I was six when the Larraburu Brothers Bakery shut down. I don't recall what the bread tasted like, and I'm not even sure I ever had any. But I'm fascinated by the history and how widespread and adored this bread was. The number of loaves, the loaves shipping around the world, even to France, indicates that it wasn't just a small group of aficionados that were keen on this bread.
I grew up on Colombo rolls and sliced bread, Oroweat rye, and 'artificial' sourdough baguettes from Safeway. And I always had a Boudin bread bowl with clam chowder whenever I visited San Francisco.
Living in rural New Zealand, it's very hard to find San Francisco style sourdough bread. A local baker looks at me quizzically when I ask for sourdough bread that is intentionally sour. He tries to explain how people misunderstand, and that sourdough doesn't mean the bread tastes sour. I then have to counter-explain that I know this, and that bakeries in San Francisco did intentionally ramp up the sour because some people like that taste.
Like many on this board I'm still searching for my perfect bread to make every weekend. I'm pretty sure it won't be a Larraburu clone, but I think I will borrow some aspects of that bread. Understanding it is still a worthwhile endeavour.
Anyhow, this post is about my research into Larraburu Brothers bread, and my attempts at making it.
In comparing the NYT article ['NYT'] to the Galal et all paper ['Galal'], I notice some differences, but also a lot of confirmation. Here is the superset of data from those two sources, including my take on why they conflict and how to resolve the conflicts.
GALAL: Each day a piece of straight dough or starter sponge known as the "Mother" is saved and refrigerated to be used as a starter sponge the following day.
NOTE: we don't know the refrigeration temperature, but we know that regular refrigeration is part of this starter's life.
NYT: A baker will take about two pounds of dough for a previous day's batch, and this is the starter for the next day's run. The starter is left to rest for a few hours and is then placed in a dough mixer with salt, flour, and water. When this is blended, a sponge, as it is called in breadmaking circles, is produced. The sponge in this case weighs about 600 pounds. It is then divided into a dozen 50-pound pieces.
NOTE: At 50% hydration (from Galal) this is a 1/100/200 feeding, which is quite substantial.
GALAL: The starter sponge consists of 100 parts of clear flour (14% protein), approximately 50 parts of water, and 50 parts of the starter sponge
NOTE: This is a 1/1/2 feeding, 100-fold different from the NYT article. Personally I trust researchers to get facts more correct than I do newspaper reporters who are notoriously error prone. However, the bakery did have to make a hell of a lot of bread, and the reporter specified "two pounds", "600 pounds" divided into a "dozen" "50-pound" pieces, which is all self-consistent. One way to resolve this difference is if the Galal paper had a single misprint. If it instead read "and 0.50 parts of the starter sponge" it would be exactly in line with the NYT article. Nonetheless, that is a very heavy dilution of starter material, and so I am still somewhat skeptical.
NOTE: The other inconsistency is that the NYT article suggests that the sponge contains salt. The Galal paper doesn't include salt in the sponge.
GALAL: The ingredients are mixed and fermented for 9-10 hr at 80F
NYT: Each of these pieces is put back into the mixer and more flour, salt and water is added. Each of these produces about 800 pounds of dough.
GALAL: The bread dough is made by mixing 100 parts of flour (12% protein), 60 parts of water, 15 parts of sponge, and 1.5-2% salt.
NOTE: Based on NYT, the sponge is 0.0625% of the final dough weight. Based on Galal, the sponge is 0.0849% of the final dough weight. These values aren't too far off each other. My best guess is that the bakery in 1976 was operating on a slightly different recipe than back in 1964. And I suppose the value from 1976 by Galal is probably more reliable and/or represents improvements that the bakery made over those 12 years.
GALAL: The dough rests 1 hour, and then is divided, molded, and deposited on canvas dusted with corn meal or rice flour.
NYT: This dough is allowed to rest for an hour and is then molded, weighted and shaped.
NOTE: nice to see some consistency here between the two accounts.
GALAL: The dough is proofed for 4 hr at 105 F (41 C) and 96% relative humidity...
NYT: The resulting loaves are "proofed" in a dry steam box for four hours
NOTE: Again, nice to see some consistency here between the two accounts.
NYT: When they are removed, they are left to stand for another two to three hours.
GALAL: ...and baked at 420F (216 C) for 40-50 minutes in a Perkins oven with direct injection of low pressure steam (5 psi).
NYT: Finally they are baked 40 minutes.
NOTE: Again, complete consistency
So these accounts are rather consistent, and they fill in the gaps in the other's story. The biggest inconsistency is the amount of mother added to the sponge. Is it 1/1/2 or 1/100/200? I should think if it was 1/100/200, 9-10 hours at 80F would not be long enough to visually activate the sponge. So the bakers must have been working blind. It does, however, allow for a long (4 hour) hot (41C) bulk ferment.
This weekend made a bread with mostly white flour, a smallish 10% sponge, and 5 hours fermenting at 39C (the hottest my incubator runs at). It worked out just fine - it may have overproofed slightly, but it still had some air and oven spring and a nice enough crumb for my tastes.