the Bullion Lottery, one-way to San Francisco

Posted today at 5:00 a.m.

Seeking to make a fortune in bread, when your name is Boudin, might seem daring. But not in the land of fog and sourdough (“Leaven”). Besides in English, we say bou-dine. And Isidore “Boudine” is not the man to have puffs of introspection. In the family photo exhibited at the museum that bears his name, in San Francisco, we can see him, stocky shoulders as well as mustache, brandishing, like a standard, the shovel to put in the loaves. Sitting among the apprentices, or children, probably both, Mme Boudin stares at the lens with a sour air. The Boudin clan does not joke with bread. Even less with the leaven.

“The Boudins do not let go”: such could have been the motto of the family. The proof, when the earthquake of April 18, 1906 devastated San Francisco. Isidore has been dead for years (in 1887), but Louise Boudin is watching. She grabs a bucket, saves the precious leaven from the fire, and rebuilds the bakery, a few miles further west on Geary Boulevard. The store is still there, at the corner of 10e Avenue.

In 2005, Boudin Bakery also bought an entire warehouse on Fisherman’s Wharf, the popular district for tourists – and for seals, who strike a pose on pontoon 39 when they don’t moan to death. The bakery has turned it into a loft, a small museum and a restaurant that serves the Clam Chowder (clam soup) in a bowl-shaped loaf. For nearly 170 years, Boudin has been an institution in San Francisco. Le Poilâne de la Californie.

A safe for the original strain

Isidore Boudin landed at the age of 16 with the latest wave of French emigrants from the Gold Rush. In the matter of gold, he unearthed a vein, golden as the crust of bread coming out of the oven. Its secret: sourdough. According to legend, the baker noted that his usual yeast, under the shady microclimate of San Francisco, gave the crumb a more bitter taste. The San Francisco french sourdough was born. Fruit of the meeting of the rustic and the crisp: a slightly acidic bread that goes wonderfully with crab and chardonnay.

The recipe has never changed: flour, salt, water and sourdough (especially not the sugar that Americans like to add). In 1941, Boudin Bakery was sold by the founder’s grandchildren. In the 1980s, it collapsed under the blows of industrial competition, but the fashion for artisan bread revived it. She now produces 25,000 loaves of bread a day.

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