Ultra-soft sourdough sandwich bread (sourdough shokupan)

Introducing: the “fast” and ultra-soft version of my soft sourdough sandwich bread! Enriched with milk, milk powder, cream, egg, and butter, this sourdough shokupan style loaf boasts a smooth, bouncy crumb and mildly sweet taste. It’s perfect for sandwiches, grilled cheese, or the best ever French toast.

Compared to previous versions of this bread, I’ve upped the amount of starter in this bread so the bulk fermentation and rising is all done in one day. You will need to build a sweet stiff levain, which I do the night before I plan to mix the dough. While I’ll still continue to use my older formulas (especially when I want to do an overnight proof), I love this new recipe for its speed!

sourdough shokupan crumb

Thanks to the warm fermentation and sweet starter, this bread is very mild with a hint of sweetness, even with a large amount of prefermented flour. I’m happy to add this formula to my arsenal and excited for you to try it!

Tips for sourdough shokupan success:

Sweet stiff levain: For all my enriched sourdough breads I prefer to use a stiff levain — this just means that there is a higher proportion of flour to water in the starter. I don’t maintain a separate stiff starter — whenever I want to make an enriched bread, I just prepare a stiff levain using my 100% hydration starter. In this particular loaf, I add a little sugar to the starter as well to tame the acidity.

Thorough kneading: For best rise and texture, the dough should be fully kneaded to windowpane stage. I first knead the dough without butter until the dough is smooth and the gluten is well-developed; then add the butter slowly and continue kneading until the dough is very strong, smooth, and supple. Please note that the exact timings will vary depending on your flour and mixer; and it is possible to overknead this dough. I suggest checking the dough every couple minutes after all the butter has been added so you get a feel for how the dough is changing and developing.

Warm fermenatation: I keep this dough warm throughout bulk fermentation and proofing, about 80-82F. Because of the high percentage of starter the dough should rise fairly steadily; if not, it may come down to strength of starter, under/over-kneading, or too cool an environment.

Degassing during shaping: For the tightest, bounciest crumb, the dough should be very well degassed at the shaping stage. I also keep the bench rest and shaping times short, as this dough ferments fairly quickly. If you start getting air bubbles under the skin while the dough is resting, it is harder to get a really smooth, even crumb. When rolling the dough, use quick and firm movements with the pin and try to push all the bubbles out from the dough. You shouldn’t need any flour for shaping.

fully fermented sourdough shokupan

Sourdough shokupan (ultra-soft sourdough sandwich bread)

Makes one 9x4x4 pullman loaf or 9×5 loaf


For the sweet stiff levain:

  • 35g active, ripe sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 58g milk
  • 13g granulated sugar
  • 105g bread flour

For the final dough:

  • 114g bread flour
  • 114 all-purpose flour
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 21g milk powder
  • 75g milk, cold
  • 81g heavy cream, cold
  • 50g egg (about 1 large), cold
  • 7g salt
  • 46g unsalted butter, at room temperature

To finish:

  • Milk, for brushing
  • Melted butter, for brushing (optional)


  1. Make the sweet stiff levain: In a medium bowl, mix the starter, milk, sugar and flour together to form a stiff dough. Cover the bowl and ferment the levain at warm room temperature until more than doubled in volume and puffy, about 8 to 12 hours.
  2. Autolyse the dough: In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt and butter until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Mix the dough: Add salt, and knead dough on low until gluten is moderately developed, about 5-7 minutes. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel smooth and stretchy. Add the butter in three batches, mixing in each portion completely before adding the next. Continue kneading on low/medium-low until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test. Timing will depend on your flours and mixer, but usually takes about 5-10 minutes after the butter has been added. The dough should be smooth and supple. Desired dough temperature is ~75-76F.
  4. Bulk fermentation: Transfer to a clean and lightly oiled bowl, cover, and bulk rise at warm room temperature (80-82F) for 2 hours, or until roughly doubled.
  5. Shape the dough: Transfer dough to a clean surface. Divide into 3 parts, shape into balls, and rest for 5 minutes, covered by lightly oiled plastic. Using a rolling pin, roll the first ball into an oval about 9″ x 5″, doing your best to degas the dough. (Roll from the center out, which should push the air bubbles to the edges. Pop any air bubble you see; this will help create a tight and smooth crumb.) Fold the two long edges to the center, slightly overlapping. Roll to a rectangle about 10″ x 4″, again doing your best to fully degas the dough, then roll up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch seam to seal. Repeat with other two portions. (See photos above for visual cues.)
  6. Proof the dough: Transfer rolls to a loaf pan, seam sides down. Cover loosely with plastic and allow to rise at warm room temperature (~80-82F) until dough roughly triples in volume and nearly fills the tin (if using a Pullman Pan; in a 9×5 pan it should rise about 1″ above the rim), about 3.5-4 hours.
  7. Preheat the oven and bake the loaf: About 45-60 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400F with a rack in the middle. After the dough has finished proofing, brush lightly with milk, transfer to oven, and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 350F and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, or until the internal temperature is at least 195F. If the loaf is browning too quickly, tent a piece of foil over the top to keep from burning. When the loaf is finished, immediately remove from the pan and turn onto a wire rack. Brush melted butter over the top and sides while the loaf is still warm, if desired (this helps create a soft crust). Allow to cool completely before slicing. Store leftovers in a sealed plastic bag.

Related recipes and links:

side view sourdough shokupan

20 thoughts on “Ultra-soft sourdough sandwich bread (sourdough shokupan)

  1. I was wondering what the milk powder and cream are for in this recipe? There’s enough fat and sugar from the rest of the ingredients and would like not to add more if not needed where possible.

    1. Hi — this is formulated to be an enriched and extra soft loaf, so the cream and milk powder are there for both rich flavor and texture. The milk powder also helps improve browning in the oven and overall rise. If you’re looking for a less enriched sandwich bread, you may want to check the other soft sourdough sandwich bread from the archives.

  2. Hi Ruth. Can I check if the oven is on fan mode or without fan? I am in the UK so am not sure of the ovens in the USA. Thanks.

      1. Hi. Thank you sharing . The total time looks like more than a day’s work. Please correct me . I’d like to bake this weekend .

        Thaank you

        1. As long as you build the stiff levain the night before, the mixing, bulk proofing, and final proofing can all be done in one day. Please keep in mind however that fermentation times can vary greatly depending on the strength of your starter and temperatures of the dough and room. I suggest keeping the dough in a warm area for best results!

  3. Can’t wait to try this recipe! Is it possible to let it proof overnight in the pan and bake it the next day for breakfast?

    1. Hi! Enriched sourdough loaves generally need to do the final proof at room temperature, and because of the high percentage of starter this one proofs a bit too fast to do an overnight option at the temperatures I recommend. For an overnight proof I’d recommend using the dough from these sourdough sweet rolls. Hope that helps!

    1. Yes, though I wouldn’t replace 1:1 as the dough will be too wet (maybe start with 40-50g extra milk rather than 81g and add more if needed). The bread will also be a little less soft. You might want to take a look at this recipe which uses all milk.

  4. This was a HUGE success with my family ! Baked it Sunday and there’s only enough for around 3 slices left ! Perfect breakfast brioche bread ! Thanks Ruth for another winner !

    1. Hi Deirdre, with these enriched sourdough breads I find the proofing times can vary pretty wildly depending on the strength of your starter and ambient temperature; so I think giving a recommended schedule isn’t ultimately helpful and can lead people to bake the bread before it’s actually ready. That being said, I designed this loaf so it could be mixed and proofed all in one day (provided you prepare the levain the night before). If you’re wanting to bake this in the morning, you’d want to refrigerate it after the first rise and shape and proof the next day (you’d have to start pretty early, though; since the final proof for this usually takes me about 3.5-4 hours). For a morning bake I prefer using the formulas in my book, which have less starter overall and rise slower — I often let those proof at room temperature overnight when it’s not too hot. Hope that helps!

  5. My dough was so so sticky after I added everything – it never seemed like it could form into a ball of any kind, or even knead well – I added flour, but then worried I made it too stiff, so I added a little more milk and kneaded it by hand. It is still very sticky – what am I doing wrong? !?

    1. The dough does take awhile to knead but shouldn’t be batter-like. If it’s really not coming together, it might be that your flour doesn’t absorb as much liquid as mine. You can try using all bread flour instead of a mix of bread and all-purpose and/or holding back 10% of the milk in the final dough (you can add it in during kneading if needed).

  6. This is the first comment I’ve ever left on a recipe but I bake with sourdough often and this is the most delicious bread I’ve ever made—it blows yeasted milk breads out of the water. Thank you for the recipe!!!

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