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San Francisco Style Sourdough
aka "Black Canyon Sourdough Bread"

San Francisco Style Sourdough Bread BouleSan Francisco style sourdough bread is basically a French bread made with a sourdough culture characteristic of San Francisco. Many people, especially those in San Francisco, like to believe that this bread can be made no where other than San Francisco. However, the organisms in a San Francisco sourdough culture have been identified for a number of years, and the techniques are hardly a mystery.

The final proof that you can make San Francisco style sourdough bread outside of San Francisco was hammered home when "The La Brea Bakery" of Los Angeles bread was voted the best San Francisco sourdough bread by the food editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. The editors were upset enough by the results of this double blind tasting that they repeated it. With the same results.

When I was running my bakeries, I called this "Black Canyon Sourdough" and it was quite popular. I thought it was a San Francisco Style Sourdough bread, however reading Dr. Sugihara's papers has shown me it really isn't. When I redo the site, I'll redo this page San Francisco Style Sourdough Pan Loafand include an authentic San Francisco style sourdough bread recipe. Why do I keep typing "San Francisco style sourdough"? While I strongly feel that you can make an authentic San Francisco Sourdough style bread anywhere, I also feel that if it isn't made in San Francisco, it shouldn't be called a San Francisco Sourdough Bread, just as if it isn't made in a small region of France, that sparkling wine shouldn't be called Champagne. Words DO matter.

In any case, you can make this bread at home. The bread can be made in many shapes, depending on your desires and tastes. The more surface area your bread has, the faster it will go stale. A round loaf or pan loaf will last the best, with a baguette lasting the least well.

Unlike most San Francisco sourdough recipes I've seen, I use part whole wheat flour. It makes the bread more interesting in color, texture, and taste. Adding the whole wheat flour also makes the flour more like what I've been told French flour is like.  This is a very simple bread. While it's not in the ingredient list below, the real main ingredient is time - it will take 12 to 15 hours to rise. Let's start with the ingredients for two 1.5 lb (680 gram) loaves:

Volumetric Measure (Cups)IngredientGramsBaker's Percentage (4)
2 1/4 CupsWater550 Grams64.8%
2/3 CupActive Sourdough Starter at 100% hydration170 Grams20%
5 7/8 CupsBread Flour730 Grams85.4%
1 CupWhole Wheat Flour120 Grams14.6%
2 2/3 tspSalt17 Grams2%

If you are measuring by weight, which we strongly encourage, San Francisco Sourdough Style Sourdough Bread Nutritional Analysisweigh the ingredients into your mixing bowl in the order given. Stir until well mixed. You may knead by hand or machine, as detailed below.

If you are measuring with cups, start by measuring the starter you'll need. Whisk the starter before measuring it, so you'll be measuring starter, not bubbles. Then whisk in the water, the whole wheat flour, and then the salt. Set aside the whisk, and get a wooden spoon. Add the 3/4 of the bread flour called for, about 4 cups, and stir it into the mixing bowl. Add more white bread flour a bit at a time, stirring as you go, until the dough is too stiff to mix by hand.

At this point, you may knead it by hand or machine. To knead by machine, read your mixer's instructions and follow them. For most mixers we find kneading for 5 minutes, letting the dough rest for 5 minutes, and then kneading for 5 minutes works well.

To knead by hand, pour the dough out onto your lightly floured kneading surface. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, cover it and it let rest for another 5 minutes. Then knead for 5 more minutes. At this point, it should be resilient, springy, and pass the windowpane test.

Once the bread is kneaded, let it rest for 30 minutes. Then divide the dough into two 770 gram dough balls. You may recall, from the top of this page, that we are making 680 gram loaves. The added weight is to allow for weight loss in baking. Loaves tend to lose about 10% of their weight in the oven, and my goal was to make a finished loaf that is close to 1 1/2 pounds. This is very important if you are selling bread and including the weight of the loaf on the label.  Now form the dough into batards, boules, or pan loaves. Cover the loaves and let them rise at room temperature until doubled in size, probably about 12 to 15 hours.

Once the loaves have doubled in size, it's time to preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Once the oven is at the right temperature - I use a thermometer to be SURE the oven is at the right temperature - slash the loaves with a razor blade, slide them into the oven, and put some water into a pan at the bottom of the oven. Allow to bake 45 minutes, or until the inside of the bread reaches 205F/96C. (Note - when we were in the mountains of Colorado, with our kitchen at 7,703 feet above sea level, we baked to an internal temperature of 195F/90C.  At the altitude we lived at the boiling point of water was 198, so there was no way we could get the bread to 205F/96C!)  Since this bread has no sugar in it, you may bake it at higher temperatures - at least to 475F/246C which will give the crust a darker color.  You will need to reduce the bake time somewhat.  The goal of baking is to make the bread you like, not the bread my customers prefer!  If you like darker, make it darker!  If darker frightens you, make it lighter!

Remove from oven. If you used a bread pan, remove the bread from the bread pan. Now let the bread cool on wire racks before slicing - if your family will let you. I often vary this recipe by letting the bread rise once in a mixing bowl, punching it down, kneading it some more, and then forming loaves. The second rise takes about 1/2 as long as the first rise, and also adds to the flavor.

8 thoughts on “San Francisco (style) Sourdough Bread”

  1. Hello, love your site! I’ve been making sourdough for many years and have used almost all your recipes. I’d like to make some baguettes to slice up and make crisps for pate dipping. Wondering if this San Francisco style or the Pain au Levain French would be better to use? Any recommendations?
    Thank you, Skip

    1. Hi MaryAnn,

      Of course you can add honey to this recipe. You can also add raisins, cranberries, jalapeno peppers, garlic, or cheese.

      A recipe is a starting point, not an end point. A recipe isn’t yours until you change it and make it yours.

      However, if you add honey it will become a different bread. Maybe a better one, maybe one that doesn’t work as well. But a different one. At the end of the bake, once the bread cools enough to slice the questions are, “Do I like this bread?”, “Will my customers like this bread?” and maybe “Is this bread better because I changed it?”


  2. Hey Mike, love the site, it got me started in sourdough about three years ago. I just made this recipe, and everything looked great up to the point I transferred to the oven. The proofed dough spread out and didn’t really spring in the oven. Tastes good, just came out a lot flatter than past times. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Hi Cameron,
      There are a number of reasons for this…

      • A sourdough starter that is past its prime can weaken gluten. Make sure your starter is fresh and lively.
      • Weak flour. Bread flour and high protein flour will hold their shape better than all-purpose flour
      • Poor shaping techniques, or slacking off on your shaping thistime
      • too long a bulk ferment – if your dough collapses in the bulk ferment, it doesn’t have much strength left. I used to let my dough rise until it doubled, now I’m looking at a 25 to 50% rise and liking my results better.
      • too long a final rise. If you let a sourdough rise too long, it weakens the dough.

      You might play with this and see what takes care of your issue.
      Good luck,

  3. Wow, this turned out fabulously! it’s the best home-made bread that I’ve made yet period.
    At first I thought I truly messed it up by letting it rise without putting it in the bread pans first.
    At second glance I noticed that you could punch it down and let it rise again, which I did and it rose with a vengeance!
    Perhaps partly due to proofing in my new Anova oven at 80 degrees. It rose quite a bit more during the baking process.
    Started with 100% steam for 20 minutes and then 10 minutes without. Unfortunately, it did not alert me to completion so it stayed in after oven shut down, but, the crust was dark and crunchy in a delicious sort of way and crumb is a thing of beauty! When I pulled it out, it was right around 200 degrees close to mark and hard to stop figuring out ways to eat more of it after cool down, well sort of cooled.

    1. Hi,
      Many thanks for your comment! I’ve been wondering if I should get an Anova oven and your report is very helpful! It’s great that the bread turned out so well.
      Best wishes,

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