Dutch crunch is San Francisco’s other bread

Dutch crunch is San FRancisco's other favorite sandwich bread. / Photo

Dutch crunch is San Francisco’s other favorite sandwich bread. / Photo

When I say “San Francisco’s signature bread,” what comes to mind? Sourdough, of course, but there’s another correct answer: Dutch crunch.

Tourists might seek out San Francisco’s sourdough, but Dutch crunch is the San Francisco Bay Area’s other beloved bread.

Unlike sourdough, Dutch crunch is not a particular type of bread. Rather, the name refers to the crackling, crispy topping created by painting dough with a paste of rice flour, yeast, sugar, salt and a fat such as butter or oil. The bread rises as it bakes in the oven, but the gluten-less rice flour paste does not, causing the topping to crack. Dutch crunch can be added to any type of bread, but it typically tops soft, slightly sweet French rolls, creating an intriguing contrast in taste and texture.

In San Bruno, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco, Katie Erickson grew up ordering her sandwiches on Dutch crunch bread. Erickson, 21, only realized that Dutch crunch was exclusive to Northern California when she moved to Texas at age 16.

Dutch crunch has a mysterious past, both in the United States and abroad. Dutch crunch, as the name implies, originated in the Netherlands. There, it is known as tijgerbrood, which translates to “tiger roll” or “tiger bread.” The history of the bread is uncertain, but some speculate that Dutch traders were inspired by their trips to Southeast Asia, explaining the use of rice flour. Others suggest that the bread has only been sold in the Netherlands since the 1970s, simply because there is little concrete evidence of any earlier existence.

Tigerbread

At Sainsbury’s in the U.K., the bread originally was sold as tiger bread. Now it’s called giraffe bread. / Photo via Wikicommons

In the United Kingdom, where the bread is common, it is known as tiger bread – except at one supermarket chain. In 2012, U.K. supermarket chain Sainsbury’s changed the name from tiger bread to giraffe bread after a 3-year-old girl wrote to the company saying that the distinctive topping looked more like a giraffe’s spots.

The owner of Italian French Baking Co. in San Francisco speculates that Parisian Bakery introduced Americans to the bread in the 1960s, according to blog Bacon Press. The San Francisco Chronicle and investigative organization The Bay Citizen instead claim that Galli’s Sanitary Bakery first sold the bread in America in 1909.

Today, the bread is widely available in the Bay Area. Erickson recalls eating Dutch crunch at local grocery stores Lunardi’s and Mollie Stone’s. Some San Franciscans prefer to eat the bread on its own, peeling off the crunchy bits to eat separately. But Dutch crunch most commonly is used for sandwiches. At Little Lucca, a family-owned sandwich shop in South San Francisco, Erickson’s favorite sandwich is turkey on Dutch crunch with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and pesto. However, the sweet and savory bread pairs well with a variety of sandwich fillings.

Although the bread is beloved in Northern California, it is hard to find in other parts of the country. Safeway and Whole Foods sell the bread, but only in parts of California. Mid-Atlantic chain Wegmans also sells a variation of Dutch crunch in some stores, but instead calls it Marco Polo bread. Finding the bread outside of California is not impossible, but difficult.

While sourdough is available across the country, Dutch crunch is a San Franciscan specialty. For now, San Francisco transplants must return home for a taste of true Dutch crunch – or make it themselves.

 

Makes 6 large rolls

Dutch Crunch Rolls

At once soft and crisp, sweet and savory, Dutch crunch-topped rolls are a recipe for intrigue. This recipe was adapted from Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker at brighteyedbaker.com.

Ingredients

  • Soft White Rolls
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 1/2 - 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt

  • Dutch Crunch Topping
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 - 1 cup rice flour (not sweet or glutinous rice flour)

Instructions

Combine the milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for about 1 minute, until the milk is warm and the butter has melted. Stir together and set aside to cool until lukewarm.

In a large bowl, whisk together 3 1/2 cups flour with yeast, sugar and salt. Add the lukewarm milk and butter mixture and fold in with a spatula until everything is combined in a somewhat sticky dough. If it is very sticky, add a bit more flour. Otherwise, turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead, incorporating the remaining 1/2 cup flour only as needed, until the dough is elastic, tacky and smooth.

Shape the dough into a ball with a smooth top surface and place in a greased bowl roughly double its size. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in size (about 2 hours).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough and divide it into 6 equal pieces (for very large rolls).

Shape each piece into a ball by tucking the outer edges underneath and pinching them together as you would a twist-tie. Place the balls of dough pinch-side down on the prepared baking sheet, spaced apart from each other. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes, until puffy.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Prepare the Dutch crunch topping by combining the yeast, warm water, sugar, vegetable oil, salt and 3/4 cup rice flour in a medium bowl. Beat together well to form a smooth, thick "batter" that drips off your whisk in thick clumps. Add up to another 1/4 cup rice flour if needed to achieve the desired consistency. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.

Spoon the topping in equal amounts over the fully risen rolls. As you do so, it will start rolling over the sides of the rolls. Once you've used it all up (it will seem like a lot, but use it all), scoop up any excess topping that has dripped onto the baking sheet and use it to cover any areas of the rolls left exposed.

Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until golden-brown on top. Cool briefly before serving.

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6 Responses to Dutch crunch is San Francisco’s other bread

  1. Sidney November 3, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Wow, I wish I had known to try this on my last trip to San Francisco! It looks delicious!!

  2. Janet November 3, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Thanks Casey, I will try the roll recipe in the article, sounds great.

  3. christine April 11, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    Actually we bought these kinds of rolls from a bakery when we lived in El Monte CA in the forties and fifties, so it has been around a long time. I tried to find info about it a few years ago and came up with very little from an internet search. Suddenly it seems it has been rediscovered because there is a plethora of info out there now.

    • maxie June 7, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

      I haven’t thought about Dutch crunch bread in eons. It was my favorite as a kid and used to be available all over California until–when?–maybe the 1970’s? It was available in every supermarket and most bakeries.

  4. Beth October 1, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    I grew up in the Albany, NY area, which was originally settled by the Dutch. My mother used to bring home wonderful Dutch rolls from the bakery near her office in the early 60’s. I can still taste the crunchy topping. These are going into the baking rotation this week. Thanks for the memories and the recipe.

  5. Mike Grubic April 10, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

    Is there a typo in the bread recipe? Is it really to be 1 Tablespoon of salt?