This city's great bakers don't stand still. They not only have to deal with the constantly changing variables of the seasons, humidity, leavening, and flour; they're also snatching whatever free time they have to experiment with new loaves that will both tempt customers and scratch their own creative urges. Here's a round-up of some of my favorite new breads—ample evidence that the quality of baking in New York City has never been higher.
Dean & Deluca
Dean & Deluca's Louis Volle probably has one of the most challenging baking jobs in the city right now. He must sell his house breads right next to loaves made by Sullivan Street Bakery, Orwasher's, and a host of other great bakeries. He succeeds by making some of the most seasonal and creative loaves around. Just in time for summer, his peanut spelt bread was inspired by a buyer's suggestion that he make a loaf based on baseball game eats: peanuts, popcorn, and beer. It comes in a peanut-shaped loaf made from spelt flour and dotted with roasted peanuts and Thompson raisins. However, this isn't a bread I'd want to spread with Goober Grape. Complimented by the spelt flour, it has a rich peanut flavor that goes best with just a smear of plain chunky. I can't wait to taste Louis's next loaves, coming in the next few weeks: a blue corn and honey sourdough and a ciabatta made with sesame and cocoa nibs.
Resting on the foundations of an-old time Middle European bakery, Orwasher's has become the go-to place for a real New York loaf. That can mean everything from a Jewish-style seeded rye to an artisan boule to 100% local flour whole wheat bread. I've already written about its excellent Levain Locale; hot on its heels comes the tasca, a flying-disc-shaped bread that derives from the bakery's Cabernet Rustica. Orwasher's owner Keith Cohen devised the tasca as the perfect sandwich bread, with a chewy, ciabatta-like crust, great aroma, and a hole-pocked crumb that can hold a lot of filling. I also love the health bread, an obvious nod to the ubiquitous Eli's health loaf, only with a moister crumb and great nutty aroma. I'm ready to switch.
Crossing the river, we come to Bed-Stuy's Scratch Bread, where you're not always sure what you'll get, but whatever it is, it's really good. Founder Matt Tilden describes the Mutt loaf as "basically a cross between a whole wheat, rye, and foccaccia." It comes out of the oven looking like a giant bun, but when you cut into it, you see a black spiral made from burnt caraway and poppy seeds, black pepper, and flax. This peppery concoction, which is also sprinkled on top, makes a great counterpoint to the pillowy and delicious crumb. Another new Scratch loaf is the SIMPLEwheat, which is kind of like a health food store squashed down into the size of a loaf (minus the usual acrid health food store aroma). It's made from juice pulp (usually carrot, ginger, and whatever else is at hand) mixed with brown rice, sprouted wheat berries, and oats. Warm from the oven, it makes a superlative dense sandwich bread.
In the next neighborhood, Roberta's head baker Melissa Weller makes a small selection of delicious artisan breads in her shipping crate wood-fired oven. (I can always find room for her City White.) Happily, her olive oil brioche, which she created for the New Amsterdam Market Bread Pavilion, is now in stock. Her latest experiments have been on the pastry side of the baking sheet, making croissants with natural leavening and poolish starter rather than yeast. The Roberta's croissant isn't the cake-like butter bomb of too many local bakeries. It's rich, with a flaky crust and a pleasantly chewy crumb, standing up just as well to a slice of prosciutto as a dab of strawberry marmalade.
Finally, we eat our way to Bien Cuit, where Zachary Golper has recently introduced a broa. In Portugal, broa is a kind of dense peasant cornbread, meant to accompany a thick stew. However, Zach's style of bread-making is anything but peasant. Consequently, the Bien Cuit broa is a beautiful, flattened boule, its crunchy crust enveloping a delicate, faintly honey-sweetened crumb. I don't think I'd dip it into a bean and kale stew. Rather, I'd savor it with some really good jam, which, luckily enough, Bien Cuit also sells.
Dean & DeLuca
120 Smith Street, Brooklyn NY 11201 (map) 718-852-0200