Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Old Fashioned San Francisco Pacific Slope Sourdough French Bread

3-Feb-2011 - If you decide to do this, you will have about 70 pounds of sponge, if, and only if, you start with 1/4 tsp. of flour and 1/4 tsp. of water. It will cost around $45.00 U.S. to make real sourdough starter. That is based on buying 3 bags of bread flour at 25#s each.

I promised to write about fermented foods. As some fermentations must/should be done carefully, such as cured salmon (lox), smoked hams, et cetera, I am reserving those for later. The amount of science that needs to be presented is much larger than making:

Old Fashioned San Francisco Pacific Slope Sourdough French Bread

First, I want to mention tasting San Francisco Sourdough for the first time. In 1969, in San Francisco, at Fisherman's Wharf, at the Magic Crepe restaurant, I was given a basket of bread and some butter. The bread was so much better than the crepe that I don't remember what kind of crepe I had. I do remember the bread.

It wasn't unusual to look at. Or so I thought. Looked pretty much like other bread. Being from St. Louis, I was familiar with French bread. Or so I thought. St. Louis bakers are second to none. But those few slices of Sourdough changed my life. Well, my food life, anyway. The bread was delicious. The sweet butter a perfect foil to the sour taste. But there was something more to those morsels. The slices had a chewy texture. It wasn't soft like all the other breads I had ever eaten. The crumb had a golden cast about it. Something stood out and it's has been a memory ever since.

Every cookbook author, food editor, culinary kook and your truly have attempted to make sourdough bread in our homes, or have tried to explain how to make sourdough to others.

The Joy of Cooking has a recipe. Julia Child's The Way to Cook has a recipe. James Beard gives a recipe, Craig Claiborne gives a recipe, in fact, every major cookbook author in any of the cookbooks they have written that has a baking or bread chapter, gives a recipe. Whole cookbooks are devoted to the making and baking of sourdough breads. The Library of Congress holds 22 books on sourdough baking. It might be the most interpreted (and inaccurate) recipe given throughout the entire cookbook kingdom. And I'm not even going to more than touch on the food columns in newspapers. Eeeek! The Internet is loaded with mistaken sourdough starter ideas.

So, what's different here? I'm taking my facts from:

HANDBOOK OF DOUGH FERMENTATIONS by Karel Kulp and Klaus Lorenz. (NY : Marcel Dekker, c.2003)

It a 328 page book that cost $175.00. The authors are well known in their fields. What's best, however, is that they are writing for bakeries, not microbiologists. The theorems they give about bread are just as applicable in the kitchen as in the science laboratory. It is also the culmination of research into sourdough fermentations stemming back to the work of Doctors. Frank T. Sugihara and Leo Kline, in the 1970s.

These two scientists, working for the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture; isolated the native microorganisms growing in San Francisco Sourdough bread. This only after exhaustive experimentation that lead to the determination the microorganisms were unusual because one fed on the maltose in the flour and the other fed on anything but maltose. Maltose is a sugar. Maltose is the sugar that yeast eats to make beer or ale. There are about 20 sugars in flour.

So, they named the bacteria Lactobacillus San Francisco to honor it's place of discovery. Technically the microorganism is named: lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, a Latin name. Over time, the yeast, first named Saccharomyces (pron. Sack-haro-my-ses) exiguous (pron. Ecks-idge-u-us) and sometimes spelled exiguus (the Latin name) had it's name changed to Torulopsis Holmii, then to Candida Milleri Yarrow and lastly (so far) to Candida Humilis. So far, nobody in the microorganism naming community can give me an adequate explanation for the changing names. I do know it has to do with the DNA and the yeast's genetic structure, however.

The important thing in all of this, at least to the food scientists is that the two microorganisms form what is called a symbiotic relationship. They don't compete for the same sugars. There is plenty of food to go around. And because they aren't competing for food, they aren't using up the invaluable amino acids, which are responsible for the flavor of the Sourdough bread.

With that discovery the secret of San Francisco Sourdough bread was revealed. It was now possible to make Old Fashioned San Francisco Pacific Slope Sourdough French Bread, anywhere.

Now as all of us know, sourdough bread is made by taking a piece of former dough and using it to get the new batch of bread started. So the only problem for baker's is how to get the first piece. This is a major error in all those cookery books exacting this in a recipe. The recipes that call for starter without giving the baker an idea of where to get some are ultimately useless.

If you were in San Francisco, perhaps a sourdough baker would give you a piece of dough. Then, once you got home, you could rush into the kitchen and start fermenting your loaves. Not a likely scenario. First, not many baker's are going to give away their secret ingredient. Second, if you don't refresh the dough every few hours, the micro-organisms in symbiotic relationship die from the high acidity. Then you no longer have San Francisco sourdough. So what is special about my method is that, even in you don't bake all the time and your starter dies, you can re-start it quite easily. But I bet that those who follow this easy recipe will never quit making sourdough bread.

The following is the rough recipe of hundreds if not thousands of cookbook authors, food essayists and the lot. Mostly they say, take a cup of flour add a cup of water, stir out the lumps and set the covered bowl in a warm place for two to three days. How will those floating microorganisms land in the soup? Some add salt, some add an herb, some use buttermilk. Sometimes the liquid from boiled potatoes or potato skins replaces the water. And while all these recipe theorems will work, none will make the San Francisco sourdough bread. Not the same taste, not the same texture. Now way, no how. Which isn't to say that they don't make a naturally fermented bread, they do. The San Francisco flavor can only come with repeated refreshments, to use the baker's term.

Why? Well theories on that point differ radically. Some say the microorganisms are wild and floating around in the air. Others speculate that the quality of the flour has much to do with the fermentations. I have read a serious scientific paper on the quantity of lactobacillus microorganisms being greater on wheat near humanly populated areas than wheat in less populated areas. Another research paper says that there are about 400 types of microorganisms in a fermenting loaf. Other papers say that the sanfranciscensis microorganism is about 36% of that 400, that is to say, by quantity it predominates, naturally. So the question becomes, how to nurture those San Francisco organisms along and not get anything bad going. That's what the Handbook of Dough Fermentations is all about. The piece of information lacking was to not make bread after two to three or four days, but that the starter needed about two to three weeks of refreshments. And it needed specific amounts of water and flour and at very specific intervals.

I'm currently of the belief that you might do the refreshments for a whole month or 6 weeks before baking your first loaf. That is probably how Isidore Boudin had to do it. Boudin is the oldest sourdough bakery in San Francisco. Established in 1849. He came from a village along the Swiss French border. The boat trip across the ocean allowed no baking. There were no bread ovens on wooden ships. The Boudin Bakery still uses the same starter he began over 155 years ago. Impressive. In the last decade, Italian food scientists have asked to have the Lactobacillus San Francisco renamed. They reason that no microorganism could have originated in the United States. That may be true. The microorganism named lactobacillus Brevis subspecies Lindneri has remarkable similar DNA to Sanfranciscensis. The Italians claimed that the microorganism originated in pannetone.

Ed Behr, America's foremost food essayist, writes about French bread, especially the baguette. He bemoans the loss of quality of the bread and talks about France's leading authority of bread making Raymond Clavel. He talks about using minute amounts of fava bean flour or some such thing. He talks of the speed of the mixers and how that effects gluten development (which it does), he saddens as he writes that French boulangeries make bread in mere hours instead of overnight. It's really a very well written and researched paper. He's lots of fun to read. I almost feel sorry for the French. Yet, the large yeast manufacturers (Red Star, Fleischmann's, Lallemand) all have select microorganisms for making sourdough at the bakery. So the French have little or no excuse, any longer.

What follows below is why all the other recipes don't work. Why this one will. The symbiotic relationship takes time to mature, just like fine wine. Fine cheese. Fine hams and fermented sausages.


There are three superscripts in the following table. In the book they
are labeled, a, b, and c. Having no way to make a superscript letter in this weblog, I have denominated them by: sup.a, b, c.

From the Chapter "Baker's Yeast and Sourdough in U.S. Bread Products"
/ Karel Kulp. Page 117-

Table 6 Development of Sourdough Starter
time (hours)
Amount Starter (WU) sup.a Flour sup.b Water Total
24 95/35 -- 1 1.25 2.25
8 95/35 2.25 1 1.25 4.5
16 95/35 4.50 2 2.50 9.00
8 80/27 9.00 sup.c 16 20 45
16 80/27 45 80 100 225
8 80/27 225 400 500 1125
16 80/27 1125 2000 2500 5625
8 80/27 5625 1000 12500 28125
16 80/27 28125 50000 62500 140625
8 80/27 140625 250000 312500 703125
16-64 39/4 703125


sup.a - Weight units (WU) based on any unit: gram, kilogram, ounce or pound

sup.b - In [the] first two replenishments, the flour and water are doubled

sup.c - In subsequent replenishments, the multiplier 4 is used (the multiplier is the amount of flour and water added to sourdough starter in the replenishment steps). The rate of replenishment increases the total starter fivefold. Source: Ref. 32.

[slightly above the table in the original text -- Secret_Ingredient]

"The development of natural sour is outlined in Table 6, which details flour water ratios, temperature, and maturing times. According to this schedule, the staring flour-water blend is set at 82-85 degrees F. (28-30 degrees C.) and kept at 90-95 degrees F. (32-35 degrees C.) for 24h. During that time, some acidity develops. At that point the flour-water blend must be supplied with additional fresh flour and water . . .

Replenished (refreshed) starters are best set and kept at 75-80 degrees F. (24-27 degrees C.) Non-refrigerated sourdoughs after reaching maturity should be kept at cooler temperatures and must be replenished at least daily . . .

Development of a properly matured starter does not only require an achievement of the proper degree of acidity, generally indicated by pH values within 3.6. to 3.8, and total titratable acidity of 16-20mL . . . even after this stage has been reached, development requires an additional 6-8 replenishments with maturing at 80 degrees F. for full flavor and leavening quality."

This starter is quite slack a bakery term for dough that very soft. And as the amount of flour to water is nearly even, the starter is like pancake batter at it's thickest.

Once your starter is fully developed, shape it into loaves, free form or put it into Pullman molds, if you want a Wonder-Bread shape. Bake the loaves for 40 to 50 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow to cool to a temperature at which you can slice the bread, in about an hour.

So if all the foregoing is true, why hasn't everybody started making the real thing? I surmise my answer. The bakers are either too lazy or the clients don't care for the taste. Making and maintaining the starter is much work. Although after the symbiotic balance is achieved, the starter can be refrigerated between uses.

An oven with a pilot light, is over 90 degrees. (around 140 degrees) With the oven door ajar, the temperature isn't warm enough. (70 to 80 degrees). So all I can suggest to get the right temperature for extended periods of time is to use a heating pad, which you will put a glass of liquid on and measure and adjust the thermostat until you can maintain 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the requisite amount of time.

It is somewhat understandable that the quantities seem overly large for the home kitchen. The point to remember is that after the symbiotic relationship has been successfully obtained that the starter can be refreshed less frequently. And that it can be refrigerated between refreshments. In truth, this is a recipe for home bakers that bake at least once a week and preferably more frequently. And if you are a home baker that bakes around holidays, then you can have your starter ready to go with six weeks advance preparation.

A little more information. The amount of this starter to use varies with how fast you want your loaves to rise. As the common knowledge holds that a longer maturing time gives rise to better flavor, it would appear that the minimal starter would be best. I'm sure that most of us aren't always home and available to pop the loaf in the oven when it reaches it's height just before baking. So you will have to experiment with the percentage of starter to control when the loaves will be ready to bake. Some sources say 40%. That is a lot and in the right temperature may have the loaves ready to bake in 8 hours. That's the best info I can give about this. Some bakers are up at 5:00 a.m.. Other bake at 4:00 p.m.. You will have to practice your own timing of this.


  1. sono un microbiologo ,
    ho letto questo articolo,
    mi interessa reperire il ceppo puro di Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis
    mia e.mail

  2. Ciao livio io sto cercando di capire come allevarli per mio lievito madre