The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Larraburu Starter Inconsistency

doughooker's picture

Larraburu Starter Inconsistency

This post is for my fellow S.F.SD aficionados who have been trying to reverse engineer the Larraburu sourdough formula which has been published several times in different places over the years.

 There appears to be an inconsistency in the formula described in the article by A. M. Galal et al. cited by doc.dough in another thread. The article, entitled Lactic and volatile (C2-C5) organic acids of San Francisco sourdough French bread, originally appeared in Cereal Chemistry 55(4): 461-468

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

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, viz.

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

This doesn't conclusively solve the mystery, but it points out the consistency between the formula in the patent document and the "other" formula cited above.

The definitive authority on Larraburu sourdough is the head baker and co-owner, a fellow named Richard Chamblerlin, who unfortunately is no longer with us.

Wild-Yeast's picture

"Le travail sur trois levains" or "The work of the three levains" was the old style method for making Pan au Levain until around 1920 in France. 

A little historical perspective helps in understanding San Francisco French Sourdough Bread (SFFSDB). 

French Bread in San Francisco was traditionally prepared by predominantly ex pat French bakers who followed the use of the "mother" dough to start the leavening action of what would become tomorrows bake.

A slight modification to this "méthode" produces what's covered in the U.S. Patent.

SFFSDB from was not sour prior to the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Evidently the French Bakers had enough of San Francisco earthquakes and departed for parts unknown. Taking their place were bakers of the Basque heritage which liked their bread to be sour - it went better with their style of food. It remains to this day as the quintessential  "San Francisco French Sourdough Bread" and no one seems to complain of this slight to the Basque heritage. Larraburu is a Basque surname by the way.

One last nit is the origin of the type of flour over time. Sonora was the flour of choice at the time of the Gold Rush. The progression from Sonora to Red Winter hasn't shown up in any literature that I'm aware of, yet...,

In any respect, I've developed a similar technique which produces either a sweet tasting French Style or a Sour tasting San Francisco "Wharf Style" bread.

I begin by taking the sourdough starter from refrigeration and leave it to warm to room temperature for several hours. A 1: 1 ratio water : flour is mixed in doubling the weight and allowed to ferment till doubled in volume (>77dF).

This is then added to a build trough with an additional 1 : 1 water : flour mixed in, again near doubling the weight - enough additional flour is added to yield the final bakers percentage. In my case that's ~64%. This is placed in a covered bowl and allowed to ferment. This is where sourness of the final taste of the eventual loaf is determined. Sweet fermentation is a simple doubling of the starter, a sour fermentation allows the active starter to go well beyond peak fermentation action into an over-ferment conditon. If you taste the starter it will have a "sweet sour" taste.

This is when the final dough is prepared to your baker's percentage and allowed to go through autolysis for natural gluten formation (30 minutes) after which the levain build is allowed to mix into the dough for 4-8 minutes at which time a 2% finely ground sea salt (fleur de sel) is added and allowed to mix for 4-5 minutes. The dough will tighten into a velvety smooth (baby's but) appearance indicating it is ready for bulk fermentation.

Bulk fermentation at 95dF takes 1hour and 55 minutes before weigh and forming and placed in final fermentation baskets for approximately 1 hour at 95dF.

The loaves are then placed under evaporative cover in refrigeration at 38dF overnight (~12 hours) to improve the taste of the finished product. 

Baking begins the next day before dawn.

Hope this helps in achieving the ultimate in Sourdough Baking, The San Francisco French Sourdough bread.


 P.S. Forgot to mention that the first starter out of the fridge is 15% Organic Dark Rye, 85% Organic Red Winter Wheat Flour. A measure (~1 ml) of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is added to the water to neutralize chloramine used in our area. 

Best again,


doughooker's picture

A number of bakers have suggested adding rye flour but I'm reluctant to do so because it is not specified in the Larraburu formula described in either the patent or the Galal article and thus wouldn't be "authentic". The only types of flour I've seen specified are clear flour for the sponge and patent flour for the dough.

Yesterday I started a new starter made with clear flour. We'll see.

I've heard that SF bread was not sour before the 1906 earthquake and didn't become sour until the Basque Larraburu's etc. made it sour after the quake.

Wild-Yeast's picture


The 15% Organic Dark Rye Flour is to one, augment the spore content of the starter and two, to add vitamins and minerals to the starter.

The amount is 15 grams in the "out of the fridge" starter so there's very little direct taste effect due to the rye flour. The resulting loaves are fairly spectacular in both taste and appearance...,


doughooker's picture

For the time being I'm going to stick with my clear-four starter as it is part of the Larraburu formula, and see if I get a satisfactory sourness from it.

I'm disinclined to experiment with rye flour.