Taste: In Search of … French Baguettes

Can Philadelphia produce a French baguette worthy of the Seventh Arrondissement?

There’s a lot of fabulous artisanal bread in Philadelphia. But we wanted to find out if our bakers could create a proper baguette, the quintessential bread of France. Our expert tasters: Noel Comess, owner of the venerable Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, and Mark Furstenberg, credited with bringing real baguettes to the nation’s capital at his restaurant, the BreadLine. We looked for a thin, crunchy, chewy, slightly ­reddish-brown crust, a somewhat nutty flavor without a prominence of yeast, and an open, transparent interior — “crumb,” in baker-speak. Here are the findings from our blind test.

 

Highly recommended:
Baker Street Breads,
8009 Germantown Avenue, 215-248-3296; $2.59
This Chestnut Hill boulangerie was the sole baker to come close to perfection. “It’s the only baguette I would buy in Philadelphia,” noted Comess, referring to the retail variety, known as a “poolish” baguette. (They also have a commercial baguette.) “Beautiful crust,” “balanced flavor” and “well-developed crumb.”

Will do in a pinch:
Yann Patisserie & Café,
122 South 18th Street, 215-568-5250; $2
Yann’s pastries and chocolates are so right on, and what with the French name and all, we thought we’d give them a try. By no means a bad loaf of bread, but the crust was “too blond,” and the flavor “insipid.”

Hudson Bakery, available at Di Bruno Bros., 930 South 9th Street, 215-922-2876; $3
Even though Hudson is located in North Jersey, we gave it a shot, since Striped Bass and the Fountain get their bread there. It was “underproofed” and had “very little flavor,” though it had a “good crust color.”

Miel Patisserie, 204 South 17th Street, 215-731-9191, and 1990 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, 856-424-6435; $2.50 to $2.75
The experts thought this loaf might have been on the right track in the mixer but felt it was incorrectly proofed and improperly baked thereafter. “Way too dense” and “poorly developed.”

Not recommended:
La Brea,
available at many grocery stores,
including ShopRite, Giant and Super G; $2.19
We included La Brea, which is actually partially baked and flash-frozen in San Francisco, because its sourdough beat San Fran’s local bakeries in a taste test. But this “dense as a nightstick” and “poorly mixed” bread tasted like a “sourdough bagel,” not a French baguette.

Metropolitan Bakery, all locations; $2.50
Both experts thought this baguette was “too yeasty,” and one found the crumb “overly dry” and the crust “very hard.” Buy the batard. Skip the baguette.

Le Bus, all locations; $2
Imagine our surprise when we learned that this baguette, reminiscent of “old Italian shoe,” “petroleum,” “heating oil” and “coal bin,” came out of this 27-year-old institution.

The French Bakery, 8624 Germantown Avenue,
215-247-5959; $2.75
“Too yeasty,” “leathery” and “no depth” comments suggest you
should steer clear of the “French” Bakery for your baguette needs.