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San Francisco sourdough

Updated: Sat, 3 April, 2021

It's official: San Francisco style sourdough based on Dan Lepard's recipe is the tastiest, loveliest and liveliest sourdough of all. It's my definite number one.

My number one sourdough is San Francisco style loaf. Here it is, made from scratch, and it is an absolute beauty.

You might be familiar with the technique of making the San Francisco starter which involves making a dough ball, letting it crust up, breaking the crust and scooping out the insides, of which there will be very little, and I don’t recall what you subject the poor flour and water to next, but it sure resembles witchcraft doctor’s practice.

san francisco sourdough

The best San Francisco sourdough recipe

This is completely different: the only unusual are several ingredients not common in ordinary sourdough like apple juice, yoghurt and raisins.

The recipe comes from ‘Baking with Passion’ by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington. I’ve scaled down the original enormous amounts to make it work for two loaves as I never like to chuck out perfectly good surplus starter.

It's the kind of recipe that makes people's eyebrows go up incredulously: what? apple juice, milk and yoghurt? I was certainly like that at first. But the proof of the sourdough is a slice slathered with butter making you immediately cut another one. In a nutshell - it works extremely well.

san francisco style bloomer

San Francisco starter

It is a little troublesome because I wouldn't skip the fifteen minutes' beating with a mixer, or a large wooden spoon and a very strong arm. Also, it might be sluggish on day one, but don’t let that discourage you. It will still go crazy on day two unless you're very unlucky.

The refreshment is yoghurt and milk, plus more flour. At this stage the raisins need to be discarded, bar one or two. Dan Lepard says to sieve it through a colander but the dough is too thick for that: you risk an awful mess and losing some of the mixture on and around the colander. It's best to use a slotted spoon and patiently scoop out the raisins a couple at a time.

san francisco sourdough loaf

Maintaining the starter

The refreshment also works to feed the starter kept in the fridge, and it doesn't need feeding very often. A couple of days before planned baking scoop 100g of the old starter from the fridge and beat in 200g bread flour and 200g milk and yoghurt mixture at room temperature, thus allowing to have surplus starter to keep going.

san francisco batard

The sponge

It needs about 5 hours to ferment and develop but I usually leave it overnight in ambient temperature, a colder room for instance. There is enough to occupy me while making dough so whatever can be stretched over two days is a good plan.

the best sourdough bread

The dough

Starting with a very runny mix of half the flour and no salt, if using a stand mixer you tackle it with a paddle attachment and beat the living daylights out of it. I must admit I never tried doing it by hand but it must be quite a challenge.

After adding the rest of the flour and salt, it's kneading as normal: with a dough hook attachment or those very strong arms I mentioned earlier.

But the best is to come: stretching and folding this dough is pure pleasure.

my number one sourdough

Stretch and fold

It is a little diffreent to the mechanics of S&F those conversant in sourdough know. The dough, once kneaded into smoothness, rests on a floured tray covered with a damp towel, somewhere warm.

After an hour all we do is fold it once in half and twice in the opposite direction; like a freshly washed towel folded by an obsessive (me!). Next it's sent to rest again for an hour and the exercise is repeated twice again so the dough gets three S&F sessions every hour.

Every time it looks and feels more and more marvelous, billowing and warm, like a live creature. It is my all-time favourite sourdough moment!

san francisco sourdough bread

How to bake San Francisco loaf

I'm presenting below two different baking methods, each works well. One: the loaf proven in a banneton for a relatively short time goes into a preheated Dutch oven (a cast iron dish with a lid). Placing it in the baneton seam side down eliminates the need to slash the top of the dough when handling really hot container: the seam will split naturally, albeit not beautifully.

The second method is baking the loaf on a bread or pizza stone, or a heavy baking sheet.This time I let the loaf rise twice in volume before tipping it gently directly onto the stone/sheet, or onto parchment which then slides into the oven. This time the loaf top wants to be slashed and the oven sprayed with water.

What of the outcome – bread baked in the cast-iron dish is perhaps slightly less crusty and chewy than the open baked one. On the other hand the shorter rise saves time and the loaf is better formed.

And the final word – it does taste incredible.

dan lepard's san francisco sourdough


Can it rise in the fridge overnight?

This bread is absolutely best when made all on one day: kneading, folding, shaping and baking. If you retard the dough in bulk in the fridge overnight, or shaped loaves, or both, the oven spring will be much smaller and the crumb not as open. The technique that works so well with Tartine sourdough, making it over three days, is of the last resort in this case.

Can you use wholemeal flour?

Again, yes but with not such a good outcome. Sourdough hardly tastes like white bread anyway and the fermentation makes it nutritionally beneficial so stick to white strong bread flour.

Can you use the starter in other sourdough recipes?

Absolutely! It's gorgeous and will work in any recipe that requires starter at around 100% hydration. And a tip: add a couple of raisins to any starter or refreshment you make. The fermentation will love the sugars from them!

San Francisco sourdough

Servings: 2 large loavesTime: 5 hours plus starter over several days


  • Stage 1
  • 1 tsp wholemeal or rye stoneground flour
  • 100g strong white flour
  • 100g plain yoghurt
  • 66g apple juice
  • 40g raisins, rinsed and drained
  • Stage 2 - refreshment
  • 50g plain yoghurt
  • 50ml full-fat milk
  • 100g strong white flour

1. Mix all the ingredients for stage 1 except the raisins and beat with a mixer for 10 minutes on low speed, increasing the speed to medium for further 5 minutes. By then it should be smooth, elastic and bubbly. Add the raisins and pour into a large bowl or jar. Dust the surface with a little extra flour, cover with cling film and leave in the warmest place you can – ideally at 28C (airing cupboard is where I grow my sourdough). Leave for 24 hours or slightly longer if the temperature is lower.

2. The next day whisk in the refreshment mix of yoghurt and milk using a hand whisk. Scoop out the raisins with an ordinary or slotted spoon, then stir in the refreshment amount of the flour. Dust the surface with some extra flour again, cover and leave in the warm place for further 24 hours.
Note: don’t lose heart if nothing happens before the second day. My original starter didn’t budge and only after the refreshment it went mad, threatening to crawl out of the bowl!

  • The amounts below make two large loaves. If you want to bake just one, halve the sponge and dough ingredients. The two loaves are there to compare the two baking methods, see below.
  • For the sponge:
  • 400g strong white flour
  • 500ml warm water
  • 300g sourdough starter
  • For the dough:
  • 400g strong white flour
  • 1 tbsp. fine salt


3. Mix the sponge ingredients in a large bowl with a hand whisk. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for 4-5 hours (or overnight, but do get up rather early!). It should get seriously bubbling.

4. Transfer the sponge to a standing mixer bowl (or use a hand-held mixer) with a paddle attachment. Add half the flour and beat for a couple of minutes on low speed, then for further 8-10 minutes on medium speed. Add the rest of the flour and the salt and beat with a dough hook attachment, or knead by hand, until the dough is stretchy, elastic and smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands or the sides of the bowl.

5. Tip it out onto a large tray and dust with flour. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for an hour. After that time turn it out onto a floured surface, pat out gently to deflate it, fold it in half and then in three in the opposite direction. Return it to the tray, dust with more flour and keep warm for another hour.

stretching and folding

6. Repeat the deflating and folding twice more, on the hour. By each time it will more and more impressively resemble a well-plumped up pillow! After the final rise turn it out onto the floured surface and divide in two.

san francisco dough

7. Prepare two proving baskets or bowls lined with cloth and floured generously. Tighten each dough ball by folding it on itself like an envelope, then again in half if you want a baton shaped loaf. Make sure they are thoroughly floured and drop them into the proving baskets, seam side down, cover and leave to rise in a warm place.

Baking: Method 1

shaping round loaf

8. Put the proving basket in a plastic bag inflated a bit so it doesn’t touch the dough (just blow into it and tie the end!) and leave for about 40 minutes. Halfway through that time start preheating a cast iron casserole dish or Dutch oven in the middle of the oven at 220C/425F/gas 7.

9. The dough will not rise much but that’s okay – I’ve found that with sourdough short proving time works better if you bake it in Dutch oven. When ready, just plonk the dough in it from the proving basket swiftly as you can, put the lid on and into the oven. Bake with the lid on for 20 minutes, and for another 20 minutes with the lid off.

Baking: Method 2

shaping bloomer

10. Put the proving basket in a plastic bag inflated a bit so it doesn’t touch the dough (just blow into it and tie the end!) and leave for 2-3 hours until almost doubled in bulk.

11. Preheat the oven to 250C/475F/maximum gas with a baking stone or a heavy baking tray on the middle shelf. When the loaves are ready to bake, tip them carefully out onto the baking stone (one is infinitely easier to bake so if you want to make two using this method, you might want to leave the second basket somewhere slightly cooler to slow down the rise, and bake it after the first).

risen san francisco bloomer

12. Slash the tops with a sharp knife, spray the oven with water and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 180C/350F/gas 4 and bake for further 40 minutes. Remove onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

Originally published: Wed, 3 December, 2014

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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