CP staff ask how Pittsburgh bakers measure up to UN baguette honors | Pittsburgh City Paper

CP staff ask how Pittsburgh bakers measure up to UN baguette honors

UNESCO last month cast the humble French baguette alongside the Taj Mahal and the Egyptian pyramids as global cultural emblems. Pittsburghers may be unconvinced, but perhaps next time around the fry-filled sandwich will catch the panel's attention and we'll have our moment.

Until then, let's give the French their due and be thankful the nation's beloved doughy comestibles remain available here long after the fall of Fort Duquesne.

To help you get your share of global culture, Pittsburgh City Paper's editorial team tasted fresh baguettes from five local bakeries and ranked them according to our preferences.

In preparation, we spoke to Fabien Moraeu of La Gourmandine. The French-born baker settled in Pittsburgh in 2006, but its dearth of patisseries sent him back home to train as a baker. He returned a few years later and set up his own business to fill the void.

Moraeu says the baguette has changed considerably since it first graced the streets of Paris as a three-foot stick made from dark wheat flour. In the latter 20th century, bakers increasingly turned to refined flours with higher gluten that allow for the light, doughy textures they're best known for now.

Moraeu says to look for a decisive contrast between the crusty exterior and soft interior, and for a mild, "slightly salty" taste.

"People like the baguette I think because it is the right balance between the crumb and the crust," he tells City Paper. "The texture is just the right balance."

We excluded La Gourmandine from the tasting for the sake of fairness, so we recommend trying their goods yourself.

1. Five Points Artisan Bake Shoppe
This Point Breeze bakery aims " to make the best European style breads possible," and we found their baguettes certainly live up to this. CP staff appreciated its delicate appearance, its balanced taste, and its firm crust that yields to a light and fluffy inside.

2. Allegro Hearth
It turns out Squirrell Hill's plant-based bakery knows a thing or two about baguettes. Their loaf cast the darkest appearance yet gave no unwanted hints of charcoal. A few of our tasters found the crumb a tad too robust but we all agreed the soft inside had a nice rise, and the mildly sour taste was a winner.

3. Madeleine Bakery and Bistro
Probably the best-looking of the bunch, Madeleine's of Regent Square bake an elegant and inviting loaf. Unfortunately, the slightly sweet taste is less fulfilling, and the crust simply doesn't give enough resistance to satisfy.

4. Breadworks
Several staff members are regular customers of this North Side bakery's esteemed bread goods, but sadly, the baguette doesn't match up to some of its other products. Visually, the long flattish loaf is unimpressive, and the taste and texture within do little to help. The dough is dense with few air bubbles and the crust is wimpy.

5. Giant Eagle
As a paper of the people — specifically the people of Pittsburgh — we thought an earnest product of the region's favorite grocery chain would offer a helpful control variable to judge the fancy artisans against. That said, we also aspire to journalistic accuracy, and we found the Giant Eagle baguette frankly bad. It looks like it's come off a conveyor belt, and it tastes like it has, too. The inside is dense and lifeless, and the crust offers no crunch to speak of.