San Francisco sourdough is the mother lode of all sourdoughs, at least historically and for many, taste-wise. This is where the sourdough taste of today was developed, and is even more popular now than ever. Developed during the Gold Rush in 1849, the San Francisco area is renown for its breads, and justifiably so. The unique climate there contributes to the variety of yeast culture. Sourdough was first invented, if you will, in ancient Egypt, many millennia ago, but because of the relative ease of culturing wild yeasts, is still with us today in the form of this wonderfully tasty bread.
Sourdough is as unique as its location, but the San Francisco wild bacteria, Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, and of yeast, Candida milleri, are the culprits for the true taste of this region. The bread fell into decline post World War II, in favour of the Wonder Bread type of bread that Americans found more convenient at the time. Fortunately for all of us, this didn’t last, and with the advent of the 1980s “bread revolution,” artisan bakers rediscovered this special treat.
I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some genuine starter from that region, the above strains now having been isolated out. Mine came from Cultures for Health, whom I’ve mentioned in the past for their cheese and yogurt cultures. It’s also good to know they’re available locally for me, in Kingston, ON. I followed their recipe pretty closely, and the result was bread heaven. The starter began its life about a month ago, and some of the excess from the process went into biscuits, and then it started its aging process. I figure a month was about good.
I would encourage you to check out their website at www.CulturesForHealth.com where you can get all kinds of info, books, and of course, all the starters and goodies for lots of fermentation in general. They have numerous locations where you can buy products all over North America, not to mention others around the world. But on to the bread.
San Francisco Sourdough Bread Recipe
Here’s their recipe, with my interpretation (you can get their full recipe on their website). Yield one loaf.
2 1/3 cups fresh sourdough starter
3 1/3 cups flour
1 to 1 ½ cup water (approximate)
Scant tbsp salt
I followed their directions to mix everything together. The idea is to use just enough water to make a soft dough. As they say, better to be a little too wet than dry. They knead it, as did I, until I got a nice, smooth dough that I then sort of patted out into a roughly square shape, rolled it up, and placed in a large bread pan (see photo). I went the bread pan route, but you could have used a proofing basket or simply a board. They advise letting it rise for 4 to 24 hours. Mine took about 18 hours, as I made it late in the afternoon and let it go overnight into the next morning.
I kept close tabs on it, even getting up early to check it. I shouldn’t have worried, it was behaving itself perfectly (see next photo). The one part where I did depart from the recipe was that I baked it at 375 degrees instead of 400 degrees, as I was afraid it would bake too fast on the outside, and not enough on the inside. (I also have a convection oven, so it seemed the prudent thing to do.) It took about 35 to 40 minutes, when it was golden brown. Taking their cue, I did use a thermometer to check the internal temperature, just like a turkey. I was a couple of degrees shy, and put it in for another 2 minutes, which did the trick.
I let it cool for about 15 minutes before turning it out on a rack, where I let it cool completely (see last photo). The bread was proudly served with dinner last night, and one bite led to pure bliss. The crust was perfectly crunchy-chewy, a perfect crumb inside, and yes, you could die and go to heaven. You don’t even have to go to San Francisco first, but of course, if you get the chance, go for it.
You can read more of Sue Van Slooten's food adventures at www.SueVanSlooten.com.