The Fresh Loaf

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Replicating Colombo San Francisco Sourdough

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darellmatt's picture
darellmatt

Replicating Colombo San Francisco Sourdough

I am relatively new to baking. What grabs me are sourdoughs. 


I have tried several recipies that are labelled "San Francisco Sourdough".


All of them produced fine bread, but none of them resemble the bread of my youth in the bay area:


Colombo San Francisco Sourdough.


The Crust was very chewy, just on the verge of being tough.


The crumb was open but dense.


The tang was pronounced but the afternotes were nutty.


I am nowhere close to being able to match this bread.


Is it that they use a propietary blend of wheat that is not available to the home baker?


Or is it just a matter of recipie and technique?


Thanks for any suggestions.


 


Darell


 


 

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Hi Darell,


We'll need to know which of your recipes came closest to the Colombo sourdough. There's a lot of questionable recipes around so we'll need a closer look at what you're doing so we can make suggestions from our own collective experience in the art.  I'm pretty sure that we can get you a loaf at least as good if not better than Colombo's.


Wild-Yeast

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I grew up in SF top and remember when you could get great sourdough from any run-or-the-mill grocery, but those days are long gone.


But, help is on the way. Peter Reinhart has a new book coming out this fall and it contains a great SF Sourdough recipe that replicates your memories.


In the meantime, I understand that Leader has a very good recipe too.


--Pamela

beeman1's picture
beeman1

What new book?

xaipete's picture
xaipete
dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Darrell.


Welcome to TFL!


I grew up on SF SD bread, too. The bakery I recall that made my favorite bread was "Columbus," not "Columbo." It came in a red, white and blue thin paper bag. It was the bread served at most of the restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf. In fact, my family referred to it as "wharf bread."


Are we talking about the same bread? You certainly described it well.


The closest I have come to making this is with Peter Reinhart's formula in "Crust and Crumb." PR's bread has a crunchier crust, though, which I actually prefer. But the flavor is really great.


The version in Reinhart's "Bread Baker's Apprentice" isn't quite as good, in my opinion.


Here is a link to a formula that is derived from Reinhart's. To my taste, it is better bread than "wharf bread," but YMMV.


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/7446/reinhart039s-san-francisco-sourdough-quotcrust-amp-crumbquot-some-new-variations


Happy baking!


David

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I think it was Columbus. There was also another brand--Larobo Brothers (something like that). Maybe it is just my imagination that supermarket SD bread used to be really good 30 years ago.


--Pamela

CarlSF's picture
CarlSF

I believe that was Parisian that came in the red, white, and blue paper bag.  That company is now out of business or has been for a couple of years.  Columbo is still operating, but their bag is usually white or clear with their name or logo in green.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Carl.


You are absolutely correct. My memory was faulty. It was Parisian.


David.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Darell,


You have asked the Million Dollar Question. Many of us here have asked that same question without the benefit of having lived in the Bay area for a good reference. In my own case my first memory of Wharf Bread was when I was a teen on a trip with my family from Michigan. I still remember sitting on the picnic table on Fisherman's Wharf tearing chunks off the loaf with my parents. That bread was wonderful! I fact my father and I were remembering that moment together a few weeks ago and he still recalls the wonderful flavor. My dad is 84 now and I'm 60. That moment is one of the things that motivated me to try and recreate that flavor by learning to bake.


If you take a look at the link Dsnyder posted above, you will be on your way to making good SD breads. In my own experience, I can tell you that my breads went from merely good to great when I learned how to maintain my starter. There are lots of opinions on how to feed a starter. I can say with confidence that the amount of sour and flavor will be significantly affected by how you maintain your starter AND what fermentation schedule you follow with the dough.That said, if you don't have the proper population in the starter, you can stand on your head but the dough won't produce what isn't in it no matter how long you retard it.


As a home baker, you might think it is to much trouble to feed your starter every day while leaving it on the counter at room temperature, especially if you only bake once or twice a week. That is the trade off in my opinion between good bread and great bread. The culture you are feeding is a blend of many types of bacteria and yeast. The population will adjust depending on how you feed and what environment the population lives in. A warm environment encourages the Lactic acid producing bacteria which is how we get sour. Think of it like asking a tribe of Eskimos to play Jimmy Buffet in Hawaiian shirts in the cold. They will try but it's just too cold man!


So, the bottom line is treat your starter like a house pet and feed it every day on the counter. You don't need much but a regular schedule matters. I discard all but 50 grams every day, to which I add 75 grams of water-stir well- and add 75 grams of flour. I keep it in a 3 Cup Glad food storage tub with a small slit in the top to let the pressure out. In the cold climate we live in I sometimes place the tub above the refrigerator where it is 75F most of the time but mostly it stays on the counter. After a week or two of this routine, your starter will be more like that used by full time SD bakeries. It will have a wonderful aroma and be nicely active. The type of flour, the air that blows in your windows and local micro flora are all far less important to the final outcome than the feeding care. Hope this helps.


Eric

rainwater's picture
rainwater

If you keep 50 grams of starter, and add 75 grams of flour, and 75 grams of water...this is 200 grams.....This should be about 7 ounces of starter???


My question is this:  most my recipes call for about 7 ounces of starter, and sometimes I use as much as 16 ounces when substituting for "biga" in a recipe (I'm on a learning curve when substituting for biga, but some of Reinhart's recipes call for 7 ounces of starter).  So....there must be extra starter left over after using for recipe.  Do you give an extra feeding the day before baking......??


I'm intrigued with the idea of feeding everyday, and not refrigerating for more flavor.  Thank you.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Rainwater,
I treat the starter like the mother or chef and if I am going to be needing a larger amount I simply build what I need. I keep such a small amount so I can remove a Tablespoon or so and use it to inoculate a mix of flour and water as large as I need. So, if I need 300 grams of sour rye for example, I add 50 grams of starter to 125 grams of rye and 125 grams of water the day before. The next day I have 300 grams of sour rye for my deli rye bread. Hope that helps.


Eric

cej2's picture
cej2

Once I was baking sour dough French bread when a neighbor popped in. When she found out what I was baking she got the funniest look on her face.."I thought you could only make sour dough bread in San Francisco ' she said...

darellmatt's picture
darellmatt

Thanks so much for the wonderful replies.


Yes, it probably was Columbus, memories are funny in how they revise details.


I really appreciate the advice, the pointers on recipies and and the tip on how to maintain a sourdough culture. I was edging in that direction, your post has confirmed I will be feeding my critters daily.


What is there about this hobby that is so mesmerizing?  I can't recall encountering anything before that was so simple and so richly complex, so maddeningly difficult and seductively easy,  so selfish and so generous at the same time.


God I love baking bread.


Darell

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder


What is there about this hobby that is so mesmerizing?  I can't recall encountering anything before that was so simple and so richly complex, so maddeningly difficult and seductively easy,  so selfish and so generous at the same time.



Psychologists call it "intermittent reinforcement." That means your efforts get rewarded at unpredictable intervals, not every time or even regularly. Other efforts get no reward or even punishment. It turns out that this is the most highly motivating schedule of rewards. Victory is sweetest when you never know when it's going to occur.


This is also why people keep punishing themselves by spending hours debugging computer programs. It feels so great when it finally runs!


Now, there are lots of other rewards from bread baking, but I think its addictive quality derives from the unexpected breakthroughs we get after struggling with a recipe or specific technique over and over again.


David

Crider's picture
Crider

Boudin is the last remaining big independent sourdough baker in SF. I believe they and the rest use the 'biga' style of prefermenting -- they add a certain amount of their current bread dough to a new batch. I came across this interview from 1999 with the head of Boudin Bakery and what he said kind of shocked me:

The secret to the distinctive taste is the "mother" dough. Everyday, Boudin bakers take a portion of the mother dough dating back to 1849 and use it as a starter for the next day's bread. "The "mother" allows us to retain the bread's original flavor and texture," said Strain. "Our approach to baking fresh bread has not changed since 1849," said Strain. "We still use only natural ingredients that make real sourdough flour, water, salt, and the mother dough and we let the dough ferment slowly and naturally for up to 72 hours."

I know that San Francisco has a very mild climate both Summer and Winter. With such long ferment times, I can only guess that their yeast is slow acting, the dough is mixed together and left to sit fermenting undisturbed. The yeast lacks mobility in the dough but the lactobacilli have mobility to do their work? How can any dough sit around for such a long period of time without all the starch being used up by the yeast? I would have a very ugly, unbrowned crust after that treatment. Yet their bread has the appearance of a nice unsour French loaf.

Crider's picture
Crider

I realized that measuring the pH of the dough is a must. Hydrion makes pH paper that measures 3.4 to 4.8. Also, some home-brewing supply websites sell small quantities of lactic acid which, along with even smaller amounts of household vinegar, could get one close to matching the actual sourness of the bread. Doing that would at least get to an idea of what acidity is needed from the bacterial action on the dough.


The yeast lacks mobility in the dough but the lactobacilli have mobility to do their work?

They don't have motility.

tmr's picture
tmr

It was definitely Columbo, not Columbus or Parisian. It came in a plastic bag, and you had to bake it for about 45 minutes to brown it. It was incredible. Never had anything like it. If anyone finds out how to make it, please, please, post about it.

doxiemomma's picture
doxiemomma

I just got back from my local store (central coast, California) that stocks just a little Columbo. Usually they have just a few packages of  sourdough sandwich rolls, almost hidden at the very bottom corner of the bread rack. You  have to really be looking for them to find them. Sadly, today they were sold out.  That's how I found this thread, looking for a recipe to make something similar using my starter. The other rolls they sell in the store can't compare to the Columbo ones for toasty french-dip sandwiches! Sometimes that store also has a Columbo sourdough garlic bread that is prepared for a final baking at home, and they did have a couple of those today.  Those are the only two Columbo products I have seen in my local store, but that means they still exist, and are baking something, anyway. I love those rolls!

 

 

 

linder's picture
linder

If you've already got a sourdough starter, try David Snyder's SF Sourdough.  It's better than Columbo!

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Colombo, a fully owned subsidiary of Hostess Brands Inc., has ceased operations as of November 17, 2012 as part of the decision by the parent corporation to cease all operations and liquidate assets.

Shelf space normally dedicated to sourdough breads now lie empty in the San Francisco Bay and Northern California areas. Hostess, over time, has priced other competition off the shelves of lower tier grocery retailers who are now scrambling to fill the void.

Having a consistent supply of extra sourdough breads all but disappear off the retail shelf leaves many consumers shocked and not a little annoyed at the present state of a food staple. Even Wonder Bread is gone not to mention Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Drakes Coffee Cake - all junk food staples.

The outlook for resurrecting Colombo remains unclear as no one buyer desires to buy the "whole shebang" - leaving the bankruptcy court no other option than selling off each brand separately...,

Wild-Yeast

  

 

LisaE's picture
LisaE

This is one of the reasons I really commited myself to capturing my own wild yeast and learning to bake good sourdough breads. My husband is also in mourning over the Hostess closure, he would only eat Home Pride Bread before. I have been able to ease his pain by making delicious whole wheat breads found on this site and he enjoys them! Good post Wild Yeast, thanks.

LisaE