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The Great American Bread?

I've heard it said, on this site and elsewhere, that bread-making is not a strength of American cuisine, and I tend to agree. France, Italy, Germany and Russia put the US in the shade when it comes to bread-making. Having said this, is there any single distinctly American bread that you'd put up against that of the continental powers? I'd offer true San Franciscan sourdough as the great American bread. The one that could go toe-to-toe when it comes to dough.

Any other nominations?

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  1. I believe the USA invented machine sliced bread. Which required a lighter than normal texture. Hence the ubiquitous airy loaf found throughout the country.

    1. Nope. I don't think SF sourdough would be the peer of the great European breads. It's a good bread, but not in that league.

      The ur American bread would have to be some version of cornbread, fwiw. That doesn't mean it would meet your standard of competing with the great European breads. (It's kinda hard to make a non-yeast bread compete with a yeast bread.)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Karl S

        I've got to disagree - a great SF sourdough is one of the truly great breads of the world, period. The Acme Bread sourdough is world-class in every way and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any bread, anywhere - just as Acme is one of the greatest bakeries in the world, period.

        I'd agree with jmckee that sourdough is an especially typical American bread quite generally. Also with the nomination for Parker House rolls.

        More generally, though, I want to caution against the idea that a given country is quite generally "better" for bread or more specifically against the idea that it's possible to walk into a random bakery in any given country and expect great bread. More typically quality is much more a function of the individual bakery's commitment to excellence than it is of being in a particular country. If you go to an ordinary bakery in France or Italy or Germany you're likely to get a bread that's fairly...ordinary. Nothing wonderful. And as often as not people are buying their bread from the supermarket, with predictable impact on quality.

        That said, there *are* countries and cultures which are more likely to value high-quality bread than others. That may make finding good bread easier but it doesn't change the inherent potential of typical regional styles; it just means it's easier to find the regional style, done well. SF sourdough is one that's developed a reputation for greatness I think precisely because the prevailing culture in the Bay Area values bread, to a similar degree to what you'll find in the countries you list.

      2. the three American "breads" that I would nominate are:

        Boston Brown bread

        Not sure these are in the same category, since only one uses yeast There are plenty of local bakers that can rival anything made in Europe, even if "invented" elsewhere. In fact, it is likely that what we think of as a country's "signature" bread did not originate there....but they have had a lot longer to wage their PR war

        1 Reply
        1. re: FriedClamFanatic

          I was thinking of those but you beat me to it. Except for anadama bread, these aren't suitable for sandwiches, but they're bread nonetheless.

        2. I suspect a true southern biscuit would not qualify as bread...... But that would be my nomination.
          And yes, a true SF sourdough.

          The european countries are also significantly older with many more generations of bread bakers- not an especially "fair" comparison

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ttrockwood

            Agree that a warm biscuit is world-class. Don't see why it wouldn't qualify.

            1. Well. No. I tend to disagree.

              American bread is the equal of anything I've had in the European styles. It's just different -- made from flour with different protein levels, for one thing.

              I think of sourdough -- not just from San Francisco -- as a very American bread.

              I think of traditional salt rising bread.

              I think of a loaf I've had in several cities that has buttermilk and some fat content -- butter, or oil, or lard; it's light without being spongy, with a crust that heft but won't tug at -- or shatter -- a tooth.

              I think particularly of the south, where hot bread is a way of life -- cornbread, biscuits, corn pone, yeast rolls.

              1. Parker House dinner rolls, Beaten biscuits, San Francisco late-bake sourdough, corn tortillas.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Thank you for expanding my criteria of a bread. I had not considered a milled grain product without leavening.

                2. Beefsteak Rye?

                  (I know, but it really hits the spot!)

                  11 Replies
                    1. re: Perilagu Khan


                      I can't get it here in Georgia, which makes me want it even more. With liverwurst, Swiss cheese, raw onion and Dijon.

                      1. re: kitchengardengal

                        Ah. So it's a brand, rather than a type of rye bread. What makes it better than other rye breads, in your opinion?

                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                          PK, it's got the right amount of chewyness, and the right amount of caraway seeds. And the right flavor. Not too dark, but plenty of rye.

                          Sometimes I come across a good loaf of deli rye that has the perfect crusty crust and the perfect softness inside, but as often as not, it's too dry or too dense.
                          Though I kind of suggested it in jest, Beefsteak Rye is what I grew up on in Ohio and Indiana, and I still get a half dozen loaves when I visit up north.

                          1. re: kitchengardengal

                            It was a Hostess brand, so it got spun out in the bankruptcy this summer. It might reappear in your region.

                            1. re: Karl S

                              I believe Bimbo bought the brand for some big bucks.

                              (Alliteration not intended)

                            2. re: kitchengardengal

                              Not to yuck someone's yum, but Beefsteak Rye is the Wonderbread of ryes. I think I preferred it as a kid; but I can now see why my parents preferred the rye loaves from the local Jewish and Geman bakeries.

                              But maybe if I lived in an area that didn't produce good rye bread, Beefsteak could be a reasonable alternative?

                              1. re: gaffk

                                gaffk, where I live in Georgia, some of the grocery stores don't even carry rye! So yes, in a rye bread wasteland, even Beefsteak is good.

                                You may have noticed that I said I was just kidding about it being a Great American Bread.. I still like it anyway. I do know a good loaf of bread when I see one, and I make some pretty good rye myself at home.
                                And you're right, I guess this is the blue box of breads. Sure we like real homemade macaroni and cheese, but sometimes you just want the packaged stuff that you grew up with. I lived most of my life in the Midwest and rye wasn't a rare thing there, whether it was Beefsteak or bakery bread.

                                Anyone who lives on the East Coast where they have delis and bakeries may not realize that those establishments aren't everywhere in the US. Yeast breads aren't really a Southern thing. But you can get some damn good biscuits here.

                                1. re: kitchengardengal

                                  I live in west Texas, and deli rye bread is almost unheard of here. Consequently, the only rye I know is Pepperidge Farm, Orowheat, or the occasional loaf baked by the Khantessa. I dote fiercely on rye bread.

                                  1. re: kitchengardengal

                                    Yes, I was just trying to explain the difference between "real" rye and Beefsteak. I spent two years in a small town in SE Ohio, so I know the things I take for granted, like good bakeries and delis, aren't available everywhere. Then again, you probably get better peaches than I; and I am sure PK gets better Tex-Mex.

                                    1. re: gaffk

                                      We get some great peaches here, and some killer pecans. Georgia actually grows more pecans than peaches these days.

                                      Someone told me a while back that historically the South has never been into yeast breads because the heat and humidity caused them to over proof too fast, and it was too hard to control that. And it's still pretty much a biscuit and cornbread environment.

                      2. Probably corn bread or biscuits. For example, in Germany, there is nothing like them. I don't think they're necessarily better or worse, just very characteristic of US American cooking--though there probably are some similar things somewhere else.