Since I’ve discovered Tartine Bread, I have never made sourdough any other way. In a nutshell, this method requires young levain, autolyse the dough, a series of stretch and fold every 30 minutes instead of kneading the dough in a mixer, and you bake it in a cast iron combo cooker to trap the steam in the first 30 minutes of baking time. It does take a whole day before you get a loaf of bread, even longer if you retard the dough in the fridge for 15-18 hours. But, Tartine method is great for me because it requires very minimal active time. I usually let the dough autolyse for 2-3 hours while I clean the house. The book calls for 1 hour autolyse, but I make 100% whole wheat bread; so extended autolyse time is perfect for it. I would be doing something else like watching TV or paying bills during the series of stretch-and-folds. I am not going into details here because if you are interested making sourdough this way, you should read the book! It has the most useful information and the author would explain the process better than I do anyway.

Baking a loaf in a cast iron combo cooker is sort of limited since I can only bake a boule. I had to think of another way to bake when Drew asked if he could have a sandwich bread. I tried to bake sourdough in a loaf pan. The first batch didn’t turn out right. It didn’t rise much. It also had a blow out on the side because I didn’t slash it. I never had to slash a loaf when baking in a loaf pan before with commercial yeast. I also didn’t think it needed steam when I bake in a loaf pan! So, on the second batch, I thought I would try providing the loaf with steam somehow. The problem was that my loaf pan would never fit into the combo cooker and I didn’t want to do the whole steam bath thing. Steam bath was such a pain and it didn’t work well in a home oven anyway. I also didn’t want to sacrifice my Le Creuset oval dutch oven for a loaf pan to sit in. So, I looked around for an option. On The Fresh Loaf, I found that some people use GraniteWare roaster to make Tartine method sourdough and it worked well. I went ahead and order an 18 inch roaster. It was less than 11 bucks!

I made the dough the same way I normally did. But, instead of letting the dough do its final rise in a bowl wrapped in a towel, I put it in a loaf pan. I let it rise to about 30% — about 2 hours in the oven with the light on. I preheated the oven to 500°F. When the oven reached the temperature, I slashed the top, put the loaf pan in the roaster. I also added 2 cups of water to the roaster, put the cover on and into the bottom most rack in the oven. I steamed the dough for 20 minutes at 500°F; then, lowered the temperature to 450°F and baked with the cover on for another 10 minutes. After I uncovered the roasting pan, I let it bake for another 15 minutes.

Second loaf turned out taller than the first loaf. It was almost perfect. The only complain we had was the bottom crust was a little too thick and crusty for a sandwich bread. I also made a mistake of not putting any grease or used parchment on the loaf pan before putting the dough in. When I took the bread out and tried to take it out of the loaf pan to let it cool on a rack. It glued to the pan! It just did not budge no matter what you do. So, I thought…well, let the steam release it after a couple of hour. Nope! It still didn’t want to come out. I had to pry ALL sides with a wooden spatula! So, first lesson, a loaf needs steam no matter which shape you bake it. Second lesson, parchment paper is your friend.

Third loaf I used parchment paper. I also put a roasting rack in the roasting pan so that the loaf pan wouldn’t sit directly at the bottom of the roasting pan. I added 2 cups of water this time before putting it into the oven. It worked! The bottom crust is perfect.

So, you can bake sourdough in a loaf pan. You’d make the dough like you normally would bake it in a combo cooker and put the dough into a loaf pan during the final rise. And,

  1. You still need steam. I provided extra steam by adding 2 cups of water in the roasting pan.
  2. Use grease or parchment in the loaf pan
  3. Use a roasting rack so that the loaf pan does not sit directly at the bottom of a roasting pan.

That’s it!

I have not tried retarding the dough in a loaf pan overnight, yet. I have to experiment with that next time.