Walking into Bien Cuit Bakery, which just opened a couple weeks ago on Smith Street in the Boerum/Cobble Hill nabe, you get that overstimulated-in-a-bakery feeling. Rustic bread loaves the size of Jeep tires in baskets next to long baguettes. Dainty tarts piled with plump cherries and wet, juicy peaches behind the glass case. You're also a little intoxicated by the warm, yeasty baking aroma from the ovens (and want to bottle it up for later).
Baker Zachary Golper most recently came from Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia where he led the bread baking program for the restaurant group. Before that he spent time working on an organic farm in rural Oregon, where he learned the art of breadmaking from a man by candlelight without yeast or electricity (how you picture every baker learning, right?).
From there, Golper worked in Austin, Seattle, Provence (for a stage alongside a third-generation patisserier), and Vegas (where he helped open a casino with Jean Claude Canestrier, an MOF and World Pastry champ). Golper and his wife Kate Wheatcroft just moved to Brooklyn to open Bien Cuit. They felt like this neighborhood needed a serious bakery. And by the way Golper talks about almond croissants, you know he's pretty serious.
He double-bakes his almond croissants ($4.25), inspired by the French tradition of using up all the leftovers. Except Golper never has leftovers at Bien Cuit, so he bakes them fresh then sort of "stales them" for a couple days before they're toasted, filled with almond creme, and dipped in simple syrup and some brandy.
"Nothing like a little booze in the morning!" says Golper. Some more sliced almonds go on top of the powdered sugar-dusted, flaky, buttery, brown-edged croissants. Between the nuts and the creme inside, which isn't too pasty-marzipanny or sweet, the almonds come at you in every direction with this croissant. We're still thinking about it. (If you're lucky, they'll have one all sliced up to sample near the register.)
The savory tarts ($7)—though pricey, as things are here—were also fantastic. The Asparagus and Fennel sits in a puff pastry bowl that's crisp and flakes apart as soon as you apply pressure. For just a wee tart, there's a lot of flavor: asparagus tips and fennel rounded out with creamy Rupert cheese and a sweet, jammy shallot puree. The Cauliflower and Lardon is another little edible-shell-filled-with-stuff situation. Though cauliflower is a pretty neutral vegetable on its own, when cooked in bacon, hello. The white, soft florets get a real boost from the lardons and Brie.
Most of the cheeses in the pastries and sandwiches come from Murray's. There's Brie in the ham-and-cheese croissant (upper left) and Muenster in the raspberry danish (upper right). The vegetables and fruits are from farms in Millertown, New York, that aren't big Greenmarket vendors but smaller-production operations that Bien Cuit is happy to support.
Then you have the gorgeous sweet tarts ($5.50 to $6). Almost too gorgeous to eat. (Big almost.) With each of them, you think you have an idea of what it'll taste like, but then there's a surprise. Is that lemongrass? Sure is (in the Peach & Raspberry tart). And basil? Mhmm (in the Blueberry & Lemon Meringue). The basil-infused lemon cremeux looks like a wobbly egg yolk studded with a single blueberry and surrounded by delicate meringue puffs, scorched just long enough to get that camel color on the surface.
You have to really like the floral, potpourri-pushing quality of rose water to like the White Cherry and Rose. Ed doesn't so he wasn't a fan of this tart, but if you are, you'll appreciate the delicate petals and rose crème fraiche with the plump white cherry halves. And a note to the pro-rose camp: this one won't be around much longer given the impending end of cherry season!
The rippled, mini brioches ($2.50 each) are baked in antique metal molds that Golper was really excited to find. They're two or three-biters, filled with candied orange and chocolate custard (repurposed from their Fudgesicles—still need to try those), and topped with a cluster of chocolate chips. Brioche's answer to the doughnut hole? The five-year-old French summer campers that were in the bakery this week were all about these squishy treats.
Of course we tried the sandwiches. The favorite was the salami with coppa and Tomme de Savoie on a long, crusty baguette ($8). The cured meats are sliced real thin, but are fatty, salty, and potent enough on their own, rubbing their rich meat juices onto the baguette. It's a simple, perfect sandwich, especially with a swipe of whole-grain mustard and the tangy cornichons.
The Three Stack ($8) is Golper's French-meets-American swing on the classic Club. It's a triple-focaccia-decker with the bacon shaved real fine at the very top. One thing the menu doesn't tell you is the anchovy paste laced into the mayo. It may just be a trace but it definitely adds a fishy punch that competes with the stacked layers of French ham and turkey. Between the 'chovies and the caper juice in the mayo, this is the salt fiend's sandwich, but you have to be ready for it.
Athens ($7) is the vegan option: roasted zucchini with arugula, olives, and caramelized garlic on thick-cut slices of Sunflower Rye. It was fresh-tasting and fine, but made us just want seconds of the salami. All the sandwiches are on fresh-baked loaves, also for sale. We tried and liked a few, but we're going to let our bread man Andrew tell you about those soon.
Bien Cuit is off to an impressive start; there's even talk of wholesaling already. We'll be back for more almond croissants, tarts, and salami sandwiches, and whatever else they're working on. And it sounds like they're working on a lot.