The rustic loaves at Balthazar are cradled in a birch branch.
As Pablo Neruda says, “The best poet is the man who delivers our daily bread: the local baker.” And indeed he was right. Little gives as much pleasure as a freshly baked loaf, and here are the 10 that please us most. Note these are all breads from European traditions. There are plenty of other types of bread to be found in the world, from the toki of Uzbekistan to the bao of Beijing; these will be covered in a future list.
10. Baguettine at Amy’s Bread – Increasing the crust-to-crumb ratio for a baguette by making it smaller is a stroke of genius. Grab yourself a scatter of these tiny breads, thickly smear them with butter — also provided in little packets at Amy’s, along with plastic knives and recyclable paper trays — and you can have yourself a bread orgy in the halls of Chelsea Market. 75 Ninth Avenue, Chelsea Market, 212-462-4338
9. Beer Bread from Orwasher’s – Yes it tastes very faintly of beer, but that’s good, isn’t it? Especially if you spread it with, say, limburger. The loaf is from a venerable baker of rye bread for delis, and this semi-experimental product stays well within the confines of sandwich bread, which is good, because there may be too many loaves in this collection that resist sandwiching for one reason or another. 308 East 78th Street, 212-288-6569
8. Organic Sourdough Levain from Bread Alone – Compared with other traditional French sourdoughs, this one is mild, more like San Francisco sourdough. It’s also fine grained, and goes just as well in a bread salad as with cheese or charcuterie. Though made in the Catskills not far from Woodstock in Boiceville, NY, it’s distributed so widely in area farmers’ markets, you should have no trouble getting your hands on a loaf. 3962 Route 28, Boiceville, NY, 845-657-3328
Bread Alone bread is baked in the Catskills just north of the Ashokan Reservoir in Boiceville, NY.
7. Pane Puglia from Il Forno – This Bronx-based bakery reproduces the rough-hewn loaves of the Apulia section of Italy (“Puglia” in English), long flattened breads with a deeply brown crust, and a light crumb, perfect for sandwiches of the spicy soppressata of the region. 521 Faile Street, Bronx, 718-861-1042
6. Pecorino Pizza Bianca from Grandaisy Bakery – This place is the product of a split between the partners of the old Sullivan Street Bakery, and the pizza bianca the pair pioneered is still one of the wonders of the New York bread demimonde. This version improves on the original with grated pecorino, and falls just shy of being pizza instead of bread. 73 Sullivan Street, 212-334-9435
5. Pugliese from Bien Cuit – Cobble Hill’s new micro-bakery offers a fascinating selection of six artisanal loaves, but our favorite – tried at the prodding of the friendly counterguy – is the Pugliese, a moist oblong loaf with potato chunks planted inside it for added moisture, and if you think that sounds too science cheffy, wait till you taste this spectacular loaf, perfect for both sandwiches and toasting. 120 Smith Street, Brooklyn, 718-624-4876
A selection of Bien Cuit breads
4. Pane Francese from Pain D’Avignon – The flattened expanse of this square loaf with rounded corners is prettily cross-slashed on the top, and the crumb is light and wheaten. No better bread for French toast or spreading with jam and butter. But stop short of making sandwiches with it. 39-01 22nd Street, Queens, 718-729-6376
3. Baguette from Tom Cat Bakery – It was a tough choice which baguette to pick for the list. Really, none of ours quite matches up to the ones you can find in Paris. Tom Cat Bakery of Long Island City produces the best, not quite as light as the French model, but perfectly formed and tasty, with a crust that gives a good chew. 43-05 10th Street, Queens, 718-786-4224
2. Whole wheat/rye sourdough boule from Balthazar Bakery – This was the original round rustic loaf that changed the bread scene in the city back in 1997, proving that bread could be gutsy and bursting with flavor. Available in three sizes, the largest would make a fine hubcap, and comes prettily embossed with a giant cursive “B.” 80 Spring Street, 212-965-1785
How can we get this couple together?
1. Green Olive Loaf from Sullivan Street Bakery – Jim Lahey, pioneer of no-knead bread techniques, broke the mold when he created this bread. While there are plenty of black olive loaves in town, this is the only green olive one we know of, adding a mellow verdancy to what is already a rich bread. This bread is so good, you can eat it untoasted, without butter, olive oil, or any other topping; so versatile, it even tastes great with peanut butter. 533 West 47th Street, 212-265-5580
The green olive loaf was featured at a recent New Amersterdam Market.
And check out our 20 Greatest Bread Quotes of All Time