San Francisco Sourdough & the 49ers

Mark Stevens and his famous San Francisco-style sourdough….a labor of love.

San Francisco Sourdough & The 49ers

What do those two things have in common? You may be asking. Last weekend, during the final playoff game of the San Francisco 49ers versus the Greenbay Packers, I spent the day before furiously making batches of sourdough bread (recipe included later). Like the 49ers, San Francisco-style sourdough bread is unique; and, like the 49ers’ entry into the 2020 Super Bowl, it takes a lot of work and dedication. But it’s well worth it in the end….much like our favorite team here in the North Bay.

Sourdough is arguably one of the most scientifically fascinating foods out there. It relies on Saccharomyces exiguous…a wild yeast. What’s that? You may be asking. Surprisingly, wild yeast is easy to make: One way is to take some grapes, place them in a bucket and let them ferment. Add the fermented by-product to flour and water, and Voila! You have the start of your “Starter” or “Mother Batch.” As the wild yeast digests the flour and water it creates carbon dioxide, which is what gives sourdough bread its distinctive airy, holey consistency (holes which are perfect for capturing melted butter, I might add). It’s also considered a “probiotic” which has taken the Wellness world by storm lately (think kombucha and so forth).

What your “Starter” should look like

Once you have your Starter going, you will add some of that to traditional bread ingredients (flour, water, and sometimes more “active” yeast that you can purchase from the store); this is usually a two or three day process (like the 49ers, greatness doesn’t happen overnight!). And to keep your Starter ready for next time, you need to add more flour and water, in a one-to-one ratio, so it can grow again. In theory, a single batch of sourdough can last forever….or at least a lifetime. As such, it carries with it a much loved and unique history all its own and has “heirloom” status (much like our beloved 49ers since 1946!).

Note the distinctive holey-character of sourdough bread from the carbon dioxide activity.

Despite the claim San Francisco has over sourdough bread, sourdough can be made anywhere in the world and in fact is the oldest form of leavened bread, dating back to ancient Egypt. (It’s theorized that bread dough was left out and wild yeast from a nearby fermented food product drifted into the dough and began the first sourdough starter.) So what’s the hype with sourdough bread being so much better when it’s from San Francisco?

Here’s scientist and food specialist Robert Wolke explaining it to NPR: “The sour flavors come from lactic and acetic acids produced by inevitable environmental bacteria, which are working on the flour’s sugars along with the yeast. Different bacteria make different sour flavors; San Francisco is awash in local bacteria species that make its sourdough bread famous. So sourness, per se, in some ryes and many other breads is quite desirable.” One could argue that the silver lining for San Francisco being “awash in local bacteria” (kind of an icky thought) is that it produces the ideal terroir for the best darn sourdough bread on the planet……at least in my opinion. Much the way our beloved 49ers are the best darn football team in the nation (again, my opinion).

So, when you’re wondering what to bring to the 2020 Super Bowl party this February 2nd to help the 49ers triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs, bring some San Francisco sourdough! And for inspiration, here’s my favorite San Francisco sourdough recipe:

 

San Francisco Sourdough Bread Recipe

Note: Plan ahead for this recipe because it could take 4-8 days to make depending on where you’re at with your “Starter”

  1. Your Starter must be from San Francisco to be the Real Deal….the authentic, heirloom mix (containing the highly sought-after SF bacteria), can be purchased from Vitacost or Cultures for Health, and comes as a dehydrated packet mix; or if you actually live in San Francisco, mix wild yeast, flour and water and leave out for several days at room temperature until bubbly and fruity smelling. If you are buying the dehydrated mix, you will need to prepare it and then leave in a warm place for 4-8 days until bubbly and fruity/yeasty smelling. After that keep it refrigerated. (Note: if you use 1 cup starter for your bread, remember to add one cup water and one cup flour to the remaining starter and leave out again to achieve fermentation for your next bread-making journey.)
  2. Ingredients: 4.75 cups bread flour; 3 tablespoons white sugar; 2 tablespoons butter; 2.5 teaspoons salt; 1 package dry yeast; 1 cup warm milk; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon water; ¼ cup chopped onion*
  3. In a large bowl mix 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and dry yeast plus the milk and butter; stir in the starter (roughly 50% of all flour added to the bread part of the recipe, so a little under 2 ½ cups for this recipe). Gradually mix in the rest of the flour.
  4. Place dough on a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes; oil a bowl and plop the dough into the bowl and turn it over; cover with a clean cloth for about an hour or until the dough doubles in size.
  5. Punch down and let rest for 15 minutes, then form into loaves and leave for about an hour or until doubled in size
  6. Brush egg mixture over the tops of the loaves and sprinkle with the chopped onion (if desired*)
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes