Ah, San Francisco, you culinary champion among cities.
Was it not enough that you arguably invented sourdough French bread? Now, it seems, you’re making headlines for another delicious, distinctively native carb: Dutch crunch bread.
For years, this crinkly-crusted regional staple has been lining the shelves of San Francisco bakeries and delis, while the rest of the country is just now catching wind of it. But watch out, friend. We’ve heard about the goodness of this oblong loaf, and we’re coming for it.
What’s Dutch Crunch Bread?
Dutch crunch bread is a soft and chewy white bread with a cracked and crunchy crust.
“Dutch Crunch rolls have a sweet flavor reminiscent of the white bread you always wanted as a kid, but maybe didn’t get if you had whole-wheat parents, as so many of us Californians did,” food writer Lauren Slosstold Food & Wine. “And Dutch Crunch rolls should be soft — really soft. They mold around sandwich fillings, but the tiger-striped top adds texture.”
In fact, the standout feature is the texture — or combination of textures.
“It’s the best sandwich bread,” Richard Lee, chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Saison, told SFGate. “It’s got great texture with the softness of a roll … If you want a humble bread that just makes all sandwiches taste good, Dutch crunch is it.”
And “Top Chef” alum Tu David Phu also sang its praises to SFGate.
“I love the caramelized outer crust,” Phu said. “It’s not crunchy to the point where it cuts the roof of your mouth — it’s just right.”
Just like the Golden Gate City isn’t the actual birthplace of sourdough (which was probably ancient Egypt), San Francisco didn’t invent Dutch crunch, either. (The “Dutch” in the name was our biggest hint here.)
Galli’s Sanitary Bakery probably popularized this bread in San Francisco in the 1960s — but it originated in the Netherlands (where it’s called “tijgerbrood” or “tiger bread”), and its first appearance in the U.S. was in Eugene, Oregon, in the 1930s. In the U.K., it’s also called “giraffe bread” thanks to a letter from a 3-year-old to the Sainsbury chain of grocery stores.
How Do You Make Dutch Crunch Bread?
To make this bread, bakers start with a basic white yeast bread and add a special paste on top, which is made of rice flour, oil, sugar, water, and yeast.
“That nice, golden brown you see on a Dutch crunch roll comes from what we call ‘Maillard browning,'” San Francisco food scientist Brian Chau told SFGate. “[It’s] a reaction that happens when heat combines with the rice flour and sugar.”
Chau explains that rice flour has more carbohydrates in the form of various starches, and once in the oven, the sugars and starches form that beloved crispy crust.
If you’d like to try to make this bread yourself, you’re in good company. In her recipe, The Kitchn’s Meghan Splawn points out that for most people, the ingredients cost a lot less than the price of a plane ticket to San Francisco. And over on the blog Food52, there’s a recipe to “Dutch crunchify” challah bread.
Great Bay Area Sandwiches Using Dutch Crunch Bread
The two textures — soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside — make Dutch crunch bread great for sandwiches. To give you an idea of just how beloved this bread is, J. Kenji López-Alt, culinary consultant of Serious Eats, spent five weeks researching delis with sub sandwiches made with this bread in San Francisco’s Mission District back in 2018. Many San Francisco delis make sub sandwiches by piling cold cuts and cheese inside this bread — and also vegetables like avocados, onions, peppers and pickles. López-Alt ranked the eateries he visited based on the “best Dutch crunch” options.
His top two were the Danny Zuko, from Bite Me Sandwiches, which features turkey, bacon, jalapeños and Swiss Cheese, and the Menage A Trois From Ike’s Place Sandwiches, with halal chicken, three kinds of cheese (Swiss, pepper jack and cheddar), honey mustard and barbecue sauce. Of course, five years later, there might be other contenders for this list.
Is Dutch Crunch Bread for Everyone?
While the Bay Area interest in this bread was elevated to an “obsession” by Eater in 2020, it hasn’t gotten much traction in the U.S. outside of the West Coast (except maybe at Wegman’s stores, where it’s called Marco Polo bread).
There are people who say that the crunch is too harsh and tears up the roof of your mouth. In fact, Ike Shehadeh, the founder of Ike’s Place Sandwiches, is one of those people. Yes, the founder of a sandwich shop known for Dutch crunch sandwiches didn’t particularly like this type of bread when he first tried it.
“So I remember growing up and eating Dutch crunch in San Francisco,” he told SFGate. “And I hated Dutch crunch because every time I’d eat a sandwich, my mouth would be obliterated for a day or two.”
He claims that the reason it’s only found on the West Coast is that it’s just not that good. For his sandwich shops, he created a softer, sweet bread version of the popular bread.
On Reddit, people are split. Some people love Dutch crunch bread and don’t find that it lacerates their gums at all. Others still prefer San Franciscan sourdough for their sandwiches. Which one are you?