The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

San Francisco starter

leemid's picture

San Francisco starter

You might think at my age I could have put away the little boy in me, but it is not, and probably never will be, the case. My first memory of bread was as a little child I would go with my family to the local bakery and by a 12 dozen or baker's (14) dozen loaves of balloon bread, day old, for a dollar. This was back when a dollar was worth a dollar. We would eat it all in a week or less, and go back again for more. Mom didn't think much of that bread, but we kids were little and didn't know any better. What it meant to us, another of the average poor-but-don't-know-we're-poor families, was that we could eat all we wanted. To young mouths even that bread was good. But Mom wanted better for her children so she started making whole wheat bread each week. Well, we thought that was a tragedy, because it wasn't as much like cake as the other was... But we got used to it, then loved it, as we grew up on it.

I learned to bake bread watching her. I made the same bread because that was what bread was supposed to be, and there really wasn't anything else until much later when stores stocked what they called whole wheat, which by our taste was full of sawdust for filler. Somewhere along the way I learned about sourdough and wanted to make it. Eventually sour bread was available in stores and I liked it. It was white and had some flavor (flavour for you other English spellers), but could never make my own starter. I could have been a moonshiner, but not a sourdough. Then sometime in the last 6 months I got some dried starter from Friends of Carl and successfully reconstitued it and made acceptable bread. Then after reading a little, and visiting the SF bay area to get some of the bread I remembered from a trip long ago, I made some really good sourdough bread.

For much of the last two weeks I have been working in Napa, CA and took the opportunity to revisit SF to buy some lined bannetons from TMB Baking/SFBI. I couldn't let myself spend the insane prices for the ones available locally in stores, but $8 for these seemed like a good compromise to making my own from wire mesh fabric (I made one, wow, what fun!). The folks at San Francisco Baking Institute were really busy preparing for an event on the weekend and were really pressed for time, but after a little chat they opened up to myself and another home baker/bread lover who will likely never be professional bakers. And what a repository of interesting and exciting baking hardware! Great people.

The other really exciting part of my trip was the acquisition of a chunk of SF starter from a bakery in SF. It smells like SF starter, like SF sourdough bread... I tested its ability to stay alive as I kept it without refrigeration for long periods of time as I drove north to the Portland area late last week. When I finally got it home and refreshed it, it GREW!. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles. But I didn't have time to bake with it. There it sits, chilled out, waiting for me to return from another trip to Napa to finish my work there.

But next weekend I will finally get to prove to myself how much difference the starter makes in bread flavor, and over time, whether a starter remains true to its nature, or takes on the charateristics of the location where it takes up residence. But at this point I know there are real differences between my Oregon Trail starter from FofC and my new SF starter. Besides the smell and acidity, it feels different...

That's my story,


Floydm's picture

That is cool.

I'm going to be in the Bay Area this weekend for a wedding. I was actually pondering bringing a jar and a bag of flour to try to capture some wild yeasties while I am there. My fear is that housekeeping will come into our hotel room and think they've stumbled into a meth lab. That'd be a fun one to explain: "No really, officer, it is just sourdough starter."

zolablue's picture

Please keep us posted on this.  I'm very interested.  I wonder why it isn't established one way or the other - I mean, have not people done studies on this to determine for sure exactly what occurs?  It doesn't seem like there could be such varying opinions if you just do the test and taste the stuff.

It is one reason I created a new starter this month just to see if how it was created and how I keep it compared to the other shows me any difference in flavor or texture or oven spring.  I suppose that is the newbie in me not understanding that they'll probably be about the same but I had to try.

TRK's picture

"But next weekend I will finally get to prove to myself how much difference the starter makes in bread flavor, and over time, whether a starter remains true to its nature, or takes on the charateristics of the location where it takes up residence."


I would be fascinated to hear what you learn, and what seems to happen over time.  I have always instinctively leaned toward the idea that starters will change to fit the local fauna over time (how much time, of course, being another question).  I have never had the patience to really try to figure it out, however.  I await your weekend baking with bated breath (since my life is too hectic for much serious baking these days). 

zolablue's picture

(chuckle)  HollyGrail - I could not resist!  :o)

Oldcampcook's picture


from another Okie


Old Camp Cook

Sandaidh's picture

Caveat - I'm very new to sourdough bread making, and new to working with starters.

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and specifically, the Napa Valley, for over 30 years.  My mom grew up in San Francisco.  And I love the San Francisco sourdough bread.  (Spoiled by the best? LOL)  Anyway, four years ago I moved to western NY.  What passes for sourdough bread here is...sadly lacking, compared to the San Francisco sourdough.  My craving, for that's what it became, for SF sourdough grew, and when I couldn't find anyone to send me some from CA, I embarked on my journey with starters.  To make a long story a bit shorter - I bought a packet of SF sourdough starter from Sourdoughs International *and* started a wild (local) sourdough starter using Sourdough Lady's pineapple juice flour technique.  After a bit of a bumpy beginning, the wild starter finally got going, and I got the SF starter going.  I've been baking with both now.

I don't have a lot of time behind the comparisons, since as I said, I'm fairly new to this.  That said, there is a definate difference between the SF sourdough and the Killbuck (local) sourdough.  I've used the same recipe (the no-knead sourdough recipe on the Sourdoughs International website) with both starters.  The SF starter produces the tangy flavor I remember, and love, so well.  The Killbuck starter produces a much milder flavor.  It also tends not to rise quite as much as the SF starter.

Will they remain true over time?  I hope so, but I haven't had them around long enough to tell.  Not yet.  I do know that when I'm feeding and/or working with the SF starter, I tend to cover the jar and/or bowl to reduce 'contamination.'  When working with the Killbuck starter, I leave the jar open, the bowl uncovered.  Get back to me in about 20 years or so and I may have a more definative report.  LOL

Squid's picture

I still have my SF starter in the package. I must get it going.

Sandaidh's picture

The "hardest" part I found in getting my SF starter going, was getting the proofing box to work right.  I was plagued with things like malfunctioning thermometers and light bulbs which gave off too much heat.  But perserverance paid off, I got it working and got my starter.  Lots of starter.  I have 3 jars of SF starter and 2 of Killbuck starter in the fridge.  LOL  I rotate using them so no one gets neglected.

Squid's picture

LOL, I hear ya! That's the reason I haven't done it yet. I got my Italian starter going, but it was a PITB b/c I didn't have a proofing box set up properly. I had my starter on a rack with a heating pad underneath, covered with a stock pot. However, I started getting paranoid that the heat pad would have electrical problems. 

I've been waiting to make up a better proofing box the correct way, but I also have 3 other starters I'm maintaining. I've been using the Italian so much that I haven't been using the others. If I don't use them, I should just dry them and reactivate the SF. I really love SF sourdough.