Baguette Tasting (Report on Five Baguettes)
Well, a late morning walk in the park with my dog and JoanN led to a baguette tasting! (We were inspired by this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/536169.)
We bought five baguettes en route to her apartment and rated them on a scale of 1 to 10. We first tasted them "as is" and, while they all seemed to have held up against the humidity, we decided to do a second tasting after putting them in her pre-heated oven for five minutes on a pizza stone. My score is first, then JoanN's. Our rankings didn't change after heating the breads.
Grand Daisy (made by Sullivan Street - $2.40) - 7/7 - Great crust, nice crackle, not a lot of flavor. After heating, flavor was better, crust still great. We think maybe there is more salt in this bread - particularly in the crust.
Tom Cat (purchased at Citarella - $1.99) - 6/6 - Good flavor, hard crust, but no crackle. After heating, the crust was still good, but the baguette seemed to have less flavor.
Balthazar (purchased at Fairway - $2.29) - 5/4 - Ok crust, no crackle, but good flavor. Crust better after heating, but less flavor.
Pain Quotidien (pain ancienne - $3.25) - 3/4 - no crackle, too dense, pleasant flavor to crust - almost made us wonder if we were really eating a baguette, given the density of the interior. Same after heating.
Fairway brand ($1.69) 2/3 - tasted like faux artisanal supermarket bread. Crust a bit better after heating, but even less flavor. (Note, I was the one to go into Fairway while JoanN waited outside with the dog, and I was almost reticent to buy this one, as the appearance made it clear to me that it would not be a decent baguette. But, in the interest of research, I did!)
My summation, based on this test, is that I'd never buy the Fairway or PQ baguettes, I'm happy that I can get Tom Cat around the corner from me, and that Citarella, where I usually do my grocery shopping, sells both Balthazar and Tom Cat. I probably won't go out of my way to buy a baguette from Grand Daisy given the previous sentence, but might take the 72nd St. transverse from the UWS to the UES instead of the 86th St. one, knowing that I can pick up a Grand Daisy baguette en route.
Photos - from top to bottom:
Grand Daisy (Sullivan Street)
Really great idea and post, MMRuth and JoanN!! In the photo displaying the cut loaves, the loaf that is second from the bottom seems best (visually) b/c it is porous. The Grand Daisy sesame loaf was very porous in years past but less so recently. I'm assuming that is from Balthazar based on the placements of the wrapped breads in the previous photo. I've eaten there only once but the bread, I guess, didn't make an impression b/c I didn't remember it. I will try the Tom Cat bread. Have you tried the bread they use to make panini at Grand Daisy? They will sell it by the loaf when they are finished making panini AND if they feel like being nice. It doesn't compare to baguettes but it is a very interesting bread. I am embarrassed to admit I like the Fairway baguette, especially when I can grab a loaf that they just took out of the oven. THANKS!! This must have been loads of fun.
Thanks MMRuth & Joan N. for all hard work (it must have been a blast)- your 'reasearch' will not go unused.
I am now a man on a mission to get to sullivan st bakery. I just wish it were closer to my home/office so I could enjoy it more often.
I completely agree with you on Fairway and PQ. I tried PQ last week with high hopes based on posts on the other thread, but I left disappointed, and was back to Balthazar.
I'd personally rate Balthazar above TomCat, I always find balthazar to be a bit better on the bread/crust ratio than TomCat.
Just curious on two points:
1. Was it a straight up bread test or did you add butter/cheese/ preserves to the bread?
2. Any thoughts on doing this test again in the fall once the humidity has lessened? I bet it would change the 'crackle' factor of some of the competitors.
re: Spends Rent on Food
1. The test was a "straight up bread test". The cheese and wine came later!
2. Might be worth trying it again in the fall, but, the loaves really didn't seem to have been too affected, IMO, by the humidity - not like the loaves I sometimes get that are practically limp. All but the Fairway one had a "crusty" crust, and made a nice sound when knocked on. We just thought of the "heating test" as we went along, and thought it would be a good idea to try it.
In terms of TomCat v. Balthazar - I think the Balthazar has a smaller diameter.
Impressive work on a baguette taste-off! Would it have been a big bother if you had done this blind? Just kidding – thanks for the report. Will look for Tom Cat and Grand Daisy once I’m conveniently near stores where I can get these at.
I just had the Gourmet Garage loaf during the week and it was nothing to write home about - I believe that JoanN felt the same way about the Bouchon one she had recently as well. No GG in the neighborhood in any event! Would have been interesting to compare, though.
(Edit -oops - just realized that you'd participated on the other thread ....)
If you get the opportunity, give the baguette from Bread Alone at the US greenmarket a try. Excellent flavor and nice crust if the weather isn't too humid. I know they're there on Wednesdays and Fridays, not there on Saturday, unsure about Mondays.