Where to find the world’s best bread

"Единственное счастье в жизни — это постоянное стремление вперед." Эмиль Золя ZMEY
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I was eight when I visited Paris for the first time. I wore a scratchy red pleated Cacharel skirt with a matching jumper and a cream pie-crust-collar shirt, also scratchy. On that wet, grey weekend I was overawed by the casual ordering of steak frites for lunch and the viscous chocolateyness of the chocolat chaud served in a café under the colonnades in Place des Vosges. Mostly, though, it was Poilâne bakery that impressed me: its wooden shelves heaped with dusted delicacies and massive rounds of rustic bread stacked up against the wall. Down the road, at the red-shuttered Bar du Marché, we ate great slices of it slathered in unsalted butter. It was unlike any other type I’d ever eaten: chewy, sour, textured – a meal in itself, as opposed to the sliced-white version back home that always turned into sticky cement in my mouth.

Jump to the 5 best bread bakeries in the world

Where to find the worlds best bread

Bread at Poilâne

Philippe Vaurés Santamaria

Over the past few decades, food values have changed radically, and nowhere more so than in the world of bread – specifically sourdough. After World War II, shortages meant farming was steered by science to develop industrial-grade cereal crops that were dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to feed the hungry masses. The soil suffered, and so did the quality of the product. People were fed, but they weren’t entirely nourished. Intolerances to wheat began to emerge gradually, resulting, half a century later, in the gluten-free movement.

Where to find the worlds best bread

Bread at Tartine

Jakob Layman

Now bread has come full circle, with bakers looking to a time when ingredients were grown naturally, less tampered with and, crucially, had more flavour. True leavened loaves, or sourdough, is what bread was before modern yeast was developed in the 19th century. It’s made with only three ingredients: flour, water and salt. The natural yeast is created when the water-and-flour mix ferments, making the dough rise and creating the distinctive sour notes and a strong crust. Today, it has become something of an obsession for chefs and restaurateurs around the world, from cult bakeries such as San Francisco’s Tartine – which heralded the new wave of traditional baking on the West Coast at the turn of the century – to the ultra-slow-proofing, European-style Iggy’s Bread in Sydney and Vancouver’s museum-like Flourist. Raising the craft to a proper art form, though, is Swedish creative Linda Ring, who carves Picasso-inspired images into her loaves.

Where to find the worlds best bread

Mattias Ring

Indeed there has been no question that during the lockdown in 2020 the world’s attention was drawn to baking on a whole new level as supermarket shelves emptied and people went back to basics, rediscovering both the possibilities and rewards of making their own bread. Suddenly it was not unusual for Zoom meetings between media professionals to open with comparing notes on flour ratios or stretch-and-fold tips. When Tartine released sourdough tutorials on Instagram, hundreds of thousands of followers tuned in.

Where to find the worlds best bread

Carob, spelt, wheat, rye, and wheat, plum and walnut bread at Quinoa bakery in Lisbon

Sanda Vuckovic

There has been a quiet revolution in grain over the past 20 years. Some far-sighted farmers concerned with soil health made their land organic, risking a loss and attendant financial doom. Among them was Dr Andrew Wilkinson, a wheat farmer, miller and research scientist working with Newcastle University. Using heritage grains, he developed strains that stayed true to the taste and nutritional profile of more digestible ancient flours while managing to achieve an improved yield. Gilchesters Organics was born, and with it a different style of local grain. A generation of chefs and bakers were hooked, resulting in the creation of local quality flours and, with them, artisanal bakeries. Now a croque monsieur at Violet in East London carries as much cachet as lunch at The River Cafe did 20 years ago. Trials have shown that these new-old grains, along with this new-old method of baking, are helping with wheat intolerances – it’s not the presence of gluten that is the problem for many, it’s the quality and treatment of it.

Where to find the worlds best bread

Shelves at E5Bakehouse

Helen Cathcart

Meanwhile bakeries are commissioning, mixing and sometimes even milling their own flours to create the perfect loaf, pursuing the concept of terroir. The Hackney Wild by London’s E5 Bakehouse combines grain milled at the bakery and a specially created heritage wheat from Gilchesters Organics. And Tartine has spent the past seven years working with farmers in Washington’s Skagit Valley to develop grains for their flavour, nutritional value and sustainability.

The root of the word ‘companionship’ lies in the Latin for bread – panis. With bread at least we’re all in it together.

  • Where to find the worlds best bread

    The best bread bakeries in the world

    1. COUNTRY BREAD, TARTINE, SAN FRANCISCO

    Inspired by pre-industrial French methods, the bakery’s signature is defined by its lacy, open crumb and dark, shattering crust. It balances the earthy sweetness of the grain with light lactic and acidic flavours from the fermentation. tartinebakery.com

    2. HACKNEY WILD, E5 BAKEHOUSE, LONDON

    Made with a blend of heritage and modern wheat plus rye grains grown and milled in the UK, this is chewy and moist, with a mildly sour, wheaty taste. e5bakehouse.com

    Where to find the worlds best bread

    3. RYE-AND-WHEAT BOULE, POILANE, PARIS

    Still owned by the eponymous family, this French stalwart has been rolling out its famous oversized offering since it opened in the capital in 1932. It may no longer accept art as payment, but it’s worth making a detour to see the original café on the Left Bank. If a trip is not looking likely for the time being, last year saw the release of its first book, Poilâne: The Secrets of the World Famous Bread Bakery, which provides plenty of inspiration. poilane.com

    4. TRUCCIONE SARE, SULLIVAN STREET BAKERY, NEW YORK

    Jim Lahey was a sculptor before he became a baker. After training in Italy, he returned to New York to open his game-changing outpost in 1994. The inventor of the revolutionary ‘no-knead bread method’, he can rightly be called the godfather of the modern artisan home-baking revolution. His saré is darkly crusted and characterful, with a satisfying chew. sullivanstreetbakery.com

    5. COUNTRY SOURDOUGH, IGGY’S BREAD, SYDNEY

    Queues start to form in the go-slow seaside suburb of Bronte from 7am for this naturally leavened, hand-cut and hearth-baked bread using local yeasts and pinches of sea salt. Made in an environment that replicates old-school brick ovens, the loaves come out thick and earthy. A real classic. iggysbread.com

  • Where to find the worlds best bread

    OVEN-FRESH CREATIONS

    Stylist Linda Ring carves whimsical designs into sourdough (pictured). Here she shares five tips on how to make bread beautiful.

    1. Ensure that your starter is vibrant and that the dough is balanced and springy – if it’s very wet it will be too loose to work with.
    2. Put a drawing or picture in front of you for inspiration. Try to keep it as simple as possible to begin with – the deeper a mark is, the bigger it will become when it’s baked.
    3. Have everything ready when you take the dough out of the fridge so it is still cool and firm. It’s crucial to use a blade such as a lame that’s specifically made for scoring.
    4. Before you start, thoroughly dust flour over the dough, stroking it gently to make it smooth and evenly coated for building contrast in the pattern. Where you cut will be dark and where the flour is will be lighter.
    5. As soon as you’ve finished scoring, put the bread straight in the oven.
  • Where to find the worlds best bread

    LEFTOVER IDEAS

    Inventive restaurants lead the way with clever combinations to reuse ingredients.

    APPLE-WASTE LOAF, THE NEWT IN SOMERSET

    The starter for this is made with the remainders of pressed apples used in the production of cider, which improves fermentation and ensures a lovely crunchy crust (pictured). thenewtinsomerset.com

    Potato bread with caviar at Ester

    POTATO BREAD, ESTER, SYDNEY

    This classic spot known for its wood-fired treats has just released Yesterday’s Bread, a cookbook with a huge range of recipes including this fermented-potato version and even bread ice cream. ester-restaurant.com.au

    YESTERDAY’S PORRIDGE SOURDOUGH, SPRING, LONDON

    Developed for the sustainable Table festival by chef Skye Gyngell, this is now a regular on her zero-waste Scratch menu at Somerset House. springrestaurant.co.uk

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