Roman’s Sprouted Spelt
No one does DIY like the Brooklyn restaurant group that includes Diner, Marlow & Sons, and Roman’s. As far as we know, there is no candlestick-maker on the payroll, but there is a butcher (several, in fact, at Marlow & Daughters butcher shop), and a baker, Austin Hall, who commandeers a corner of Roman’s kitchen after hours. That’s when he appropriates the wood-burning pizza oven, raked of its coals and swept of its embers, to bake breads for service and for retail sale on weekends. Chief among them: the naturally leavened sprouted spelt, a sturdy, burnt-umber sourdough loaf with a crackly, darkly caramelized crust and a crumb riddled with New York State spelt berries. It’s health bread for hedonists.
243 Dekalb Ave., nr. Vanderbilt Ave., Ft. Greene; 718-622-5300.
Bien Cuit’s Miche
This beautiful loaf of bread is called a miche, the style most closely associated with the late, great Parisian baker Lionel Poilâne. It’s made from a wild yeast starter and a blend of five rye and wheat flours. The dough is gently folded, lovingly shaped, and generally babied at regular intervals throughout the morning. Then it ferments for up to 68 hours, a.k.a. 2.8 days. In short, you don’t so much as make this bread as give birth to it. Fresh from the oven, it weighs five pounds, thirteen ounces. It’s dense and chewy and full of complex flavors that unfold in steady waves that linger on your palate. The proud papa is Zach Golper, who ran the bread ovens at Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin before he and his wife opened their lovely Boerum Hill bakery, whose name means “well-done” en français.
120 Smith St., nr. Dean St., Boerum Hill; 718-852-0200.
Sullivan St Bakery’s Truccione Saré
What’s it take to master the art of bread-making? Well, let’s put it this way: Jim Lahey’s been at it for over twenty years, and when you tell him that his latest pet project, his Truccione Saré loaf (natural fermentation, some upstate wheat, minimal kneading), is one of the best breads you’ve ever had, what’s his response? “It’s only 60 percent there.” Did we mention he’s been tinkering with this loaf for a year and a half? The name, incidentally, like many names in Laheyland, is pure fiction, 100 percent made up. One bite, though, and you know this bread is real. The crust is the deep black-brown of a well-roasted chestnut. The crumb: springy, creamy, exquisitely moist. When you tear into this thing, it crackles like a croissant. You could go ahead and slap some butter on it, but why mess with 60 percent perfection?
533 W. 47th St., nr. Eleventh Ave.; 212-265-5580.
Épicerie Boulud’s Pain Levain
If you’ve broken bread at any of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants, you know Mark Fiorentino’s work. For twelve years, he’s been M. Boulud’s secret weapon, kneading away in the tiny basement bakery kitchen of the 65th Street mother ship, filling bread baskets scattered across the D.B. universe. Those superb little olive-rosemary rolls at Daniel proper? A Fiorentino signature. DBGB’s burger buns? His. The pretzel rolls at DB Bistro Moderne? Yep, Fiorentino. With the opening last spring of his takeout café Épicerie Boulud, and the decision to bestow Fiorentino’s bread upon the retail masses, Boulud finally gave his bread man a spacious downtown commissary to call his own. Everything he bakes there for Épicerie Boulud, from baguettes to focaccia, is top-notch, but this junior-football-size whole-grain pain au levain is his (and our) personal favorite. It’s an earthy-flavored, mildly acidic, wonderfully chewy little country loaf made in the fashion of the day from a multitude of flours, a smattering of bran, germ, and whole oats, and decades of classic technique.
1900 Broadway, at 64th St.; 212-595-9606.
Of all the breads churned out of the wood-burning oven at Batali & Bastianich’s Italo-gastro-theme-park, it’s the focaccia, baked from a blend of organic stone-ground New York State flours, we can’t resist: soft and open-crumbed, with a sumptuous mouthfeel and a flavor suffused with salt and olive oil. The surface is smooth and golden, the edges faintly crisp, and the first-rate toppings applied sparingly so as not to detract from the dough’s yielding quality. (“The crumb should melt before it hits the back of your throat,” says baker Paul Mack.) The version painted with bright crushed tomatoes (Mutti, Eataly’s house brand) is savory, satisfying proof that the simplest things are often the best.
200 Fifth Ave., at 23rd St.; 212-229-2560.
Scratchbread’s Bourbon Wheat
How do you know when you’re eating one of Matthew J. Tilden’s loaves? When you bite it, it bites back. “I use probably triple the amount of seasoning as anyone else,” says Tilden, who considers most breads “bland.” This is not an issue with his extra-crusty, pretzel-salty “aged” sourdoughs, the alterna-rye he calls the “Mutt,” with its hidden caches of burnt caraway seeds and black peppercorns, or his Parmesan-crusted, fennel-seed-striped Parma Loaf. The dense, nourishing Bourbon Wheat is a crunchy powerhouse of whole grains, from Cayuga Pure Organics whole wheat to spelt berries. Pumpkin seeds, pecans, and bourbon-soaked currants and raisins add to the textural complexity. Pair it with cheese and you’ve practically covered all the major food groups.
1069 Bedford Ave., at Lexington Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant; 917-868-6723.