San Francisco Bread

IMG_2691It’s the weekend and I’m going to move a bit off my regular topics, but just a bit. San Francisco has been known for it’s bread, specifically sourdough bread all made possible by Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis which is found here and no where else. Sourdough bread was a pretty good marketing technique as the original bakers didn’t have nice packets of yeast sitting around like we do today [you did know that right?] They used a bit of dough from yesterday’s bread which would after awhile attract the L. sanfranciscensis bacteria which would give San Francisco bread it’s classic sourdough taste.

Now not all bread here is sourdough, but we’re best known for it. I’ve been becoming a little more cost conscious lately, especially when I noticed a loaf of bread was selling for close to $4. As my friend Al Cabal keeps reminding me, food prices are going up. This is true and I’ve been looking for ways around that which means spending more time in the kitchen or shopping outside of San Francisco.

My Mom bought a bread maker years ago which I was the only one who ever used it a few times and then it ended up sitting on a shelf. I happen to like bread and I especially like it when it’s homemade. I started doing so research since bread from a machine just doesn’t taste the same as hand made bread unless you live on white bread.

There is a function on the machine which it doesn’t bake the bread, but warms it just a little during the dough making process and then stops and lets you take over. I decided to give it a shot and I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with the results. You just have to add the ingredients and turn it on then pull the container out when the dough’s ready, form it and let it sit through it’s final rise then pop it in the oven.

Now here in San Francisco French bread and Italian bread are used pretty much interchangeably so I decided to do a little search to see if there really was a difference. It turns out that French bread is pretty much flour, water and yeast while Italian bread adds salt, sugar and [usually] olive oil. Me, being the good Italian boy with an Austrian last name chose to go the Italian route. It doesn’t take much work at all and in the end I end up having home made bread that costs me about 50¢ per week.

Here’s the recipe that I’m not going to put in a very web friendly way so that you have to read the entire article to find it. To start off with pour a cup and a half of hot water [not boiling] into your bread machine then add two tablespoons of  olive oil, one tablespoon of packed brown sugar [light or dark], two teaspoons of salt. Then on top of this add four cups of unbleached white flour and on top of this add two and a quarter teaspoons of yeast. Turn on the machine in the dough cycle and wait about an hour and a half. You can adjust the quantities slightly as you see fit after you’ve followed the recipe once.

After it’s done you have to form the loaf which I won’t go into because that’s where my secret to making the extra perfect loaf has come from and put it aside to rise the second time for about 45 minutes. Pop it into a 375° oven for about a half hour or so and you’ll have two loaves of really nice bread. You can add slits to the top before cooking and brush the top with a beaten egg and tablespoon of water which only makes your bread look more finished in my opinion. Don’t worry too much if your loaf doesn’t look perfect, it’ll still be very edible and it’ll get better as you keep doing it.

Now that I’ve gotten into the weekly routine I try a few things to change things up. Maybe I’ll brush olive oil on while it rises the second time or just wait and brush on a tablespoon of cornstarch and water. It all depends on what you’re trying to do and there is an odd sort of spiritual experience to taking the raw ingredients and transforming them which most people don’t have an experience with today. My daughter likes to help me form the loaves and she’s getting pretty good at it and she also approves of it because she’s run when you’re not looking and grab the loaves fresh out of the oven and start to chow down on them if I’m not looking.

If you’ve got a bread machine lying around I encourage you to pull it out and give it a try. If you don’t the salvation army has them for sale used very cheap. It’s not much of a hassle and you’ll love the end result while saving some money. My Mom always told me I needed to learn how to cook because no one will cook as good as her and when she wasn’t around anymore I’d be on my own. I think that was a mixture of an Italian and Jewish mother thrown at me just give me a double helping of gilt and work ethic. It’s done a good job for me so far and saves us lots of money.