How to make Subway Bread
February 17, 2006 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Anyone have a recipe or method for making bread like they do a the Subway sandwich shops? Do they use special pans? How do they make their bread so good??
posted by GernBlandston to Food & Drink (26 answers total)
Response by poster: My kids LOVE subs from Subway, and when we try to make them at home using store bread rolls, they stink.

I want to learn how to bake bread the way they do at the shop so we can make it fresh.
posted by GernBlandston at 1:26 PM on February 17, 2006

The Subway guy told me people come in all the time trying to buy just the bread, but if they really wanted it that bad they'd have to charge them for a whole sub. I wan't to know too!
posted by leapingsheep at 1:29 PM on February 17, 2006

I sure don't know the answer, but I suspect that it's along the same lines as the reason that just about all restaurant food tastes better than something you'd make yourself.... an insanely large portion of lard/oil/sugar/other-bad-for-you-stuff.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:33 PM on February 17, 2006

As a former Subway employee (many many years ago) -
Bread comes in thin frozen sticks that get placed into the special bread oven. I don't think there was anything special about the recipe itself. The frozen sticks are placed in pan molds so that every roll bakes evenly and consistantly.

Mind you, this was over 15 years ago - things may have changed.
posted by zerokey at 1:34 PM on February 17, 2006

One more thing - at the stores I worked at, the bread was always fresh. I think the post-baked time limit was 3 hours, then it gets dumped and replaced.
posted by zerokey at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2006

I haven't worked at Subway in over a decade (this was back when they only had two kinds of bread), but the bread came in boxes of frozen 'sticks'. You'd have to prep the frozen sticks on these special non-stick trays within a proofer, which was basically a warmer with a pan of water in it, to let them thaw out a good deal. Then you'd bake them for about 20 minutes. The simplest thing you could do would be to cut a deal with a Subway manager and let them order a box of the bread sticks for you. As long as there's some profit involved I don't know why they wouldn't do it. On preview: I wonder if I've worked with zerokey....
posted by kimota at 1:37 PM on February 17, 2006

I have so many friends who are addicted to the bread at Subway. I don't eat anything made with flour, so I'm clueless as to why so many people are nuts about this bread or what's so special about it. The closest I've ever come to finding a recipe online for it is here. The guy who posted the recipe says that it's not an official recipe but it duplicates the taste. I gave that recipe to a friend and he said that it did taste just like Subway's. Also note the last post, where a Subway worker says that they use wheat and white as the base for all of their breads, and then they just roll or knead those two recipes in spices to get the other flavors, such as Italian and honey oat, etc.
posted by iconomy at 1:37 PM on February 17, 2006

Apparently the magic keywords for google are "copycat recipe" as there seem to be a bazillion sites out there along those lines... of course many of them seem to be search engine spam sites.

I found this recipe for honey oat bread but I'm not sure how good it is.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:40 PM on February 17, 2006

There are a lot of reasons you can't duplicate various commercial breads.

They could be using special high or low gluten flours that are difficult for home bakers to buy or replicate. They also add various additives in small quantities, like amylase. They may also be using different sugars (though I dunno how big a difference that would make).

Also, they have true convection ovens that can keep very consistent temperature and humidity levels to make the crust turn out just so. The average home oven is pretty primitive in comparison.

Try some of the copycat recipes, but realize that you may never quite get it because you don't have the right basic ingredients. Try cake flour (low gluten), try high-gluten flour, try combinations of those with regular flour maybe.

I'm not really a bread expert, but I did once read an article/interview with someone from Ace Bakery, whose bread is amazing and impossible to duplicate at home. (not on purpose!)
posted by GuyZero at 1:49 PM on February 17, 2006

A friend of mine and I were managers of a Little Caesar's Pizza many many years ago. We brought home pans and all ingredients and still couldn't replicate the taste at home. We realized that much of it had to do with the ovens. The ovens at Little Caesar's were chain ovens with specifically aligned heating elements so that the pizza would cook in one specific way every time. I think the bread oven at Subway was similar, but more of a rotating type action.

Remember - fast food cooking devices tend to be scientifically researched and calibrated so that the food comes out according to the standards developed at the corporate labs every single time.
posted by zerokey at 2:02 PM on February 17, 2006

If you are feeling game, you could try the baguette recipe in No Need to Knead. The author's recipes are very different than most I've seen in that the doughs are really wet, but they do yield a nice dense crumb and soft, yet slightly crispy, crust. And, yes, you really don't have to knead the bread dough.

Besides the book, you will need a baguette pan (not very expensive), an oven thermometer (crucial) and a spray bottle filled with water (to adjust the humidity in the oven while the bread is baking).

It may not taste quite the same as Subway bread, but it will definitely be better than most commercial breads you can buy at grocery stores.
posted by luneray at 2:13 PM on February 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I, too, worked at Subway about 15 years ago. And, yes, people were always asking if they could just buy the bread, but most paled at the thought of having to pay for the entire sandwich.

We put the frozen bread sticks in a proofer. After they proofed, we'd stretch them so that they'd be a foot long. Then we'd bake them. I think the key is that the bread is freshly baked and there's no egg glaze or water brushing to make the crust crisp. Plus we kept the bread in plastic bags in big plastic bins and got rid of the bread within a few hours. Less chance of dry bread.

You could probably create a similar experience by buying frozen ready-bake bread, if you proof it first.
posted by acoutu at 2:49 PM on February 17, 2006

I honestly find nothing special about Subway's breads. They're certainly no better than anything we've made in the bread machine.

Subway's bread is better than most store-bought bread, but that's hardly a surprise. Commercial bread is, as a rule, vile.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:18 PM on February 17, 2006

My French-bread-baking brother swears by his baguette pan. He says the perforations are the important part.

He's never attempted to copy Subway's bread, but his homemade bread is wonderful.

Top Secret Recipes is another recipe copycat site. They don't have a recipe for Subway bread listed, but they do respond to popular requests, so you could try writing and asking them to create one.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:38 PM on February 17, 2006

I have never been particularly impressed with anything from Subway. It's better than most fast food, but that ain't saying much.
posted by sophist at 3:41 PM on February 17, 2006

I am another person who has tried to replicate restaurant/take out food recipes and found that it never works. There is always a crack-like ingredient that these companies have that cannot be bought anywhere in the high street, or some bespoke machinery that cooks the food and that is simply not affordable. Without these things the food is never the same. Give in to the fact that if you want that taste you must go to that outlet. It's like trying to mix up Chanel no.5 in a bucket. Exclusivity is the whole reason these fast food chains prosper.
posted by fire&wings at 4:53 PM on February 17, 2006

I'd say the key is (as others have mentioned) that it's very fresh. If you want fresh-baked baguettes, french bread, etc, without having to make it yourself or pay sandwich prices at Subway, you might try a local bakery or even the bakery department at your local grocery store.
posted by attercoppe at 5:28 PM on February 17, 2006

I'm also a former (australian) Subway employee of the 2 bread era (and now gone special cut). As mentioned above the bread comes in frozen sticks. Here in Australia we can buy very similar stuff in Woolworths/Safeway in the bread section. It is labeled as bake at home bread and is basically the dough formed into a baguette shape and you put it in the oven for 10 minutes, they also freeze well if not baked. My guess is that the supermarket/subway lightly boil the bread before freezing/packing it. The boiling will give it the slightly chewy texture your after.

What I'm trying to say is maybe trawl your local supermarket for bake at home baguettes, either in the freezer or bread section.

As a side note I can't understand why anyone would want to eat subway voluntarily. I don't know what causes that subway smell (though I do suspect its preservatives in the bread and lettuce) but when I quit working there I washed the trousers I used twice and couldn't get THAT-subway-smell out and ended up throwing them out.
posted by mule at 5:30 PM on February 17, 2006

This is not Subway's recipe, nor will it taste just like Subway's bread- but it will probably share the qualities for which you're looking, and despite the length of the instructions, it's really very easy to make:

3 cups high gluten flour (King Arthur will work)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon soft butter
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup + necessary warm (not hot) water

Pour yeast into warm water, add honey, stir gently to blend. Set aside out of drafts for 5 minutes.

Mound your flour into a bowl, then create a hollow in the center. Pour your salt along the edges of the bowl. Dump your wheat flour into the bowl. Toss the butter in wherever makes you happy.

When the yeast-honey mixture has formed a thick and attractive head, slowly pour this into the well you created, using a fork to blend the liquid into the flour. When blended into a ball, more or less, pour out on a floured surface and knead, knead, knead, When your dough is smooth and has the same give as the tip of your nose when you press it (both the nose, and the dough.) Cover with a length of thick muslin (buy a yard at any fabric store,) and leave to rise.

When your dough has doubled, punch it down, recover, and leave to rise. When your dough has doubled again, take a cleaver and slice it into 3 fairly equal sections. Here's the part that helps you get the flaky baguette crust:

Flour your hands well. Take one of your dough balls and flatten it a bit, then yank hard, pulling one side over the other. Fold the lip inside, then flatten your dough and start again. Do this three or four times, pat your mini-loaf to even out the shape, then put it aside. Repeat the process with your other two mini-loaves. Cover all of them with your floured muslin and leave to rise until they double.

While you wait for them to double, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the cold oven and start the pre-heat. (If you don't have a baking stone, the baguette pan above will do, and if you have neither, you can put your loaves on a cold cookie sheet before you put them in the oven. Still, I really recommend the baking stone.)

When the loaves have doubled, they go in the oven. If you're using the baking stone, scatter a handful of cornmeal on it to prevent stickage, then jerk your loaves onto the hot stone.

If you prefer a tenderer crust, brush them with beaten egg. Use a razor blade to score the top, then throw a half a cup of water in the bottom of the oven, quickly closing the door to keep the steam inside.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. If, after 20 minutes, the loaves do not read 200 degrees on an internal temperature, turn the oven down to 375, throw in another quarter cup of water, and bake 5 more minutes, or until done.

Cool on a wire rack, if you have willpower. If you don't, eat them all up with butter before you ever have a chance to make sandwiches from them. This bread IS sturdy enough for Subway's (now forsaken) special cut. If you want to save some of the bread, wrap in waxed paper, not plastic wrap.

posted by headspace at 7:48 PM on February 17, 2006

Wow, apparently I'm the only one who avoids Subway entirely strictly because I can't stand the terrible bread.
posted by mmoncur at 8:06 PM on February 17, 2006

No, you're not the only one mmoncur. I agree that Subway has horrible bread that isn't at all crusty on the outside like good baguettes.
posted by gyc at 9:41 PM on February 17, 2006

how come everyone at metafilter worked at subway?! i may very well take the recentness cake by working there about 6 years ago*.

one thing that no one seems to be mentioning is that the bread is thawed in the walk-in overnight, then stuck in the proofer for a while before it's baked. alton brown swears a slow rise makes your pizza dough better, so i don't see why it wouldn't work for normal bread in this sitch as well.

*i was there when the new breads came in and the u-gouge got ditched, it was a tumultuous time in my life
posted by soma lkzx at 10:32 PM on February 17, 2006

As someone who ate at Subway today, and will be making salad breadbowls tomorrow, I concur that the proofer is key.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:52 PM on February 17, 2006

Just in case I'm not the only one who didn't know what some of the comments above meant by special cut/u-gouge, here's a page with an illustration (special/u-gouge type cut on the left, circled in green).
posted by PY at 11:42 PM on February 17, 2006

mule: so it's not just me who can't stand the smell of Subway! It doesn't smell anything like bread to me. Because it stinks so much I've never been tempted to try actually eating there...
posted by andraste at 3:52 AM on February 18, 2006

I quit eating at Subway the afternoon the gal behind the counter allowed the strings on her apron to drag over the meat and into the mayonaisse. As she apparently had been doing all day.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:39 AM on February 18, 2006

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