7 am. Best time time to explore Fisherman’s Wharf: it’s clean, cool, and peaceful. Based on what I’ve read online, locals do not particularly care for this part of the city. Perhaps because it’s crowded with tourists? As a tourist, however, I can not see what’s not to love in the Fisherman’s Wharf, except maybe for those cheap souvenir shops littered all over the place.
And one of the things I’ve enjoyed doing was visiting Boudin’s Bakery and Museum. I also thought about my good friend, Didi, the moment I saw the bakery. She’s a very sweet lady who is working hard to be an awesome baker. Didi, this post is for you!
The Boudin French Bakery was established in 1849 (167 years old!), when San Francisco’s population was merely 20,000. This was the year after gold was discovered on the American river, and thousands of adventurers crowded into San Francisco.
This particular store along the wharf occupies 26,000 square feet and includes a cafe, coffee shop, and patio. But the two main attractions are the demonstration bakery and the museum.
Walking on Jefferson Street, one is able to peer through the 30-foot window into the demonstration bakery, where bakers shape bread by hand.
Boudin’s mother dough (also known as the starter dough) dates back to 1849, when it was first cultured. Its unique flavor comes from a wild yeast only found in San Francisco’s foggy climate.
“This is like Coit Tower, the cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge. Boudin sourdough right here at the Fisherman’s Wharf is iconic. It’s San Francisco history. If we run out of it, we shut the doors.” ~ Padilla, Boudin’s master baker.
Boudin’s mother dough even survived the great earthquake of 1906. It is said that when the quake struck at 5:12 a.m. that April 18, setting off fires across San Francisco, Louise Boudin tossed some mother dough into a wooden bucket and fled the scene just before the bakery burned to the ground. (source)
The dough is mixed on a platform 20 feet above the ground floor, then tossed to the bakers below, who shape the bread by hand.
The bakery operates 22 hours a day. Sixteen bakers rotate through shifts producing nearly 3,000 loaves of bread each day. The finished break travels from the bakery to the coffee shop in wire baskets that move along an overhead railing.
Upstairs from the bakery is the Boudin’s bread museum and bakery tour, which recounts the history of sourdough bread dating back to to the Gold Rush. A timeline chronicles the history of San Francisco and sourdough break from 1848 t0 2005. Just across the door is the Boudin family tree, picturing the firm’s original family of bakers from France.
Admission is free.
An antique bakery wagon that used to deliver bread stands in the middle of the museum.
The desk of Louise (Isidore Boudin’s wife).
She worked along side her husband to build the bakery for 14 years, after which she became a widow, left to raise four young children and a bakery to run on her own.
For the next 23 years—during a time when victorian women were considered helpless and weak—Louise kept the books and transformed the family-run operation into a prominent wholesale business. She insisted on continuing to bake the traditional way, using “mother dough” as a leavening agent rather than the newly introduced commercial yeast.
The museum also contains a display of baker utensils from the past, including a bread peel, proofing boards, French rolling pin, metal scoops, a rake, frying pan, lunch pail, metal pick, drum sifter, copper tea pot, etc.
The Mother Dough – Up close.
A crab-shaped bread on display.
Waffles with strawberry, banana, and whipped cream, of course!
Yay for great-tasting clam chowder sourdough bread bowl that’s also halal!
The chowder felt light on the clam flavor despite the chewy and tender texture of the clams. It wasn’t too salty and contained the right amount of cream and hearty chunks of garlic potatoes (but still super-thick and gloriously white), making it perfect for those who are wary of anything too fishy.
This was a perfect dinner for a cold February evening.
Get the sourdough bread bowl because, sourdough bread bowl!
Opening hours: 8 AM to 9:30 PM
(415) 928-1849 | 160 Jefferson Street, San Francisco, CA 94133