Dutch Crunch: According to Nick Malgieri, a San Francisco Treat
Neither of us had any idea that the bread we'd been ordering sandwiches on for decades was so specific to the Bay Area. I called up Malgieri, who's coming to town next week, to ask him. The baking teacher and cookbook author didn't know the history of Dutch crunch in San Francisco, either, but he speculated that it became popular here because it guaranteed a crisp crust. "That's one of the things that drives bakers crazy, especially in the U.S.," he said, "where a lot of commercial bakers use excessively hard wheat. I'm not talking about Tartine, where they make European-style breads with softer wheat, but one of the the weird by-products of using very 'strong' flour is sometimes crust softening.The other thing is that, if you're using sourdough, you have to be pretty careful [to guard against the same problem]."
Whatever its origins, the bread is widely available. Dozens of sandwich shops still use it: Potrero's Calabria Bros., Roxie Market and Deli in the Inner Sunset, the Monterey Deli in Glen Park/Sunnyside, just to name a few.
You can't find Dutch crunch at any of the tonier markets or European bakeries, but I picked up rolls at Safeway (more like Dutch spotting, and not that great). Bacon Press prefers the rolls from Italian French Baking Company (1501 Grant). Tipped off by a Chowhound post, I also found rolls at Royal Bakery, a minuscule bakery at 4773 Mission St. in the Excelsior that sells telera and bolillos in addition to its biscotti, panettone, and Dutch crunch. Royal Bakery's crunch layer (produced by a sweetened rice-flour paste slathered over the dough) is more crumbly than most, but the roll made a good cheese-and-tomato sandwich.
When I told Malgieri about my purchase, he laughed: "A San Francisco Dutch bread from an Italian-Mexican bakery? That's great!"
As part of Malgieri's BAKE! tour, he's teaching a class at the Union Square Sur La Table on Saturday, Nov. 20, at 2 p.m. There appear to be spaces left. Go bring him a loaf of your favorite San Francisco Dutch crunch, and maybe he'll sign it for you.