A road trip wouldn’t be a road trip if it didn’t come to a conclusion, and although it was hard to leave Orange County, we pulled out and headed north. Destination? San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf, home of sour dough bread so amazing I’ve spent the two years since our last trip trying to replicate it. I’m getting more successful with each try!
The first thing you notice when you pull into Fisherman’s Wharf is how cold it is. I’ve been in July, August, and now March and every single time I wished I had a heavier jacket and about three pairs of pants on. The wind off the water is really chilly, but that just makes it even more inviting to step into Boudin’s Demonstration Bakery.
The family established the original Boudin Bakery in 1849. To make their sourdough, the family used ‘Mother Dough’ or sourdough starter to leaven the bread. Anyone who has made their own sourdough knows how long it takes to create their own Mother Dough, and that it’s important to keep enough of it to add to time and again. When the Great Earthquake and Fire hit San Francisco in 1906, Louise Boudin saved the original Mother Dough in a bucket, transporting it to their new location on 10th Avenue.
The Boudin location on Fisherman’s Wharf is actually more of a demonstration kitchen and bread museum, but even if it’s not the actual Boudin Bakery, walking in can feel like an assault on your senses. You’ve never smelt fresh bread like this before, and everywhere you look there are bread loaves of every size and shape. They do shaped sourdough that’s practically artwork, with sea turtles, octopus, and every other type of animal under the sun.
I wasn’t hungry when I walked in, but I was starving after about 5 minutes. Thankfully it was lunch and a Boudin’s sourdough bread bowl with piping hot clam chowder was the order of the day for me, along with a not-so-spicy chili bread bowl for the kids.
With Alcatraz off in the distance and various characters of all kinds walking around the Wharf, it really was a perfect spot to spend lunch. But as soon as we were finished eating and packing our bags full of bread to take with us, my mind turned to what I would do when all of the bread was gone. I needed to create the perfect bread bowl at home.
Sourdough isn’t the type of bread you decide to make on impulse and then whip out a loaf in a few hours. To get authentic Boudin sourdough, you need to make your own Mother Dough or sourdough starter. This can take up to a week, and it’s a finicky process if you aren’t careful about how you make it. I made a batch a year ago, and I will ‘feed’ it before using it, then give a bit of it to friends who want their own sourdough bread loaves at home.
Mother Dough or Sourdough Starter
1 small handful (1/4 to 1/3 cup) white flour
In a mound of flour, make a small well and add the water.
Slowly mix the flour and the water, bringing more flour into the center of the well. The mixture will gradually transform from a paste into a small piece of dough.
Knead this small piece of dough with your fingers for about 5–8 minutes, until it becomes springy. Place the dough in a small bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it sit in a warm spot for 2 or 3 days.When it’s ready, the dough will be moist, wrinkled, and crusty. If you pull off a piece of the crust, you’ll find tiny bubbles and smell a sweet aroma.
Throw away any hardened crust. “Refresh” the remaining piece by mixing it with twice the original amount of flour and enough water to make a firm dough. Set aside as before.
After 1 or 2 days the starter will have a new, fresh look. Remove any dried dough and mix with about 1 cup of flour.
When the starter is ready, it will appear fully risen, and a small indentation made with a finger won’t spring back.
Remember to save a small piece of the starter: You can put it in the refrigerator for several days, then refresh it again as above and use it to make another loaf. I like to keep my sourdough starter in a mason jar, and a good sour dough starter will last for years.
Now that you have your own Mother Dough, you’re ready to make a sourdough loaf. This recipe from Allrecipes.com is a close replica of some of the sourdough I’ve tried. If at first you don’t succeed, just feed your Mother Dough and try again. The more you bake, the better you’ll get at creating sourdough.
San Francisco Sourdough
4 3/4 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1 extra large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup chopped onion
In a large bowl, combine 1-cup flour, sugar, salt, and dry yeast. Add milk and softened butter or margarine. Stir in starter. Mix in up to 3 3/4 cups flour gradually; you may need more depending on your climate.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl; turn once to oil surface, and cover. Allow to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in volume.
Punch down, and let rest 15 minutes. Shape into loaves. Place on a greased baking pan. Allow rising for 1 hour, or until doubled.
Brush egg wash over tops of loaves, and sprinkle with chopped onion.
Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 30 minutes, or till done.
I wish everyone could walk into Boudin’s bakery and get a loaf of bread every day, but making your own at home is a close substitute if you perfect your method.
If you don’t want to make sourdough but still want the great smell of baking bread in your home, check out my favourite breadmaker below:
Road trip first stop: Portland’s Waffle Window
Breadmakers are the easiest way to fill your kitchen with the scent of baking bread
Road Trip second stop: Disneyland and Mickey shaped Beignets