When I first began this column at the end of 2010, I thought it would last at most a year. I believed that the number of great bakeries in the city was finite, so I planned to stop when I ran out of anything new to say. More than two years later, I'm still at it, with a long list of bakeries I have yet to try. This is a golden era of bread in New York City, thanks to established bakers creating new and delicious loaves, and to excellent new bakeries seemingly opening up every month. Case in point: the ambitious new Breads Bakery, just off Union Square.
Uri Scheft, the head man at Breads Bakery, arrives in New York with a distinguished baking pedigree that spans from Israel to Denmark. Born and raised in Israel to Danish parents, he returned to Denmark to attend baking school and then traveled across Europe taking bread courses. About a decade ago, he opened his famous Lehamim (Hebrew for "breads") Bakery in Tel Aviv. There, he helped give Israelis a taste for dense, Northern European style breads. With his Israel bakeries now well established, he finally accepted an offer to open a branch on East 16th Street. For Uri, it's a challenge, but a happy one—he finally gets to design his ideal bakery from the ground up. And as in Tel Aviv, he only uses the highest quality ingredients and makes sure that his customers get fresh loaves from his ovens.
The first thing to remember about Uri's breads is that they're his loaves, not slavish re-creations of Danish or Israeli bread styles. Although he does bake challah for the weekend, most of his breads tend toward Northern Europe. The loaf that's closest to his heart—the one he eats at home—is his 100% Rye ($7.50). This is a dense, dark Pullman loaf made from 100% organic dark rye flour, Danish rye sourdough, and water. Its crumb has a slight sour bite and manages to be supremely moist without succumbing to the gummy texture of undercooked bread. You don't need a topping for it; the flavor and texture make every bite satisfy.
I'm a huge fan of walnut bread, so I'm always happy to welcome another player to the city's walnut loaf roster. The Breads Bakery version ($7) is definitely a contender, made from rye and white whole wheat flours, sourdough starter, a bit of yeast, and a lot of walnuts. It emerges from the oven with the requisite slightly crisp crust, soft crumb, and delicious walnut flavor.
With its generous coating of oats and pumpkin seeds, I expected the Breads Bakery cereal bread ($7) to fall into the dense "health" bread category. But it turned out to be a relatively light loaf made from half organic rye and half white whole wheat flours, mixed with liquid malt, rye berries, and sesame, sunflower, and flax seeds. I'm sure it's healthy, but it tastes so good that you forget about it.
If Breads Bakery had opened a few months earlier, I certainly would have included their French sourdough in my round-up of the city's best sourdoughs. Baked in either medium ($4.50) or large ($10.50) boules, this loaf is made from organic whole wheat and rye flours and sourdough starter, then given a long ferment to develop the flavor. It comes out of the oven with a crisp crust and soft, slightly sour crumb with a lovely, almost hay-like aroma.
This only scratches the surface of Breads Bakery's offerings. Beyond these loaves, you should also try the bakery's range of focaccias, particularly the remarkable multigrain focaccia. And if you see the cheese straws (5 for $9) for sale, grab them. They might be the city's best, crisp and cheesy on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside, and totally addictive.