HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >

Make Authentic San Francisco Sourdough in Palo Alto?

i
icecone May 14, 2010 11:05 AM

The title should read: Authentic San Francisco Sourdough In Palo Alto?

I asked this in one of the other sourdough threads but didn't get a reply. Palo Alto is on the bay area peninsula about 30 miles from San Francisco proper.

If I make a sourdough starter in Palo Alto (seeded with the airborne yeast in Palo Alto), will I get the same tasty bread as with a starter made in San Francisco?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. The Dairy Queen RE: icecone May 14, 2010 11:36 AM

    Good question! I just got a packet of starter from Sebastopol and I wondered something similar.

    (P.S. you have two hours to edit your title! It's not too late.)

    ~TDQ

    2 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen
      spineguy RE: The Dairy Queen May 14, 2010 09:11 PM

      San Francisco sourdough has a specific species of yeast, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactobac.... So if you use any other type of starter, you are making plain sourdough bread.

      1. re: spineguy
        The Dairy Queen RE: spineguy May 15, 2010 03:43 AM

        Yeah, yeah. But, I think the question is, where does this yeast live, exactly? Does it know the specific borders of the city of San Francisco? Can it even read a map? Or is Palo Alto close enough? Is Sebastopol? Or, is its microclimate so specific that, say, it can only live in the City, north of Golden Gate Park or something?

        ~TDQ

    2. t
      tonka11_99 RE: icecone May 15, 2010 09:26 AM

      Yeah, we are wondering just what this wild yeasts range is.

      Does it stop immediately at San Francisco's city limits or does it take excursions?

      If it just lives in San Francisco, does it stay out of the tenderloin like we do? How about the haight?

      Maybe it has to be near the wharf and the water.

      Ok so I am getting carried away.

      Maybe there are some professional San Francisco bakers out there that can answer.

      4 Replies
      1. re: tonka11_99
        spineguy RE: tonka11_99 May 15, 2010 09:45 AM

        Just purchase some. http://www.sourdo.com/original_san_fr.... Short of hiring a microbiologist to study the strains of yeast in Palo Alto, this will make it easy for you to make bread with a known yeast strain.

        1. re: spineguy
          w
          will47 RE: spineguy May 17, 2010 12:27 AM

          Perhaps, but many experts argue that the native yeasts in the area where the starter is used will take over in fairly short order.

          Having a known good starter *will* help jump-start your own starter quickly, but I think a good argument could be made that, within a month or so, you will probably have roughly the same starter than if you had started from scratch.

          And, as David Leader persuasively argues in "Local Breads", many of these old shops create a new starter from scratch periodically (several times a year), rather than use their centuries old starter.

          Whether it comes from the special yeast or something else, I, for one, don't particularly care for the "San Francisco" style of naturally leavened bread. Also, I don't like the fact that it gives people in the US the idea that "sourdough" should be "sour".

          1. re: spineguy
            i
            icecone RE: spineguy May 17, 2010 07:21 PM

            spineguy, thanks for the link. I do have concerns though that the company you linked to is based in Idaho. Even if the starter was made in SF, it may have been overtaken by local yeasts after all this time. Of course, they could visit SF regularly to rebuild the starter, but are they so conscientious?

          2. re: tonka11_99
            i
            icecone RE: tonka11_99 May 17, 2010 07:29 PM

            tonka, I was thinking of making a trip to SF and the Wharf, setting myself down on a pier bench, mix my starter and let it breath the ocean air for a few hours. The only thing is that it would take more than 1 day of doing this, and I get tired of all the tourists. And would I be arrested for strange behavior, waving my starter over the water?

            I wouldn't mix it in the Tenderloin. Kind of seedy in those parts. Who knows what bacteria would make it into the starter. :-D.

          3. t
            tonka11_99 RE: icecone May 15, 2010 10:57 AM

            I suspect it would be very difficult for anyone outside a San Francisco baker to taste the difference.

            I guess you could take the scientific approach. Buy spineguy's kit, make another batch from scratch at home and make a batch in San Francisco. Make up 3 batch's and do a taste test.

            2 Replies
            1. re: tonka11_99
              i
              icecone RE: tonka11_99 May 17, 2010 07:33 PM

              The Boudin Bakery and Cafe is on the wharf, famous (so they say) for its sourdough baked on the premises. I wonder if they would sell me a loaf of unbaked bread to use as a starter.

              1. re: icecone
                bushwickgirl RE: icecone May 18, 2010 02:07 AM

                What you need is starter, not an unbaked loaf. Maybe the bakery will donate a little starter to your cause, or, as maria lorraine suggested, just make your own.

            2. Bada Bing RE: icecone May 15, 2010 02:49 PM

              I would think Palo Alto is close enough. But the temperatures are very different much of the year. I've heard that even if you buy an SF yeast strain, once you've spent a year or two with it in Ohio or wherever else, the local yeasts will have taken over. If I wanted that particular SF wild yeast in Palo Alto, which is pretty close, I'd consider two approaches:

              1. Buy the yeast and create a starter, and renew it religiously with as little air exposure as possible, or;

              2. Buy the yeast and create a starter, and make a very large quantity over a couple of weeks, finally freezing portions of it for whatever number of future occasions.

              Good luck! I love and miss that SF sourdough taste. Am in northern Indiana now and making do with other, but delicious, yeasty things.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Bada Bing
                toodie jane RE: Bada Bing May 25, 2010 09:28 PM

                I spent several months in PA last spring/summer and it has a decidedly different climate and flora than SF. Warm, dry, even hot some days, with pollen counts very high. So much more vegetation, and a marked soil diference (Clay vs SF's sand.)

                All this would lead to very different yeast structures I would think. I'm no microbiologist but it only makes sense.

                A location like Half Moon Bay would be more like SF than Palo Alto. I'd say don't worry about tryng to make SF sourdough in PA. Be happy with what you can make there!

              2. c
                celeryroot RE: icecone May 17, 2010 08:03 PM

                Another factor is the water. Hard and soft water react different with yeast.

                1. maria lorraine RE: icecone May 18, 2010 12:38 AM

                  Most of the lactobacilli and yeast in a starter actually come from the grain, rather than the air. There is a myth of place regarding sourdough starters -- its place of origin is not important since you don't "catch" bacteria and yeast from the air to colonize a starter. So the taste of SF Sourdough is actually the taste of the bread from a specific bakery or bakeries and not the taste of a region. Most packaged, ready-made starters are flavorings -- not starters -- and not reliable. They're mostly gimmicks/cheap souvenirs.

                  You could buy an actual starter -- a bubbly soup of flour -- from a favorite bakery (if they'll let you have some), but even so, your bread wouldn't taste like the bakery's because so many other factors would be different: the flours used to make the bread, the temperature and length of fermentation, the oven, etc.

                  What I would recommend is that you make a starter beginning with rye grain. It's easy, and takes only a little over a week. From my own frequent breadbaking and research, I've found that rye grain is the most dependable at getting a viable starter going rapidly no matter where you live. On the rye grain itself -- I always get mine from the Whole Foods bulk bins -- are a tremendous number of the specific lactobacilli and yeast that starters need, lactobacilli and yeast already adapted to grow on grain.

                  Grind the rye grain into a coarse flour using a coffee grinder or grain mill, mix it with an equal amount of spring or bottled water (not chlorinated tap water), let it sit loosly covered 48 hours and use the feeding schedule linked to below, gradually converting the rye starter to a white flour starter or whole wheater starter or flour mixture of your choosing. But always begin your starter with rye.

                  To make bread, every couple of days (or even every day) scoop out a cup or so of starter, combine it with other flours of your choice, an equal or near equal amount of water, and salt. Let that rise 18 hours and bake a la the revised Bittman/Lahey No-Knead method (minus the packaged yeast). Less than 10 minutes work time per loaf of bread. I use this starter and Bittman/Lahey method several times a week to make amazing breads, pizza and other "flat" breads, breakfast rolls and more, varying the type of flour for the end product.

                  From Bread Bakers Forum, beginning a rye flour starter:
                  http://www.angelfire.com/ab/bethsbrea...

                  Recipe for creating a sourdough starter (good method and feeding procedure):
                  http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles...

                  You can also use this method of growing a starter from Debra Wink, the microbiologist,
                  but I've found the rye grain and non-chlorinated water recipe works more reliably:
                  http://www.breadtopia.com/make-your-o...

                  Another extraordinary resource is Peter Reinhart, his blog, his lectures, his books, especially his latest: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.
                  http://www.amazon.com/Peter-Reinharts...

                  Top Ten Bread Baking Sites, linked to by Peter Reinhart:
                  http://www.xmarks.com/topic/bread_baking

                  I'm adding this because I find it magical -- a lecture on bread by Reinhart:
                  http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/pe...

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: maria lorraine
                    The Dairy Queen RE: maria lorraine May 18, 2010 04:29 AM

                    maria lorraine--what's all this stuff we keep reading about the the Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis if, as you say, "the place of origin is not important"? I'm not arguing with you, because I've reluctantly begun to suspect something similar along these lines of what you just said above: "Most packaged, ready-made starters are flavorings -- not starters -- and not reliable. They're mostly gimmicks/cheap souvenirs."

                    I believe this partly because I bought a packet of one of those touristy starters (and they ain't cheap, by the way: they cost $5 or so, which is an awful lot for "sourdough culture & unbleached white flour") and the first loaf or three were pretty sour; after that, meh. I had though maybe it was the local, non-SF yeasties taking over, but, now I'm wondering if the gimmicky flavorings had simply been diluted out over time.

                    I've also begun to suspect that Boudin Bakery (I've always loved their bread because it was so very sour, more so than anyone else's as far as I could tell) includes vinegar as one of their ingredients. One reason is that I've had a loaf of St. Paul (MN) sourdough that I thought tasted just like Boudin's (though it didn't have that hard make-the-roof-of-your-mouth-bleed crust): they listed vinegar among their ingredients. (Boudin as far as I know says their ingredients include flour, "salt, & water and a portion of the original mother dough that dates back to the first loaf") I'm wondering if the "mother" has had vinegar added to it.

                    They also say they use the same recipe and traditional methods they've used since 1849. Is it all just marketing+plus a bit of vinegar?

                    I've been able to achieve decently "sour" bread with some of the no-knead type recipes (not the Lahey), even though I'm not much of a baker. I'm sure someone who was a committed baker can do better.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen
                      i
                      icecone RE: The Dairy Queen May 18, 2010 03:15 PM

                      TDQ, the SF starter sold by Sourdoughs Int'l cost $14!!!! And you still pay shipping.

                      "I've been able to achieve decently "sour" bread with some of the no-knead type recipes (not the Lahey), even though I'm not much of a baker. I'm sure someone who was a committed baker can do better."

                      I make a no-knead dough very similar to the Lahey, but a bit wetter (almost like a batter) and no vinegar or other acid ingredient and it comes out fairly sour. Sourness alone isn't the whole sourdough story according to some gourmets, so that's why I talked about nurturing a starter on a pier at the wharf. What could be more "san francisco" than a starter made at the wharf?

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen
                        maria lorraine RE: The Dairy Queen May 18, 2010 05:26 PM

                        <<maria lorraine--what's all this stuff we keep reading about the the Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis if, as you say, "the place of origin is not important"? I'm not arguing with you, because I've reluctantly begun to suspect something similar along these lines of what you just said above: "Most packaged, ready-made starters are flavorings -- not starters -- and not reliable. They're mostly gimmicks/cheap souvenirs.">>

                        The souvenir starters are flour, powdered acids to fake sourness, some yeast, not much more than that.

                        <<I've also begun to suspect that Boudin Bakery (I've always loved their bread because it was so very sour, more so than anyone else's as far as I could tell) includes vinegar as one of their ingredients..I'm wondering if the "mother" has had vinegar added to it. >>

                        Yes. They're able to get away with adding vinegar since it's one of the normal constituents of sourdough. Read more here:
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6714...

                        <<They also say they use the same recipe and traditional methods they've used since 1849. Is it all just marketing+plus a bit of vinegar?>>

                        Precisely.

                        <<I've been able to achieve decently "sour" bread with some of the no-knead type recipes (not the Lahey), even though I'm not much of a baker. I'm sure someone who was a committed baker can do better.>>

                        Just make a starter a la any other methods I've linked to above. When it's ready, remove a portion of it, and use that as the beginning of your Bittman/Lahey bread. Add more flour and bottled water to it, and let it sit and bubble for the first 18 hour rise. Easy. No need for yeast anymore, since it's in the starter.

                        1. re: maria lorraine
                          The Dairy Queen RE: maria lorraine May 18, 2010 05:30 PM

                          Ah, I missed that old post of yours. Very interesting. So disappointing to have bought into the hype. I feel like a bit of a chump.

                          But, it's always better to be well-informed. Thank you!

                          ~TDQ

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen
                          h
                          housewolf RE: The Dairy Queen May 19, 2010 05:18 PM

                          There are a number of differest sub-species of yeast and lactobacille that have been identfied in sourdough cultures (maybe as many as 20 different lb's, if memory serves.) The SF lb is only one of those, and what's unique about it is that it's only been found in the SF Bay area.

                          There are other ways of making a more-sour sourdough that are natural and don't require the addition of souring ingredients such as vinegar and acetic acid (the other souring ingredient commonly used in commercial sourdough). The mentods involve the hydration of the starter, the temperature used for activating the starter and certain characteristics of the flour (for instance, you'll get a more sour bread using some whole wheat or rye flour than you will with a all white flour).

                          There's a whole science to cutivating starters, building starters and making sourdough breads that's quite complex and intricate. A lot can be done at home but, in my experience, it takes a lot of working, experimentation and learning to evolve a base starter into something that completely delights you if you not statisfied with the basic flavoring abililty of a starter. If If you have a scientific bent to your nature, it can become a delightful passion (or maybe even an obsession!).

                          BTW, I've used the SF starter from Sourdoughs International and just loved it. Unlike you, I don't favor a super-sour bread - rather, I'm more interested in depth and complexity of flavor. I used that starter for a number of years and was totally happy with it. To me, it was worth the money. Like you, I was trying to replicate Boudin's bread. I don't know if I ever got got an exact match but I was making bread that I was totally in love with and got raves from my familly and friends, and, frankly, I thought it was better than Boudin's! I also used a couple of their other starters - I never had a problem getting them to start, I found them reliable and they maintained their flavor - they are true sourdough starters in dried forn, not just flavoring. Some are inherently more sour than others, and some are faster than others. Each has it's own unique flavor (because each has it's own unique blend of sub-species of yeast and lb's.)

                          Admittedly, they are somewhat pricey - but they were much less money when I bought them and to me, they were totally worth the money.

                          1. re: housewolf
                            maria lorraine RE: housewolf May 19, 2010 05:30 PM

                            <<The SF lb is only one of those, and what's unique about it is that it's only been found in the SF Bay area. >>

                            No. While that was thought to be the case for many years (and gave birth to a tourism industry that capitalized on that misinformation), subsequent microbiological analysis of sourdough starters all over the world found that they all contained lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. In fact, the zoo of microbiologial flora found in starters worldwide is fairly consistent, with only minor variations.

                            "Contrary to myth, the species that grow in sourdough starters are not tied to geographic location, but rather to the traditional practices in the different regions... Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis is the species most frequently and consistently found---not just in San Francisco where it was first discovered, but all around the world. And so it deserves special attention." -- Microbiologist Debra Wink
                            http://www.thefreshloaf.com/keyword/l...

                            It's now known that you don't catch lactobacilli or wild yeast from the air to colonize a starter. The lactobacilli and yeast that you need are already on the grain, especially whole grain like rye berries.

                            The lactobacilli in bread starters come in two main subtypes. Most of sourdough's flavor and leavening come from the heterofermentative type of lactobacillus, which pumps out acetic acid (vinegar) as a by-product and favors a temp below 82-85 degrees F. The other type of lactobacillus -- homofermentative -- pumps out the lactic acid (more mellow than acetic acid) and does its thing above 82-85 F.

                            So, a long cool fermentation increases sourness. By controlling the temp of the starter and dough, you control the type of lactobacillus that has the upper hand in fermentation, thereby controlling the final flavor and sourness of the bread.

                            Debra Wink, the co-author on a number of scientific sourdough articles whom I quoted above, sums up things nicely on her great bread baking website:
                            http://www.thefreshloaf.com/

                            -- more fermentation time generally means more acid
                            -- lower temperature increases the percentage of acetic acid
                            -- lower temperatures produce acids more slowly; higher temps, more quickly
                            -- higher temperatures mean a higher ratio of lactic to acetic acid
                            -- lactobacilli prefer wetter doughs, so a wetter dough favors acidity
                            -- yeast don't seem to mind low hydration, but lactobacillus bacteria do
                            -- flour plays a big part---whole grains generally result in more acetic acid and more total acid

                            The science is very interesting, if you're into that sort of thing. The bread microbiologist Michael Ganzle has published extensively on sourdough flora. Read him (easily found online), Debra Wink (links above), Peter Reinhart (also linked to above in my earlier post).

                            1. re: maria lorraine
                              d
                              dmd_kc RE: maria lorraine May 25, 2010 10:36 PM

                              maria lorraine couldn't possibly be more correct. Go to three SF bakeries and tell me there's some magic there.

                              Marketing, people. It's not science.

                        3. re: maria lorraine
                          r
                          richard31416 RE: maria lorraine Jun 8, 2010 03:52 PM

                          Maria:
                          Sounds like an interesting concept for having basic conceptual recipe for mixing and matching flours with starter + Bittman/Lahey no knead ease. Would you mind filling out some numbers of a typical run? Specificially, not sure of the amount of flour you have in mind--a cup of starter could support a good bit--and unsure of the amount of water--equal in weight to flour added? Thanks. Richard

                          1. re: richard31416
                            maria lorraine RE: richard31416 Jun 8, 2010 07:23 PM

                            Here's how I use a starter when making the Bittman/Lahey No-Knead Bread. My starters are usually at 100% hydration, meaning there is an equal amount of flour and water. I usually bake bread with the same ratio.

                            The ingredients for the revised BKNKB recipe are:
                            430 grams -- 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
                            345 grams -- 1-5/8 cups water
                            1 gram -- ΒΌ teaspoon instant yeast
                            just shy of 1 T. salt

                            When I use a starter to make this bread, I do it a little by feel and by how the dough looks compared to the many times I've mixed up the dough without a starter. The dough, if you'll recall, is very slack and liquid-y.

                            I use one cup of starter, and eliminate about 2/3 cup of flour and about a 1/3 cup of water (yes, I know that's not exact) from the recipe above, and also eliminate the yeast. You'll know how long the first rise should be by the number of bubbles throughout and on top of the dough. I go for the full 18-21 hours for the first rise (sometimes 24 hours), and another 2-3 hours for the second rise.

                            I've since checked what others do to incorporate a starter into the Bittman/Lahey bread. I searched here on Chowhound and also on Google. As it turns out, others use about 1/4 cup starter to 3 cups flour.
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/355713
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/369838

                            As stated in the first thread above, the BLNKB recipe is very forgiving. And, as with any bread recipe, you will have to add more or less flour (and water) depending on the day, the weather, your ingredients, etc. Just don't be afraid of a liquidy slack dough. Dough scrapers (or bench scrapers) are a godsend: I never handle this dough by hand.

                            Finally, Google Books is a wonderful resource for Peter Reinhart's precise measurements for starters, pre-doughs, soakers, and actual bread recipes if you need exactness. Besides, Reinhart is a great joy to read (you "learn" bread from him) and the results from his recipes are excellent.

                            I just went to the Google Books home page and typed in
                            "Peter Reinhart" starter bread
                            as my search terms and many of his books came up. Click on a book title, and then you're able to search within a book and get the recipes.

                            Good luck.

                        4. Adagio RE: icecone May 29, 2010 04:54 AM

                          Most of what is said here is absolutely true.

                          I'll bet that starters in SF or Philly won't be soooooo different that it will sooooooooo affect the outcome.

                          If you want SF sour dough, get THEIR formula and follow THEIR rules of bulk fermentation, at what temperature and humidity (this controls lactic or acid formation) and proofing...(retarding or not). Sours do benefit from overnight retarding.

                          The yeast: is only the beginning...then there is the type of flour, the mineral content of the water, the amount of salt...which directly affects the way the yeast acts, and the hydration which will directly affect the gluten formation,etc.

                          So if you're baking a full sour, I think you need to start with the actual formula of the bread you like...if they will part with it!

                          Ralph
                          Adagio Bakery & Cafe
                          adagiobakery@gmail.com

                          Show Hidden Posts