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The Best Baguette in NYC, 2013 Edition

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

The baguette is the quintessential Parisian loaf, an integral part of the citizen's daily diet. The city of Paris even holds an annual best baguette competition, drawing entries from hundreds of local bakeries. Being French, the rules are of course strict: Each loaf must measure between 55 and 65 centimeters and between 250 and 300 grams and is judged by appearance, aroma, crumb, taste, and general baking skill. The winner gets a cash prize, vast publicity, and the honor of supplying the Presidential Palace for the next year.

Here in New York, we don't have as many bakeries, but we do have some excellent loaves, many that have emerged since our 2011 survey of the city's bread scene. In order to see which of today's loaves take honors as the city's best baguette, the Serious Eats team fanned out through Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn and returned with two examples each of 27 loaves from 22 of our top bakeries.

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When tasting this much bread, butter is your palate cleanser.

Flavored loaves (sourdough, cheese, prosciutto, etc.) were eliminated; we included only those made from flour, water, yeast, and salt. We also ignored the Parisian size and weight criteria; the loaves that covered a large table in Serious Eats World Headquarters were long, short, fat, skinny, pale, dark, smooth, blistered, and so on. The winner wouldn't get a lump of cash or the Gracie Mansion contract. They would, however, earn serious bragging rights.

Squeezing, smelling, chewing, and swallowing chunks of 27 loaves poses certain challenges. You tend to fill up early, and you can't cleanse your palate with...more bread (some of us used butter to that end). Nevertheless, the panel braved stomach distension and carb shock to render some clear judgments.

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With one exception, all the top breads followed the model of the classic Parisian baguette: relatively dark, five slashes across the top, crisp crust, good hole structure inside, and moist and flavorful crumb. They were also made by bakeries producing relatively small batches of bread delivered fresh to shelves a couple of times a day. Further down the ranking ladder, the reasons for low scores tended to be all over the map: no flavor, too dry, too big, off taste, limp crust, sponge-like crumb, and so on. At the end of the tasting, the winner was city's newest, and perhaps most Parisian, loaf: the Orwasher's French Baguette.

The Contenders

1. Almondine
2. Amy's Bread
3. Balthazar
4. Bien Cuit
5. Bouchon Bakery
6. Breads Bakery
7. Cannelle Patisserie
8. Eli's
9. Epicerie Boulud
10. Grandaisy
11. Hot Bread Kitchen
12. Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria
13. La Boulangerie
14. Lafayette
15. Le Pain Quotidien
16. Maison Kayser
17. Pain D'Avignon
18. Payard
19. Runner & Stone
20. Silver Moon Bakery
21. Sullivan Street
22. Tom Cat Bakery

The Criteria

The Serious Eats judging panel rated each bread on a 10-point scale for texture, aroma, flavor, and overall excellence. They were also encouraged to consider them against the following standards for a classic Paris baguette: golden to brown color, crisp crust that "sings" when squeezed, cream-colored crumb, irregular hole structure, complex aroma, and pleasant "fleshy" texture when chewed.

The Winners

Orwasher's came out on top, by a nose, and the top three winners were only divided by a tenth of a point. Interestingly, only Almondine and Sullivan Street were top five repeats from our last baguette taste test in 2011. New York isn't Paris, but baguette bakers still can't afford to rest on their laurels.

1: Orwasher's Bakery's French Baguette, 6.8/10

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A bit darker than most, this loaf has the requisite five slashes across the top and a crisp but chewy crust. Inside the rather imposing exterior, you find a moist crumb with both large and small holes. Tasters loved the "crackle" of the crust and the soft "yeasty" crumb. The only naysayers felt the crust "tasted burnt" and perhaps was "too jagged." But for complex flavor and texture, it can't be beat.

Price: $3.50
Available: 12:30 p.m. onward, daily

Orwasher's Bakery: 308 East 78th Street, New York NY 10075 (map); 212-288-6569; orwashers.com

2: Tie, Almondine Bakery's French Baguette, 6.7/10

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Stick this loaf in your bag on the way home for dinner. This is a classic baguette from Almondine baker Herve Poussot. It's on the large side, with excellent crispness to the crust and a mild but flavorful crumb. One judge "loved this bread at first sight: chestnutty crust, awesome interior with huge holes and soft dense pockets." Another felt that it was "good but not memorable."

Price: $2.85
Available: All day

Almondine Bakery: 85 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (map); 718-797-5026; almondinebakery.com

2: Tie, Sullivan Street Bakery's Stirato, 6.7/10

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The wild card in the top five list, the Sullivan Street Stirato isn't a baguette at all, but rather an Italian "pulled" (stirato) bread. Unlike the baguettes, it only has one long slash across the top, but it's so baguette-like from such a respected bakery that we couldn't help but include it in our tasting. Inside, the crumb is a bit dryer and fluffier, with a very slightly sour flavor from the long ferment. Behind the tartness, judges enjoyed the mild, clean flavor. Some noticed its resemblance to a ciabatta and other chewy, hole-y Italian loaves.

Price: $2.75
Available: All day

Sullivan Street Bakery: Multiple locations; sullivanstreetbakery.com

3: Runner & Stone, 6.6/10

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Runner & Stone's loaf was one of the darkest of the bunch. It's a long baguette with a pronounced hole structure and an excellent, almost sweet flavor. A few judges were overwhelmed by the "stiff crust," but others loved the "wheaty" and "yeasty" aromas.

Price: $2.50
Available: All day

Runner & Stone: 285 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (map); 718-576-3360; runnerandstone.com

4: Almondine's "Almondine" Baguette, 6.3/10

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Herve Poussot knows his baguettes. If you prefer a loaf with a little more flavor, density, and moisture than his classic version, try the flour-dusted "Almondine" baguette. When you tear it open, a delicious, complex aroma wafts up to your nostrils. Among the judging panel, some tasters felt the crust wasn't crisp enough, while one noted that the "creamy, wheaty soft crust" made the loaf "pleasantly chewy" with a "nice balance of flavors."

Price: $2.95
Available: All day

Almondine Bakery: 85 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (map); 718-797-5026; almondinebakery.com

5: Tie, Cannelle Patisserie's "Rustic" Baguette

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Located in a Jackson Heights shopping center, dark horse Cannelle Patisserie leaped into the top five with their Rustic baguette. This is a classic loaf with a pronounced hole structure and flavorful crumb. For one judge, it was good, though "musty in a way that reminds me of my semester in Paris." Another sensed "something funky, almost rotten going on there" and added that it was "too dry/crunchy." Take note: Cannelle's "regular" baguette didn't perform as favorably in our tasting.

Price: $2.50
Available: Limited quantity starts at 9 a.m.

Cannelle Patisserie: 75-59 31st Avenue, Jackson Heights, NY 11370 (map); 718-565-6200; cannellepatisserie.com

5: Tie, Lafayette

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With its sharp tips and dark crust, Lafayette's baguette looks intimidating. Inside, however, you will find a fairly dense and moist crumb with good flavor and the classic "fleshy" texture. Judges generally like the texture and aroma of the interior but felt the crust was too "thick" and "tough."

Price: $3
Available: All day

Lafayette: 380 Lafayette Street, New York NY 10003 (map); 212-533-3000; lafayetteny.com

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

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