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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Five Best Breads in San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 10:40 AM

Acme baguettes. - J RODMAN JR./FLICKR
Back in the 1980s, the Bay Area led the renaissance of artisanal baking, and you can still sense that depth of experience in every complimentary bread plate, every $8 sandwich, and every grocery store in San Francisco. We take good bread for granted, no longer pausing to tear open each fresh slice to meditate on the lacy inner crumb or savor the way the crust cracks each time we torque it. 

Here are SFoodie's five favorite loaves:

5. Baguettes from Acme Bread Company. One Ferry Building, 288-2978, San Francisco, as well as grocery stores around the city.

Being seen with a baguette sticking out of your shopping bag is no longer quite as chic as it was at the height of San Francisco's francophilia, but Steven Sullivan's classic sweet baguettes are still the standard. For as airy and white as the crumb is, its flavor is wheaty enough -- real enough -- to remind you Acme switched to organic flour before other commercial bakeries. Acme's baguettes are designed to be ripped apart and smeared through the remains of some long-cooked daube, or sliced lengthwise to stuff with ripe tomatoes and Saint Marcellin cheese. It's impossible to make it home without breaking off the heel of the baguette to snack on; the crunchiest, darkest knob rarely even makes it out of the store.

Firebrand's walnut wheat. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Firebrand's walnut wheat.

4. Walnut wheat from

Firebrand Artisan Breads. Available in San Francisco at Bi-Rite and Rainbow Grocery.

Matt and Mary Kreutz bake in a wood-fired oven in a warehouse in Oakland, not a bad metaphor for the rustic, urbane breads they produce. Firebrand's walnut-wheat is so earthy it's almost elemental. You have to fight with the loaf to grab off a chunk, worrying that the jagged crust will puncture skin, but the flavor is worth the fight, deep and tinged with smoke, its potent tang broken up by pebbles of creamy walnut meat. It's the kind of bread you imagine was made by a 14th century master baker.

Destination Baking's challah. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Destination Baking's challah.

3. Challah from Destination Baking Co., 598 Chenery (at Castro), 469-0730.

Although its challah is not kosher, Glen Park's tiny Destination Baking Co. produces a few loaves every Friday that are worth sneaking out of work at lunch to find. The loaf seems to be formed by sticking giant bubbles together, and the glossy, lumpy surface is covered in sesame or poppy seeds. Each swell is produced by a skein of gold dough -- baker Joe Schuver doesn't stint on the egg yolks -- and when you cut into the loaf, each slice is marked with the swirling grain of intertwined skeins. The challah is as tender as a soft white wheat dough, but is nowhere near as bland. As you're toasting slices for Saturday breakfast, the aroma of eggs and butter soon fills the room.

Knead Patisserie's brioche. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Knead Patisserie's brioche.

2. Brioche from Knead Patisserie, 3111 24th St. (at Folsom), inside Local: Mission Eatery, 655-3024.

Shauna Des Voignes' brioche is so opulent that it's best consumed in parsimonious slices. And warm, too, so that each pale gold slice develops crumbly brown edges and the slice leaches flecks of melted butter onto any surface it's laid on. Her brioche is a savory cake, fine-grained and rich without being dense. It calls out for warm honey or perhaps a smear of peach preserves -- or even nothing at all.

Tartine's sesame bread. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Tartine's sesame bread.

1. Sesame bread from Tartine Bakery, 600 Guerrero, 487-2600.

Chad Robertson's artisanal breads, which come out of the oven Tuesday through Sunday at 5 p.m. and are usually reserved days ahead, are some of the finest on the West Coast, if not the country. Naturally leavened, they have a faint, stinging tartness, just enough to set the deeper, grassier flavors of the bread in relief. The edges shatter and flake every time you press them, and the interior of the loaf is so filled with holes that you wonder why it doesn't deflate. And while SFoodie would eat any of Tartine's breads anytime, the sesame bread -- roasted seeds clinging to the edges of the bubbles -- is so nutty and distinctive that we can't pass the bakery without pulling out our phones to calendar a bread run.

Runners up: Outerlands' sandwich bread, the walnut levain from Pinkie's Bakery, Liguria Bakery's foccacia, and Della Fattoria's pain de campagne. 

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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