New York's bakeries have traditionally celebrated the approach of Spring by filling their shelves with Irish soda breads, egg- and butter-rich Easter breads, and a whole line of extra-sweet, cheese-filled pastries. This season, however, we can also enjoy a crop of new loaves not defined by their fat and sugar content. They're further proof of the competitive and creative ferment that has made this a golden age for bread-making in this city.
Inspired by the corn rye breads that are a touchstone of the disappearing Jewish-New York baking tradition, Orwasher's has created its new Righteous Rye loaf ($5). It's a boule with a nice chewy crust and a dense, caraway-seeded interior. It's not as soft and moist as the classic New York corn; I think it's more like a Jewish rye brought back to its rustic, peasant roots, the perfect base for a pile of juicy pastrami or corned beef. (I can think of more than one nouveau Jewish deli that should replace its house-made loaf with Righteous Rye!)
Dean & Deluca's head baker, Louis Volle, never ceases to amaze with his creative and consistently excellent loaves. His new strawberry walnut sourdough ($5) is more or less a classic walnut bread. The "more" is the addition of strawberries that have been macerated in balsamic vinegar and a dash of pink peppercorns for a bit of a bite. With its perfectly balanced texture and rich-sour-peppery flavor, it makes a supremely satisfying mouthful. You should also try his buckwheat crown, made with buckwheat flour, buckwheat honey, and buckwheat groats—heaven for buckwheat lovers. And coming soon: a laminated Pullman loaf that looks like it was crafted by space aliens.
Produced in a cramped Bed-Stuy storefront, SCRATCHbread's loaves still manage to go from strength to strength. The bakery's new sourdough ($5) is coated with olive oil and allowed to rise for 52 hours before entering the oven. It's then finished for a few minutes in a wood-fired oven, giving each loaf a caramelized, almost-blackened crust. The finished product is similar to the Roberta's City White, only with a softer crust and denser, slightly tart crumb. Like all of SCRATCHbread's loaves, it's supremely addictive—you find yourself even licking the blackened, slightly bitter crumbs of crust off your fingers.
Bien Cuit's expansion hasn't hurt its product line. In fact, it seems to have spurred its bakers' creativity. The soon-to-be-introduced pissaladiere is a version of the classic French onion and anchovy tart. It's essentially a dense focaccia topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, olives, and a bit of fresh rosemary. With this combination of sweet-savory-flowery-salty flavors, it's hard to miss, a home run. Bien Cuit has also just released an amazing Many Grain loaf ($9), made with amaranth and black sesame seeds, millet, rye, and whole wheat. The grains give each bite a rich, savory flavor and distinctive crunch—a perfect base for runny, smelly cheese.
And finally, I have to give a nod to one traditional loaf, Hot Bread Kitchen's Irish soda bread ($4). The original recipe for this includes just flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. For decades, however, bakers have been adding a bit, or a lot, of flavoring to that bland base. Hot Bread Kitchen spikes the recipe with cheddar cheese, rosemary, and olives, giving a delicious, quasi-Mediterranean twist to the loaf.