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Calling all bread bakers...

I am trying to recreate a bread recipe from an AMAZING deli with the best bread. I know a lot of people make that claim but seriously, this one is fantastic. It is called the San Benito House Deli and it's in Half Moon Bay, CA. I grew up there so I am very familiar with this local gem. HOWEVER. I no longer live in the area and having a sandwich just once a year is not working out. I need to figure out the secret to their bread recipe and I am struggling.

I know there are only so many components to bread so I'm not sure why my bread, although delicious in it's own right, is just not the same. The bread is very moist and spongy, kind of like fresh, good quality sourdough. But they call it French bread and it does not taste like sourdough at all. I considered the fact that maybe their secret is simply fresh-baked bread, but I remember keeping a sandwich in the fridge for over a day and the bread being just as good as when I first bought it. It's something IN the bread that makes it amazing.

Any ideas what their secret might be? So far I have experimented with your basic ingredients (yeast, salt, a little sugar). I use all-purpose flour, and have tried using milk and various amounts of olive oil. I am not sure where to go next.

I have attached a photo for reference.

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  1. What recipes have you used to try to recreate the bread, and what about them was off?

    3 Replies
    1. re: zitronenmadchen

      The closest I've gotten so far is 1 cup milk, 2 3/4 cups flour, 1 t sugar, 1 T olive oil, 1.5 t salt and 1/2 packet of yeast (I halved the original recipe, which made two bread loaves). The bread had great flavor and was overall a very good white bread. But the texture was completely different. The deli's bread is sort of spongy, not dry. I have tried adding more olive oil but the bread just comes out oily.

      1. re: aeliseb

        First thing you need to do is get ride of the bulk measure habit. You can never measure ingredients accurately enough using bulk measurements to consistently reproduce a particular type of bread; it's rare that any two loaves in succession will be the same so you'll never now what to adjust in your formula. If you're serious, get a scale and weigh your ingredients.
        From your description I would guess there's a element of fat (butter, olive oil, veg. oil, etc.) in the bread you're trying to make. Bread is not complicated; basically four ingredients. But how the ingredients are used together can be extremely complicated.
        The differences can be attributed to type of flour (they may use a proprietary blend of flour) type of yeast, biga or poolish, length of fermentation and whether it's done under refrigeration, room temperature (whatever that is) or some specially selected temperature inside a specially designed cabinet, and whether there are any other ingredients used (e.g. sugar, dairy products, eggs, etc.) in the formula. The last issue you'll need to consider is oven temperature, whether the oven remains at one temperature or is adjusted at some point in the baking process, the internal temperature the baker uses to decide when the bread is finished baking and how the bread is cooled.
        Once you've tried every conceivable combination of those possibilities you may find what you're looking for. Just remember, never change more than one element in a formula at a time. Best of luck ...................

        1. re: aeliseb

          I notice that there is a pretty dark crust on the loaf, and that suggests a higher temperature oven. Try upping the temp, maybe 50 degrees, and cutting the baking time by a few minutes, maybe like 15 minutes or so. Im just guessing though, because I cant really tell what size pan you are using...but higher temperature and shorter baking time should keep some moisture in the loaf. But if the loaf keeps really well, I have to wonder if there isnt some sourdough starter involved. If you use fresh starter that is fed every day, you wont get much or any sourness, but the loaf really keeps a lot longer.

      2. What about adding an amount of yogurt? It adds moisture?

        1. I wonder if they make it kind of like a ciabatta bread, which is an extremely wet dough that is risen very slowly, at least three times, and begins with a pre-ferment (biga in Italian) that rises very slowly at room temp or even in the refrigerator 12 hours or more. It sounds like a lot of work but each step goes very quickly. The loaf version doesn't rise as high as a regular sandwich loaf, but you can make the rolls a perfect size for a sandwich. It's such a wet dough you need a stand mixer to mix and knead it, but again, the action steps are quick. It turns out with a nice sturdy, crisp crust but with lots of holes on the light, airy inside. There are recipes on the King Arthur Flour website and in all of the recent bread books. Ingredients are just bread or all-purpose flour, water, yeast, and salt. I've been using the recipe in Simply Great Breads by Daniel Leader with good results and also the KAF recipe. An advantage to KAF is that you can call to ask for expert baking advice.

          I just checked the Deli's website (looks beautiful) and see that they describe their bread as "old world." Which is exactly what the very moist, slow rising ciabatta is. Carol Field, Peter Reinhart, and Chad Robertson also have excellent "old world" style bread recipes in their cookbooks. You might even call the deli for advice..but their oven may be much hotter than your home oven could get so some adjustment would be necessary.

          Hope this helps! I lived in Palo Alto for years and loved Half Moon Bay!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Madrid

            eric's home ciabatta

            Bread: No Knead Ciabatta

            2c flour (1 1/2c AP + 1/2c WW <or> 2AP + 1/2 WW <or> just 2 AP)
            1 t salt
            ¼ t yeast (I wonder what happens @ 1/8 t?)
            Add 1 c warmest tap water and mix with a stick (expect raggy, but persist)
            Cover dough with plastic wrap to keep it moist (right on dough or tight over bowl)
            Rise 18 hours @ room temperature
            Flour your station
            Dump and form the dough into a slipper shape
            Leave to rise again, 2 hours, airily covered
            (turn on 425 degree oven to pre-heat ½ hr before end of rise)
            Oil baking sheet liberally
            Bake @ 425 for 35-45 minutes on oiled sheet
            Brush warm loaf liberally with good evoo
            > ? Olives, rosemary, salt...?

          2. From what I can see in the photo, I would guess that milk is not a part of that recipe. My experience with milk in bread is that it makes it very tender and soft with a denser, tigher crumb, like Wonderbread, whereas you're looking for something with lots of air bubbles and irregularly sized holes. Have you tried no-knead bread? It's a very wet dough and has a very springy/spongy final texture. I wouldn't call it moist, exactly, but it's definitely the kind of bread you can eat without butter or oil and it doesn't have a drying effect on your mouth, if that makes sense.

            1. I just called the deli and inquired about the recipe, or at least a hint. The lovely woman who answered the phone said she didn't know what was in the bread, and nobody except the bread baker did. She said it was a very closely guarded secret and she was sorry she couldn't be of more help.

              I did find this recipe online: http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,164,1.... I don't know if this is authentic or not and I don't want to make it because I don't care for wheat bread. I will however say that the wheat bread has the same overall texture as the white bread... does anyone see any ingredients in this list that might explain the unique texture of the bread? Or any other ideas before I start experimenting?

              7 Replies
              1. re: aeliseb

                As for the statement that it is a sourdough but it doesn't have the distinctive SF sour', then it is likely a French style starter instead of fresh yeast.

                It might have some milk, because the addition of lactose would aid browning and crust formation, but it is definitely not an all milk dough. (I'd use 2-3 TBls)

                You might want to add 1/4 cup of potato flour to keep the finished loaves moist, but keep the finished dough to the wet side, like a ciabatta.

                Id use 1/2 or even all bread flour.

                I'd go for a longer rise instead of a 3-4 hour mix to bake time.

                1. re: aeliseb

                  It has twice as much yeast as my regular French bread recipe, but other than that I don't see anything out of the ordinary. My guess is that the unique texture of the bread comes from a long slow rise and the level of hydration rather than a secret ingredient. However, you could try this recipe with all white flour and no molasses, white sugar instead of brown, and see how it turns out.

                  1. re: aeliseb

                    given that it is only kneaded 2 - 3 minutes, it is practically a no knead, as the poster above your post suggested. I think it is more in the technique than the ingredients though there is nothing special about the instructions beyond the very short knead. I agree that milk is not likely. Lots of info on no-knead bread on the web.

                    1. re: Madrid

                      Interesting observation Madrid - I didn't notice that the recipe only calls for 2-3 mins of kneading. Kind of odd, since most no-knead breads call for a very long rise (16 hours) to replace the kneading that most breads need to develop gluten. I wonder if that's a misprint in the recipe? I found another site that has a recipe claiming to be based on the wheat bread recipe from the Benito House and it's quite different: http://theheritagecook.com/?p=5564

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        yeah, I agree that the no-kneads and even kneads that claim to be "old world" or like ciabatta are slow rise. I bet the bread the OP loves is slow rise whether it is kneaded a lot or not. Or if it isn't, she can make a good approximation of it using that/those methods.

                    2. re: aeliseb

                      White bread is made from wheat. Do you mean you don't care for WHOLE wheat bread?

                    3. It's funny that all the web site recipes seem to be for whole wheat bread, yet your photo looks like a white bread to me. Is it a white bread? That's the part that's a bit confusing as I read this thread.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: roxlet

                        Yes I am trying to recreate the white bread recipe but we are using a unofficial (or perhaps official) recipe of the deli's wheat bread that was found online. The breads are very similar in texture but obviously have a different flavor.

                      2. I'd love to try that sandwich. Have you tried Peter Reinhart's classic white bread? It's hard to tell by the little picture but the crumb looks similar. When they say they have "old world bread" that means, to me, just the basic flour, water, yeast, salt but the bread in the picture looks more like a sandwich bread.


                        1. I can't help because I haven't had the bread. We're planning a trip to Washington state and on the way up, I'll put it on the 'to do' list. if we get a couple of sandwiches, or just a loaf if they sell it that way, I'll see if anything jumps out at me. we'll go from there.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: iL Divo

                            Great! They do sell a loaf in fact. Half Moon Bay is a nice little town, definitely a place to stop and get lunch. When is your trip and where are you coming from?

                            1. re: aeliseb

                              Live in southern California. We'll be driving up the coast to visit some friends in their new home on an island off Seattle's coast then up to see an ailing 84 year old gentleman friend of mine in Spokane who's having a hard time. So we'll make a trip of it. Thinking 1st 2 weeks in April.

                              1. re: aeliseb

                                stil haven't gone yet. planning maybe June

                              2. re: iL Divo

                                we didn't do the trip we'd planned on.
                                work for hubby couldn't change, I couldn't get the right time off.
                                instead we went to Tahoe then Sacramento then down the coast to Monterrey.
                                heading home we were very close to half moon bay as the signs all around pointed in that direction.
                                I knew there was something I was supposed to do there but couldn't remember what it was.
                                reading this thread now though, I think you got your answers

                              3. U can use all the best ingredients in the world but when the end product isn't exactly like the bakery's, its due to a) lack of a commercial convection oven, and b) varying humidity (or altitude levels). Also, use only unbleached flour for bread baking. Lyn, artisan baker, fairytale bakery, NY.....P.S.: also its best use: SEA SALT. Contact me back and I'll give u our recipe when I return to NY. King arhur flour offers artisan/european bread classes (vermont). Finally if you really want to know everything that's in the deli's bread: 10 buy one, 2) take it to nearest cooperative extension for analysis (but its gonna cost ya)...lyn

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: gildedpan

                                  but that won't tell you the technique used to get the texture, airy bubbles inside, crisp exterior, or the taste that comes from the slow rise method of baking.

                                2. It looks like the Los Angeles Daily News published the authentic San Benito House Whole Wheat Bread recipe on May 16, 1991. They requested recipes from Bed and Breakfast operators and received the recipe from the San Benito House. It looks like you have to pay the newspaper $ 3.50 for the article. The recipe starts out, " 2 cups warm water (115 degrees F) 1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast" which is different than others online. Here's a link to the Google newspaper article listing:


                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Antilope

                                    Here's the recipe as it appeared in the newspaper and it does say, "knead 2 to 3 minutes,".


                                    1. re: Antilope

                                      I adapted the recipe for a bread machine:

                                      San Benito House Whole-Wheat Bread for Bread Machine

                                      (Shared by San Benito House, Half Moon Bay, CA)

                                      Adapted for bread machine.

                                      1 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
                                      1/3 cup dark molasses
                                      1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
                                      4 teaspoons brown sugar
                                      1 teaspoon table salt
                                      2 2/3 cups bread flour
                                      1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour
                                      2 1/4 teaspoons (or 1 packet) Bread machine or instant yeast

                                      Place ingredients into bread machine in the order recommended according to the
                                      manufacturer's instructions.

                                      Set to White or Regular Bread, 1 1/2 lbs, Medium crust.

                                      Press Start.

                                      Makes one 1 1/2 lb loaf.

                                      Source: Adapted from recipe in the Daily News of Los Angeles, May 16, 1991

                                      1. re: Antilope

                                        I made this today (in the bread machine) and it makes a really good bread for sandwiches. It has a tender crumb and is slightly sweet. It has a nice mixture of white and whole wheat with dark flecks showing on the sliced bread. This recipe is a keeper.

                                        1. re: Antilope

                                          antilope, you, as usual, are duh bom.
                                          I'll be making this.
                                          thank you for your research which is always top notch.

                                  2. Hi.. was just going thru all my notes (pre computer) for that recipe.
                                    I waitressed in the dining room at San Benito back in the 80's .. and it is the best sandwich bread.
                                    When I opened my own place, Greg gave me the recipe .. I'm looking but the last post from 'recipe secrets' looks close.
                                    The one thing I do remember was that it rose overnight in white 5 gallon buckets.
                                    One rise, shaped , rise and bake.
                                    Another good bread recipe that can be made the same way is Liberty Ale Rye from 'Flavored Breads' Mark Miller's Coyote Kitchen. Similiar texture and sweetness but with a nice chewy crust.
                                    I modify this one for an overnight rise using less yeast and one rise.
                                    If I find the original .. I'll post.
                                    In those days they roasted their own turkey breast, beef.
                                    Brings back many memories ...

                                    1. That looks to me like a sandwich bread with some milk, maybe potato flour; honey or another sweetener; and butter.

                                      The technique is likely one that uses a pre-ferment like a biga, a biga in combination with a soaker, or some such. It could also be sourdough-risen. My own sourdough starter is quite mild.

                                      Consider using King Arthur Bread Flour rather than AP flour?

                                      Good luck!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                        .. it's pretty much the recipe from that was posted in Cooks.com ..
                                        I was there!
                                        Proportions are different since it was made in bulk and weight measurements ... but it looks pretty reasonable.
                                        The rise was a very long overnight in oiled buckets, cool room.
                                        Bread flour is correct and half the yeast.

                                      2. Woo Hoo Found it!
                                        San Benito Squaw Bread

                                        3 qt water
                                        2 pints molasses
                                        2 1/2 pints of oil
                                        14 lb flour (2/3 white and 1/3 whole wheat)
                                        1/4 cup dry yeast
                                        1/4 salt
                                        2 scoops (about 1 cup) brown sugar
                                        Let rise in oiled bucket overnight
                                        Shape into 4 BIG Loaves
                                        Let rise and bake @ 400

                                        You can do the calculations!
                                        Proof the yeast in warm water, add oil, molasses, brown sugar, salt.
                                        Stir with bread hook until incorporated.
                                        With machine on add flour by the cupfulls until the bread is smooth and not sticky. You may need more flour or less flour depending on weather, and brand of flour ( I use an organic bread flour .. cannot recall if they did or not )
                                        When you can touch the dough w/o it sticking to your hands .. turn out of bowl, knead into a big ball and dump into an oiled bowl or bucket. Cover w/plastic wrap and let rise overnight until more than doubled.
                                        Turn out of bucket (I cut before punching down) Cut and shape into 4 BIG loaves.
                                        Place on baking sheet, rise till doubled and bake at 400 degrees convection. Spray w/ water several times while baking. Bake until brown and hollow.
                                        It's really a no brainer ... very easy but soo good!

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: fishwives

                                          With all that molasses, brown sugar, and whole wheat flour, you would think the bread's crumb would be darker in color than the OP's photo indicates...

                                          1. re: roxlet

                                            Ya .. agreed .. the bread should be a deep honey color.
                                            I sliced hundreds of those loaves for dinners .. it's surely golden.

                                            1. re: fishwives

                                              If I did the math right (to make 1 loaf for my bread machine)
                                              it looks like this:

                                              Divided by 12

                                              1 cup water
                                              1/3 cup dark molasses
                                              1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
                                              2 2/3 cups bread flour
                                              1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour
                                              1 teaspoon dry yeast (I use 2 1/4 tsp so it will work in the machine)
                                              1 teaspoon salt
                                              4 teaspoons brown sugar

                                              1. re: Antilope

                                                My scribbled notes for 1 large loaf shows me:

                                                24 liquid oz water
                                                8 liquid oz molasses
                                                11 liquid oz oil
                                                7 Cups flour (2/3 w 1/3 ww) more or less
                                                2 tbsp yeast (I always use less)
                                                2 tbsp salt (kosher)
                                                4 tbsp brown sugar

                                                It's been a million years since I used the conversion .. I recall it worked.
                                                But as you see .. it's a really simple recipe.

                                                Another good one:

                                                1 1/2 cups ale at room temp
                                                2 tbsp dark molasses
                                                1 tbsp olive oil
                                                2 1/2 tsp dry yeast

                                                1 1/4 cups rye flour
                                                2 cups bread flour (more or less)
                                                21/2 tsp kosher salt

                                                Same method.
                                                Sorry .. never used a bread machine so don't know if you need to make changes according to its nature.. do you have a kitchen aid?

                                                1. re: fishwives

                                                  I have 2 Kitchenaid's, one bowl lifter and one tilt head. But sometimes I just like to throw everything in the bread machine and let it do the work.

                                                  1. re: Antilope

                                                    Great .. glad it worked ... it's a 70's style recipe .. think Silver Palate was Carol's bible then .. (James) Beard on Bread kind.
                                                    Simple, homey and good. Not artisan... which is wonderful but needs commitment.
                                                    Cool video .. artisan style .. but note how (think it is) David, adapted the recipe to suit his time frame. .. the books a good read.
                                                    Bon apetit!

                                            2. I have settled on four basic ingredients, bread flour, water, salt, and yeast. Not that there is anything wrong with additions, but these are the basics and they do work well.
                                              Lately I have been able to get a chewier loaf, with just the right amount of crustiness, and a 2-3 day life span. The only change is to put an inverted pan on top of the loaf pan when baking.
                                              This retains moisture in the loaf rather than escaping into the oven.
                                              I'm still experimenting with this, but it seems to work.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: jayt90

                                                Ya .. an inverted cast iron dutch oven works really well (read Tartine Bread) .. I have too many loaves to bake so I line the oven floor w/bricks and spray as fast as I can w/o allowing too much heat escape. Not the same product but way better than anything I can buy here.
                                                Actually on here looking for a source that will ship lovely bread.
                                                Would love a wood fired oven but no space (I have a food truck) ..

                                              2. One thing I can tell you about the bread baker at San Benito House Deli - he/she doesn't measure ingredients in cups, teaspoons, etc. The ingredients are weighed on an accurate scale and the formula is always the same. That's the only way to maintain consistency. The recipe you listed has approx. 70% hydration - workable for a light airy bread.
                                                I'd suggest working on a formula by weight, then adjusting as you go forward. Your recipe translates (roughly) as:

                                                350 grams flour, 14 grams sugar, 11 grams olive oil, 7 grams salt, 3.5 grams yeast, 245 grams milk.
                                                I'd adjust it to reduce the olive oil by half and, inasmuch as it's already pretty close to what you remember, work with that along with a liquid ratio of milk:water, of 145 grams water to 100 grams milk and see where that goes.
                                                A long, slow fermentation (refrigerated) for perhaps two or three days may be necessary to achieve the goal you seek.

                                                Make sure you keep very careful records of every step in your process and every little change you might make to adjust it during your experiments. When you've achieve your goal you'll understand why such achievements are carefully guarded secrets.

                                                Addendum: While AP flour is perfectly acceptable for many bread making tasks, you might want to look into something with a bit more protein.

                                                1. Have you tried different flours? I did a stage at a bakeshop for a bit a few years ago that made great breads, but we definitely didnt use all purpose flour for any of them.

                                                  Different ratios of bread flour to pastry flour (and even cake flour in a couple of cases) create dramatically different results.

                                                  1. Wow I forgot about this for a while. Thanks so much everyone for the help and feedback! I'm in the process of moving so experimenting with bread recipes isn't top of the list at the moment but when I settle in my new high-altitude home I will revisit this issue. Good luck to anyone else trying to replicate the recipe and please continue to post updates and recipes!


                                                    1. I did a sourdough in the bread machine yesterday with all kind of nuts and seeds and grains in it. hubby won't like but I do, so good toasted

                                                      1. I was in Costco today and picked up 2 lb Red Star quick yeast for for $4. This is the one Rhulman uses, but I never saw it until today. Two lb is a lot, but it is dated mid 2014.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: jayt90

                                                          I always buy the two pound bargain. Just stick it in the freezer.

                                                          1. re: jayt90

                                                            I bought same size a couple years ago in a vacuumed sealed foil pkg.
                                                            I put it in the freezer and eventually used it all, never went bad.

                                                            1. re: iL Divo

                                                              I had a 1 lb foil pack of Fleishmans Instant yeast with an expiration date of 2006 that I had misplaced in the freezer in my garage. It was in a zip lock bag. I found it about a year ago and just finished using it up. It was 6 years past the expiration date and still made good bread, both in the oven and bread machine. As always, I just used 2 1/4 tsp of instant yeast per loaf of bread. Didn't have to use any more for the older yeast, even in the bread machine.

                                                              Yeast sealed in an airtight container in the freezer will last forever.

                                                          2. Instead of olive oil, how about shortening? Don't gasp. I know it's not traditionally French, but it adds a different texture (soft, and some spring) to breads. I have a recipe for a "New Orleans French Bread" that sounds like what you are describing, and it uses a tablespoon or so of shortening as the only semi-unusual ingredient. Can you tell us more about the taste and texture of the original bread?

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: team_cake

                                                              don't know who you're asking but if its me the texture is best chewy and crunchy when done not in the bread machine but rather the NY Times no knead bread recipe way.

                                                            2. Hi Aeliseb: You might try Pain de Mie bread. It's in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", Vol. I. I suggest this b/c it looks like just good sandwich bread, which the above is.
                                                              One other thing: There may be some sourdough starter in the bread you like even tho you can't taste any sourness. The sour taste depends on how long it ferments. So a short ferment can still help make a delicious loaf.