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Feb 13, 2012 09:54 PM

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:,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:

                      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?