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Righteous Rye from Orwasher's. [Photographs: Andrew Coe]

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!)

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Strawberry walnut loaf from Dean & Deluca.

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.

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Sourdough from SCRATCHbread.

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.

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Pissaladiere from Bien Cuit.

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.

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Irish soda bread from Hot Bread Kitchen.

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.

Orwasher's

308 East 78th Street, New York, NY 10075 (map)
212-288-6569
orwashers.com

Dean & DeLuca

560 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 (map)
212-226-6800
deandeluca.com

Scratch Bread

1069 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11216 (map)
scratchbread.com

Bien Cuit

120 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (map)
718-852-0200
biencuit.com

Hot Bread Kitchen

1590 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10029 (map)
212-369-331
And at NYC Greenmarkets.
hotbreadkitchen.org

About the author: Andrew Coe is the only reporter covering the city's bread beat.

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