San Francisco Sourdough Bread

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:


    loaves, 1 pound 2 ounces each

Appears in

Producing a bread with a sour flavor was long looked upon as a serious fault—a bread fit only for peasants, whose rye bread commonly had a sour taste, not necessarily by choice. While sourdough bread, made from either rye or wheat, is still regarded as a country-style bread, its characteristic flavor is now popular in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. In France, they call their sourdough wheat bread pain de campagne.

First the pioneers and later on, the gold miners of California and the Yukon (whose sharing of sourdough starter was considered the ultimate act of friendship) made sourdough bread popular in the United States. As there was little access to fresh supplies, and certainly not to yeast, they utilized the method of including a piece of leftover dough to start a new fermentation. The leftover starter became known as the mother dough.

Much has been written about the renowned San Francisco sourdough bread; many say it simply cannot be made to taste the same (read as good) anywhere else. Some give the famous San Francisco fog all the credit. The basic explanation is this: Because the yeast present in the starter is dependent on the type or characteristics of the microflora of the area, and as this, of course, is not the same in, for instance, New York as in San Francisco, then even if the starter is transferred to another part of the country, the bread baked with it naturally will not taste the same. This is the reason the bakers in San Francisco get away with saying that their bread cannot be duplicated. I say they also have a few tricks up their sleeve that they are not telling. To be fair, while I haven’t really tried that hard, I must admit I can’t copy that wonderful aroma—and I lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years!

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  • 1 ounce (30 g) fresh compressed yeast
  • 2 cups (480 ml) warm water (105° to 115°F/41° to 46°C)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) salt
  • 2 tablespoons (18 g) granulated malt extract or ¼ cup (60 ml) or 3 ounces (85 g) honey
  • 1 pound 4 ounces (570 g) Sourdough Starter
  • 2 pounds 6 ounces (1 kg 80 g) bread flour
  • Cornmeal

Small-Batch San Francisco Sourdough Bread

Yield: 2 loaves, 1 pound 2 ounces (510 g) each
  • ¾ ounce (22 g) fresh compressed yeast
  • 1 cup (240 ml) warm water (105° to 115°F/41° to 46°C)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 g) salt
  • 1 tablespoon (9 g) granulated malt extract or 2 tablespoons (30 ml) or ounces (40 g) honey
  • 10 ounces (285 g) Sourdough Starter
  • 1 pound 3 ounces (540 g) bread flour
  • Cornmeal


  1. In a mixer bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the salt, malt extract or honey, and the starter. Kneading with the dough hook at low speed, incorporate enough of the bread flour to make a dough that is quite firm but not sticky. Continue kneading at medium speed for about 8 minutes, until the dough is elastic and pliable.
  2. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
  3. Punch the dough down and scale into 4 equal pieces (2 for the smaller recipe), approximately 1 pound 2 ounces (510 g) each.
  4. Pound and roll each piece into a 16-inch (40-cm) loaf (see Figures 3-16 to 3-18, but do not taper the ends; also, see Note).
  5. Let rise until slightly less than doubled in volume. Be patient here; the loaves will take quite a bit longer to rise than regular bread. While proofing, spray the loaves with water to prevent a crust from forming on the top. Before baking, spray the loaves again, then dust with cornmeal. Slash the tops of the loaves using a sharp serrated knife or razor blade, cutting lengthwise at a slight angle as for baguettes.
  6. Bake at 425°F (219°C) with steam, leaving the damper closed for the first 10 minutes. Open the damper and bake approximately 30 minutes longer or until done. Allow the bread to cool on a rack.