out enough heat too. Or, just turn your oven to a low temp (200°F or below) for a few minutes, then turn it off, and put the dough in the warm (but off!) oven.
- Use the fire/wood stove/furnace. Our fireplace hearth is an excellent place to let dough rise. Wood stoves, radiators, and other warm (but not too hot) sources of radiant heat are a good option, too. Just make sure to rotate the dough if the heat source is one-directional (like from a fireplace).
- Try the top of the fridge. The top of our fridge is nice and toasty! Yours might be, too. Try it.
- On top of a bowl of boiling water. This is my favorite tip, and one that consistently works for me. Boil water in a kettle. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Rest the covered pan/bowl of dough on top of the bowl of water. The heat from the steam does wonders to get dough to pop up fast!
- On top of a heating pad. This is a great trick! Pull out a heating pad, set it to medium, and place your pan on top of the heating pad.
- Try outside. This isn’t applicable in November in Indiana, but in August? You better believe I’m putting my dough out in the 90-degree sun on the back deck to rise.
Why do you start off the bread at such a high oven temperature?
In this recipe, we recommend preheating the oven to 425°F and then immediately backing it down to 375°F once the bread is in the oven. Why? Well, it all comes down to something called “oven spring.” Oven spring is the rapid rise that happens when cool bread dough hits a hot oven during the first few minutes of baking. The higher temperature gets us a nice oven spring (which makes for soft, fluffy, risen bread), but if we baked at that temperature the whole time, the crust would be burnt before the inside was baked, so we back it down.
How many slices can I get out of this loaf of sandwich bread?
If you’re looking to maximize your slices, it’s important to let the sandwich bread cool completely (even chill slightly in the fridge) to be able to get thinner slices. You can easily get 18 thin slices out of this bread, and 12 thick-cut, perfect-for-French-toast slices.
What’s the best way to store homemade sandwich bread?
We store our homemade bread in an airtight container on the counter (we use these steel locking containers for our bread). Because we are a small family, we usually cut the loaf in half, and keep half in an airtight container in the freezer—when we’ve finished the half loaf on the counter, we bring out the frozen one. On the counter, the bread will last 4-5 days. In the freezer, it’ll last six months or even longer.
The greatest thing about bread-making is that you get to eat your mistakes! Even sandwich bread that doesn’t turn out perfectly is usually still quite delicious—and even if it isn’t, imperfect bread makes great croutons, breadcrumbs, or breakfast bakes. Making your own bread is a risk-free endeavor! So strap on the apron, get out the flour, and start baking. Enjoy!