The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Divine inspiration--for me it way Larraburu Brother's SF SD. What was it for you?

bnom's picture

Divine inspiration--for me it way Larraburu Brother's SF SD. What was it for you?

Remember the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when Richard Dreyfuss obsessively worked to recreate in his living room the mountain that was imprinted in his mind by the aliens? 

For me, that "mountain" is the sourdough bread that Larraburu Brother's of San Francisco made.  Larraburu had a Gold Rush era sourdough and a gorgeous crust and crumb.  Unfortunately Larraburu went out of business in the 70s. It's taken me nearly 40 years but I'm finally making dough that reminds me of Larraburu.

I was surprised that I found no reference to Larraburu breads on Fresh Loaf because if you've had it, you likely consider it the holy grail of sourdough.  Anyway, I'd love to know if anyone on this board remembers Larraburu bread.  And I'd also be interested to know if others are similarly driven to recreate a memorable loaf from the past. 


leucadian's picture

It was a sad day when Larraburu's went out of business. I was gone from the Bay Area by that time, but like you, I set their sourdough as my standard. I personally haven't been able to recreate the crust or the level of sourness in my own breads, but I think that if I could taste it again, I might opt for a somewhat less assertive sour taste. It's been 40 years and memory being what it is, and tastes being what they are, I'm very happy to have made some tasty sourdough over the last few years.

If Larraburu is you goal, this is the place to help you make it.


arlo's picture

That is a great story, something I like that makes me smile! I would love to have been able to taste a loaf of bread that was inspirational to someone that they can still imagine so many years later what it was like.

For me, it was my first time seeing and tasting Zingerman's Pain de montagne, or Mountain bread. It is a high extraction flour sourdough that Zingerman's deems as "the closest thing to Poilane'. Seeing this bread over two years ago and tasting it really made me come to and start baking bread more so than ever. Enough that I now bake in a bakery and constantly at home! : )


ehanner's picture

When I was just out of High School, my parents took me to San Francisco to vacation on the West coast. It was the first time for all of us and I clearly remember the experience that was imprinted on my memory. My Mother remembered reading about the wonderful sourdough on Fisherman's Wharf. My Dad bought a small boule and we sat on the wooden pick-nick table and ate it plain. It was so good we decided to get another. I had never tasted anything like that and it made an impression.

I was talking with my father a few weeks ago and mentioned sourdough breads in the conversation. He asked me if I still remembered that day in SFO on the wharf? Funny really, he's 84, asking me if I remember a day 45 years ago.

When I finally started wanting to learn to bake, it was to recreate the great breads I had eaten in France and Italy and also that great sourdough from so long ago.

I was completely ignorant about the process or content of good bread when I started. Everything I know about being a baker I learned here with a few good books as a guide. I was pleasantly surprised at how un mystical it all is. It hasn't been all that long ago when I first started down the road to bread enlightenment. I think that's one of things I like most about humans. We remember good things and try to duplicate them in the future.


Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Instawares is advertising one for $5800. 

Doc.Dough's picture

The Larraburu oven was not unique, and their sourdough process was captured for the record.

I found the following from a 1978 . The copy I have is a pdf image file so I have extracted and transcribed the relevant data into text.

Title: Lactic and volatile (C2-C5) organic acids of San Francisco sourdough French bread

Cereal Chemistry 55(4): 461-468; Copyright 1978 The American Association of Cereal Chemists

Authors: A. M. Galal, J. A. Johnson, and E. Varriano-Marston

The Larraburu Company produces San Francisco sourdough French bread by the sponge and dough process.  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.  This starter sponge is used to make more starter sponge as well as sponges for bread production.  The starter sponge consists of 100 parts of clear flour (14% protein), approximately 50 parts of water, and 50 parts of the starter sponge.  The ingredients are mixed and fermented for 9-10 hr at 80°F.  The bread dough is made by mixing 100 parts flour 12% protein, 60 parts of water, 15 parts of sponge, and 1.5-2% salt.  The dough rests 1 hr and then is divided, molded, and deposited on canvas dusted with corn meal or rice flour.  The dough is proofed for 4 hr at 105°F (41°C) and 96% relative humidity and baked at 420°F (216°C) for 40-50 min in a Perkins oven with direct injection of low pressure steam (5 psi).  Oven shelves were covered with Carborundum.

bnom's picture

Thanks so much for going to the trouble of posting this article about the Larrabaru.  I don't know much about professional baking techniques but found it interesting that it's proofed at 105 degrees, I would have thought that too warm.  I was also struck by the mention of "low pressure steam"   I wonder what impact 5psi has as compared to, say, 25psi.  It's a good thing lack of chemistry knowledge re doesn't prevent one from making good bread! 

What prompted you to dig around for the article?  Did you used to eat Larrabaru?


rondayvous's picture

 The dough is proofed for 4 hr at 105°F (41°C) and 96% relative humidity 

The LAB would love those high temps, I’m guessing it took 4 hrs for the yeast to deal with the acid and competition for resources. I know I’ve found that Cranking up the ferment temp will aid in souring the dough. Delicate balance that a pro bakery has obviously got down to a science. Gluten doesn’t like the acid, so getting a rise before everything turns to goo seems like a magic trick.

Doc.Dough's picture


When I saw the Larraburu process it didn't immediately make sense to me and I had to go back to Kline and Sugihara and Ganzle to rationalize what may be going on. The long refreshment at a relatively high temperature assures that the LAB has produced as much acid as it possibly can and the 80°F puts the growth cycle right at the maximum growth rate for the conventional SF SD yeast.  The very stiff starter slows down the process (presumably because the mobility of nutrients is inhibited by viscosity but that is pure speculation on my part), and the 105°F final proof temperature? That really didn't make sense, but it has to be correct.  Since 41°C is above the temperature at which both the yeast and the LAB will reproduce, it may (intentionally or inadvertantly) stop the biologically active components of the process from the outside to the inside as the proof-box temperature heats the dough to 105°F.  I can't predict what the final result would be, perhaps it keeps the acidity from degrading the gluten as the 105°F thermocline migrates from the surface to the center of the loaf, shutting down LAB (and the yeast)  reproduction as it moves - though while reproduction stops it may not shut down acid production which is limited by pH, or CO2 production which is limited by nutrient availability.  It would be interesting to solve for the temperature of the dough at the center of the loaf over the proofing process timeline (or perhaps measure it if somebody can approximate the weight and size of the loaves).  It is indeed a conundrum.  I am sure others have (perhaps more valid) thoughts about why it worked to such great effect. I for one would be interested in hearing their views.

When Larraburu was operating, I was living in Redwood City and was eating Pisano bread (since they had a bakery next to where we did laundry I had many opportunities to tour their facility, but was not yet educated enough to be interested in paying attention to the details).  Hopefully somebody will work through this description and figure out how to replicate the results (and describe them here!!).


rondayvous's picture

I ferment yogurt at 105 F for best results. Some LAB seem to do just fine at those temperatures.

Doc.Dough's picture

The following is transcribed from the (hard to find) 1970 paper "Nature of the San Francisco Sour Dough French Bread Process, I. Mechanics of the Process" by Leo Kline, T. F. Sugihara, and Linda Bele McCready in Baker's Digest 44(2), p48-50. (Note the use of the two word form of sourdough)

Table I

Sour Dough Starter Sponge
100 parts previous sponge
100 parts flour (Hi-gluten)
46-52 parts water

Make up and hold 7-8 hrs. at 80°F
Starting pH = 4.4 to 4.5
Final pH = 3.8 to 3.9

Table II

Sour Bread Dough Formulation
20 parts starter sponge (11% of final mix)
100 parts flour (regular patent)
60 parts water
2 parts salt
Make up – approx. 1 hr floor time – then proof 8 hr. 86°F
Starting pH = 5.2 to 5.3
Final pH = 3.9 to 4.0

Preparation and Handling
The bread dough, as shown in Table II, is made up simply with the fully developed starter sponge, flour, water and salt. None of the other usual ingredients of white pan bread such as yeast, sugar, shortening, non-fat dry milk, monoglycerides, dough conditioners, oxidants, mold inhibitors, etc. are needed or used. The starter sponge is used at a level of approximately 9 to 15 percent of the final bread dough which , after make-up is allowed to relax for at least 30 minutes. Then it is scaled (divided), rounded and given an overhead proof of about 20 min at 90°F, after which it is molded, placed on canvas dusted with rice flour and/or corn meal and allowed to proof about six to eight hours at 85 to 90°F. This long proof time may be reduced somewhat by increasing the proportion of starter sponge or by lengthening the floor time before molding, but is generally essential for development of the acidity and the coarse grain typical of this bread as well as for volume.

The pH of the bread dough on make-up is about 5.3 and drops to about 3.9 when the long proof is completed, or roughly to the same point reached by the starter sponge itself.


Baking is carried out in a hearth (generally carborundum) oven for a relatively long time (45 to 55 minutes) at a relatively low temperature (375 – 390°F). It is quite essential to slash or make cuts on the surface of the fully-proofed dough just before it is placed in the oven, otherwise the crust character will be wrinkled and generally unsatisfactory and the eating quality of the crust is probably the most essential part of this bread. Also an absolute requisite to achieving the desired crust character is the use of a very wet oven, particularly the first part of the baking cycle and continued until the crust attains a light tan color. Generally this is achieved by saturating the oven with low pressure steam.

This has some similarity with the Larraburu process but is run at a lower temperature. The description is contemporary with the description of the Larraburu process so I think it is fair to say that this documents what was being used by one of Larraburu's competitors.

It is perhaps significant to note the reported sensitivity of the starter to freezing which would suggest that any attempt to revive the Larraburu bread from frozen starter after a few weeks would have failed.

julialee23's picture

I can't believe that I have stumbled upon this forum.  I am the great grand niece of Hal Paul and of course grew up eating Larraburu bread.  My family has never quite recovered from losing the bakery and often talk about the old days.  No sourdough quite takes the place of that wonderful bread.

I have just begun baking bread of my own and now want to venture into the sourdough realm.  I have always wondered how to get my hands on Uncle Hal's starter which is rumoured to be "stored" in Boudin's kitchens.  Failing that, I suppose creating my own starter will have to suffice. 

Does anyone know what made the bread so particularly tangy?  I've never tasted anything quite like it.  I understand it was likely a combination of things but wondering how significant the age of the "mother" is to the taste?

Thanks so much for this discussion.  I will phone my mother and my great Aunt - Hal's only surviving sister, to tell them that Larraburu is still so fondly remembered by so many!!



Brett Dickinson's picture
Brett Dickinson

What a treat to hear your comments.  NO OTHER SOURDOUGH COULD HOLD A CANDLE TO LARRABARU.

The last loaf I ever had was the dark crust one.  I nursed that loaf for as long as I could and it must have taken a hald hour to eat the last slice.  I took a small nibble each time, trying to remember the incredible tangy taste that I might never get to experience again.

Tell you mom and great aunt that Larrabaru might be gone but it has NEVER been forgotten.  I would pay $20 a loaf for anything that could come close but have never found one yet.

bnom's picture

Glad you stumbled across this thread and glad you've decided to get into breadbaking Julia.  You certainly have good roots and inspiration to draw upon.  The memory of the taste, texture, and smell of Larraburu has certainly helped me in developing my own skills.  To your question about what made the bread so particularly tangy, you'll find some clues in this thread.  I don't think the age of the mother is that important. You might want to read this TFL thread:

I have been baking a sourdough that I think delivers the Larraburu experience.  I can't offer a taste but here's a look -- you can see the crust has similar carmelization (which I think accounted for a lot of the great flavor of Larraburu).

dmsnyder's picture

Would you share the formula and procedure you used for that bread? It looks wonderful.

I see bubbles under the crust. Did you cold retard the loaves? What was the weight of the loaves? At what temperature did you bake? For how long?

I'm making a bread using the procedure Doc.Dough cited, above, with some modifications. Stay tuned.


bnom's picture

Thanks David.   The crumb is quite nice too.  The formula is my adaption of a Columbia SD.  It makes two 1.5 lb loaves

275 g liquid levain

600 g AP

40 g dark rye

10 g whole wheat

20 g malt syrup

460 g water

16 g salt (added after 30 minute autolyze of all the above including liguid levain)  

Baked at 470 -   12 minutes with steam (wet towels over lava rocks) and then about 15 minutes w/o steam.  


I do about a 5 minute slap and fold (ala Bertinet) on my breads -- using a spritzer to add more water if needed.  I know the argument that a slap and fold aligns the molecules and thus impedes the sort of open irregular crumb we desire, but I haven't found that to be the case at all. Perhaps because I'm only doing about 5 minutes (Bertinet does it for 20) and I am still doing a stretch and fold (once or twice every 45 minutes or so).  For me, the slap and fold is the very best way to inform my hands that the dough is properly hydrated and sufficiently kneaded.  I often don't use any measurement so being able to trust the feel of the dough is really important to me.  I use the same technique with baguettes and get a very open crumb. 

As for the cold retard, I don't recall if this particular loaf was cold retarded.  I seem to get the same sort of bubbles whether I overnightit in the fridge or just let it do a long cool rise (60 or so)

I am currently in the midst of a kitchen remodel. I got rid of my beloved old '50 electric range and am getting a quite powerful Capital Culinarian gas range. I've never baked in a gas oven -- I'm excited and terrified at the same time.  I worry that I won't acheive the same sort of crust in the gas range as I did in the electric.  I believe you bake in a gas oven correct?  I may be pestering you for advice.


doughooker's picture

I have attempted to reduce the two SF SD formulae to the BBGA format:

I would appreciate anyone who is interested checking these over to see if they make sense. I have also attempted to calculate dough hydration. Does it seem right that Larraburu would use such a low hydration, 50% vs. 60% for the other bakery?

I have interpreted "seed" to be the portion of the previous day's starter as given in the formulae.

doughooker's picture

Saturday, May 29, 1976

SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) The legendary "49ers" of the California Gold Rush may roll over in their graves today when the nation's second-largest sourdough bread company ends its 78-year tradition with a final tribute of 30,000 loaves.

Larraburu Brothers is going out of business in the aftermath of a $2 million lawsuit which financially crippled the historic San Francisco bakery. "There'll never be another sourdough like this one," said Harold Paul, the firm's owner and board chairman who was born the year the two Larraburu brothers opened the bakery on Geary Street. Larraburu was ordered to pay $2 million damages to a six-year-old boy injured by a bakery truck in 1972. The company's insurance policy did not cover the settlement. Larraburu gradually slipped from its premier position in the world of sourdough and a decision was finally made this week to close the bakery's doors and halt the weekly production of 155,000 loaves. The company's demise may cause a shortage in sourdough supplies for several weeks.

Paul credited a unique oven he designed in 1946 and the adherence to a 13-hour baking process with making Larraburu's sourdough a favorite throughout the world. Larraburu's recipe called for "a pinch of salt and 87 percent flour and water to 13 percent starter." The "starter" is the fermenting leftover from the previous day's dough that gets reincarnated into each day's new mix to make the sourdough rise. The more starter, the more sour the the bread and the darker its crust.

Sourdough was a staple in the diets of miners who flocked to California in the mid-1800's in search of gold. Paul still has hope that Larraburu may someday fire up its ovens again. "We're blast-freezing enough starter for five individual starts, and storing them in safekeeping in five different parts of the country, to survive if the day ever comes,"he said.

I don't know if Hal Paul ever acted on his plan to freeze and store the starter.

Hal Paul, Sr. died in 1993. Hal Paul, Jr. died in 1999.

Wild-Yeast's picture

The following is a YouTube video of Julia Lavaroni's Larraburru story. She is the niece of Hal Paul the last owner of the Bakery. It begins at 1:03:19. Enjoy;


bnom's picture

Thank you for posting this link  to Julia’s talk. I am excited to see where her journey has taken her.   I talked to Julia about her plans to make a documentary several years ago so it’s exciting to see that it is actually taking shape. 

Wild-Yeast's picture



The following is from Julia Lavaroni's FaceBook page;

"Meeting Scott and Ben in Texas last summer was awesome. But we only got half the story at that time. Ben, in Texas, got it from Scott in Hawaii. But how did Scott get it? His time in Portland Oregon included a stint as a baker at the Helen Bernhard Bakery. It was there, that he was introduced to the Larraburu starter. But how did THEY get it? Turns out, the Bernhards wanted to try their hand at Sourdough in the early 1970's and of course they wanted to seed their version with the best. They traveled to San Francisco and visited the Larraburu bakery where they asked for and were given a small sample to see whether they could make a start of it. They took it back to Portland and after several experiments with process, they succeeded in recreating a version of the famed SF sourdough bread where it was sold for many years. When Scott left to make his own way in the baking world in Hawaii, they carried on the tradition, and gave Scott a sample. So now we have gone full circle - SF to Portland to Hawaii to Austin. That is some path. It remains to be seen whether the integrity of the starter has survived all the change of hands and climates. The taste will be the true test!! We visited with Meriel Bernhard in Portland last month to confirm the story and Scott met us there. It was a lovely reunion for the two of them!"

Did it survive?


Wild-Yeast's picture

Looking around the web last night I came across the story behind Pioneer Bakery in Venice, California. From the February 1, 2011 edition of the Los Angeles Magazine;

"Once on land Jean Baptiste made a beeline for the Basque community in Tehachapi. He moved to Santa Monica a few years later, where he founded National French Bakery in 1908. He was 25. Most of his customers wanted traditional French white bread, but the farmers preferred the three- and five-pound sourdough rounds, which they kept moist with a towel and ate throughout the week. Jean Baptiste delivered the sourdough to farms as far north as Malibu and south as San Pedro, at the same time peddling a red wine he made from Bakersfield grapes. When Santa Monica went dry in 1917, he stormed off to Venice, which stayed wet."

The context of this story bares a certain similitude with the story of the founding of Larraburu Bros. Could it be the starter actually originated in Basque Country in the French Pyrenees? And how can a live sample from there be obtained? 


Wild-Yeast's picture

As I was researching the origins of the Larraburu Bros. starter I sadly came across the following, published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 5, 2017; "TAKASHI FRANK SUGIHARA 
1921 - 2017 Obituary January 15, 1921 - July 5, 2017 Takashi Frank Sugihara, internationally recognized food research microbiologist and decorated World War II veteran, passed away peacefully at his home in Tustin, CA, on July 5, 2017. He was 96. Frank was born in Los Angeles, CA, on January 15, 1921 to Junichi and Sueno (Sasaki) Sugihara. His college education was interrupted by World War II and his family's relocation to Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming. As soon as his 4C (enemy alien) status was lifted, he volunteered to serve in the US Army's 442 Regimental Combat Team (442nd), the Japanese-American Army combat unit, where he received the Bronze Star. He was made an honorary Texan by Governor John Connally in 1962 for rescuing the Lost Texas Battalion. In 2011, along with other surviving veterans of the 442nd, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of extraordinary patriotism, courage and selflessness in combat in spite of discrimination and adversity at home. In 2013 he was made a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor for his role in liberating France from the Nazi occupation. Returning to civilian life after the war, he graduated from USC, majoring in plant physiology. While attending graduate school at UC Berkeley, he met and later married Sumiko Ozawa in 1951. Frank began his career as a research microbiologist for the US Department of Agriculture in Albany, CA. In the lab, he studied techniques for freeze-drying eggs and coffee and developed mushroom flavorings. His nephews still remember being test subjects for freeze-dried eggs on camping trips. The highlight of his career was isolating the bacteria responsible for the unique flavor of San Francisco sourdough bread, which he named Lactobacillus San Francisco. Because of his extensive work in microbiology related to baking, he served as a consultant for Bremner Wafers. He also advised Alemagna-Motta in Milan, Italy for panettonne production and the Shikishima Baking Company in Japan for sourdough bread. He published articles and spoke at universities in Europe and Asia on the fermentation process in the baking industry. Frank is survived by his wife Sumiko, his daughter Corinne, her husband Bruce, his granddaughter Nicole, and his sisters Kazuko and Hideko. He is also survived by his nieces and nephews who remember him fondly. He was preceded in death by his son Michael and sister Masako. His brother Paul just recently passed away. Frank will be laid to rest at the Colma Japanese Cemetery. We cherish the memory of this intelligent, hard-working, yet humble family man. Published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 5, 2017"  Sadly, Wild-Yeast

Wild-Yeast's picture

"Handbook of Dough Fermentations
Food science and technology

Karel Kulp, Klaus Lorenz May 20, 2003
CRC Press

Chapter 6, Page 145, Commercial Starters in the United States

T. Frank Sugihara
Consultant, Tustin, California, U.S.A.

I. Introduction

With the recent interst and increase in sourdough breads around the country, numerous popular articles have appeared in magazines and books. The various authors seem to feel that the "sourdough starter" originated in southern Europe, more precisely the Basque country. In fact, one of the oldest bakeries in San Francisco was founded more than 100 year ago (during the Gold Rush days) by Basque immigrants. San Francisco sourdough bread has become famous and is most likely responsible for its spread across the western United States. During the last 10 years, sourdough bread has become popular in many Midwestern cities as well as in the northeastern part of the country."

Sugihara is in agreement with Basque country as the probable origin of what was to become San Francisco French Bread Sourdough. The next step is to find verification of samples taken from existing bakeries still operating in the region. I'm open to any ideas on information on studies on the subject.


Brett Dickinson's picture
Brett Dickinson

I was just reminiscing today about Larraburu sourdough being the last thing you would grab as you left SF airport.  It truly was the Holy Grail of sourdough.  I still remember the last loaf I was able to buy.  It was their "dark crust" variety and I nursed that loaf as long as I could.  When it came to last slice, I think it took me a half hour to eat it, knowing that I would probably never get another taste.   It was my understanding that they had frozen away some of the starter for a later day. I don't know if that is true but if you have come up with a comparable loaf, where can it be bought?  I live in Texas now so getting any sourdough that actually has the sourdough flavor that I had when I lived in the Bay Area, is impossible.  Truly, there is no sourdough currently being made that could hold a candle to Larraburu.  I applaud your efforts and have joined the forum so I could post this.

doughooker's picture

There may be an inconsistency in the formula described in the article by A. M. Galal et al., cited by doc.dough, above.

If my math is correct, the Galal article calls for a 1/1/2 starter/water/flour refreshment of the starter.

Now take a look at this document from the U.S. Patent Office:

1. Maintaining a continuous starter sponge comprised of two parts (40%) previous sponge, two parts (40%) flour and one part (20%) water by rebuilding every eight hours or three times a day;

This works out to a 2/1/2 refreshment and is consistent with the "other" S.F.SD process cited by doc.dough.

GinaG's picture

Perhaps there's a chance both articles were correct and the variable can be explained. I was born and raised in SF and every night, a loaf of Larraburu graced our dinner table. Either my brother or I were sent to the grocery store to "Get a loaf of sweet," or, "Get a loaf of sour." Larraburu offered different varieties of their French bread. There was Sour, Dark Sour, Extra Sour, etc. 
Do you suppose there's a chance that each of these reporters happened to be visiting while a different sort of bread was being made, or perhaps the reporter tasted and asked for procedure details on the bread they were offered?