San Francisco has a number of culinary icons, but perhaps none are as famous or revered as our sourdough bread. It’s a part of the city’s history and, in our present moment, is enjoying a resurgence of popularity far and wide, since everyone who is cooped up inside thinks they can be a baker. 2020 is officially San Francisco sourdough bread year! For everyone who has seemingly just discovered the magic of sourdough, allow us to fill you in on what you need to know.
The History of Sourdough in San Francisco
The California Gold Rush is when San Francisco’s innovative spirit really took hold. Brand new things were invented out of necessity: blue jeans, the martini, and sourdough bread.
Bakers in San Francisco were trying to replicate the French bread recipes they knew and loved, but something just wasn’t right. The finished loaves kept coming out of the ovens with a sour taste. While they didn’t understand it at the time, the bakers had stumbled upon a natural wonder (one of many in the city). The local yeast the bakers were using was a distinct and as yet unrecognized species, one that thrived in San Francisco’s distinct climate and gave their products its signature tangy flavor.
What they thought was initially a failure turned out to be a massive success. The sourdough bread, believed to be impossible to produce anywhere else in the world, became one of the city’s hottest commodities. It was so singular that the yeast responsible for the flavor was named after the city: Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis.
Where to Find Sourdough in San Francisco
If you are looking to sample sourdough in San Francisco, you have to go to the source. The Boudin Bakery is the oldest continuously operated business in San Francisco and the first to sell sourdough bread in the city. It has stood the test of time. Earthquakes and wars couldn’t shutter their doors, and technological short-cuts to mass production were shunned for classic quality. Today, Boudin has a number of locations around the city. We recommend you start with the Fisherman
Wharf location, where you can get an up-close view of these incredible loaves being made. Any bakery in San Francisco will have sourdough in its carbohydrate arsenal. See what else these outstanding San Francisco bakeries have to offer. Each one has its specialties, and visiting a few of them is a great way to explore some of the city’s neighborhoods.
How to Make Your Own Sourdough
If the coronavirus situation means that your favorite bakery is closed, or your trip to San Francisco has been postponed, or you are just running out of things to do at home, consider making your own sourdough bread. Try this recipe for a basic sourdough starter, courtesy of the The Exploratorium. It might sound like a science experiment, but it is actually a great activity for your kitchen.
1 small handful (1/4 to 1/3 cup) white flour
1 or 2 tablespoons of water
A small bowl
A towel, napkin, or other piece of cloth
A large spoon
Instructions –In a mound of flour, make a small well and add the water.
Slowly mix the flour and the water, bringing more flour into the center of the well. The mixture
will gradually transform from a paste into a small piece of dough.
Knead this small piece of dough with your fingers for about 5–8 minutes, until it becomes springy.
Place the dough in a small bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it sit in a warm spot for 2 or 3 days.
When it’s ready, the dough will be moist, wrinkled, and crusty. If you pull off a piece of the crust, you’ll find tiny bubbles and smell a sweet aroma.
Throw away any hardened crust. “Refresh” the remaining piece by mixing it with twice the original amount of flour and enough water to make a firm dough. Set aside as before.
After 1 or 2 days the starter will have a new, fresh look. Remove any dried dough and mix with
about 1 cup of flour.
Once again, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave it in a warm place for another 8–12
When the starter is ready, it will appear fully risen, and a small indentation made with a finger won’t spring back. Now the starter is ready to be used in virtually any sourdough recipe.
Remember to save a small piece of the starter. You can put it in the refrigerator for several days, then refresh it again as above and use it to make another loaf. A good starter will serve you for years to come!
Author – Tyler Cohn