Authentic San Francisco-style Sourdough Bread
I had a request that I just couldn’t refuse. I lived in San Francisco–actually, Mill Valley in Marin County–across the Golden Gate Bridge to work every day…WOW!–and more than virtually anything else, I fell in love with sourdough bread. On Sundays we would ride our bikes from Mill Valley through Marin City to Sausalito, then ride the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf and eat crab legs and sourdough bread. I think that was one of the seminal times in my life in terms of cementing my love for food. The really cool thing about that experience was that walking up and down the docks, one could sample the bread from different bakers the way we walk up and down the aisles at Roots and take little tastes here and there from vendors who truly love what they do and the product they represent, which really represents them. We all have favorite vendors at Roots and Central Market and Eastern Market and Millersville Farm Market, and all the others (not forgetting you, Alison Bryan!). The one thing they all have in common is that they try to stay true to their product, because their success and their reputation depends on quality product courteously presented. I’ve found that the vendors at these markets are fine representatives of our wonderful Lancaster way of life. And I appreciate it all the more because of my time in San Francisco, where the bread is the memory I carry with me every time I think about that time in my life.
Here, then is my favorite take on San Francisco sourdough bread. The thing that makes it what it is is that first, you make a starter. This starter is a piece of sour dough that gets added to the bread dough during the process, and then a piece of the new bread dough is separated and stored, to be used in the next loaf. In San Francisco, starters are generations old, always added to the new bread, then kept again for next time, thus keeping the original starter alive. Over time, it gets better and better, and divorces have been known to have the cup of starter be the single bone of custodial contention.
Make a starter. Make a bread. Keep your starter. Make some more bread. Share the secret. Share the love. And don’t forget the butter!
2 cups warm water
1 (.25-oz) package active dry yeast
- In large non-metallic bowl, mix together dry yeast, 2 cups warm water, and 2 cups all purpose flour and cover loosely.
- Leave in a warm place to ferment, 4 to 8 days. Depending on temperature and humidity of kitchen, times may vary. Place on cookie sheet in case of overflow. Check on occasionally.
- When mixture is bubbly and has a pleasant sour smell, it is ready to use. If mixture has a pink, orange, or any other strange color tinge to it, THROW IT OUT! and start over. Keep it in the refrigerator, covered until ready to bake.
- When you use starter to bake, always replace with equal amounts of a flour and water mixture with a pinch of sugar. So, if you remove 1 cup starter, replace with 1 cup water and 1 cup flour. Mix well and leave out on the counter until bubbly again, then refrigerate. If a clear to light brown liquid has accumulated on top, don’t worry, this is an alcohol base liquid that occurs with fermentation. Just stir this back into the starter, the alcohol bakes off and that wonderful sourdough flavor remains! Sourdough starters improve with age, they used to be passed down generation to generation!
Authentic Sourdough Bread
4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (.25-oz) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
- In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt, and dry yeast. Add milk and softened butter or margarine. Stir in starter. Mix in up to 3 3/4 cups flour gradually, you may need more depending on your climate.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turn once to oil surface, and cover. Allow to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in volume.
- Punch down, and let rest 15 minutes. Shape into loaves. Place on a greased baking pan. Allow to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled.
- Brush egg wash over tops of loaves, and sprinkle with chopped onion.
- Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 30 minutes, or till done.
Then refresh your starter by following direction number 4 above, using 1.5 cups water and all-purpose flour and a pinch of sugar.