The Seattle baguette taste-off

November 14th, 2010 by Dawn

We learned our lesson from our last taste-off.  Stick to the basics, and don’t overdo it.  So what could be more basic than a baguette?  A great one eaten warm out of the oven, even plain, can be nirvana.  And baguettes are best paired with simple ingredients: a thick smear of butter, a hunk of oozing cheese, or homemade jam.

Baguettes

So it was decided.  There would be a baguette taste-off.  Here were today’s contenders:

We considered others, too:  the newly opened Le Rêve Bakery (not selling baguettes yet), Dahlia Bakery (missed out due to morning-of technical difficulties), Boulangerie Nantaise, Le Panier, Le Fournil, and the list goes on.  But remember the “don’t overdo it” part?

Marmalade

Four couples joined our hosts Kye Soon Hong and Eric Vigessa today:  Catherine Reynolds and Ken O’Hara, Lorna Yee and Henry Lo, Rebekah Denn and David Dickey, along with Eric and me.

You may already be familiar with our rating system, but I’ll reiterate it here:

This was a blind taste-off, with an arbitrary letter assigned to each baguette for identification.  We ate them sans accoutrements for the taste-off, and each person independently stack ranked them, from their most to least favorite.

A baguette was given one point when it was the top of someone’s list, a second choice baguette received two points, all the way on down the list.  So with ten tasters for our seven baguettes, the best possible score is 10 (i.e. when everyone ranks it top on their list) and the worst possible score is 70 (all ten people rank it 7th on their list).

Homemade butter, baguettes

We wound up with three clusters of bakeries in our results:  5th, 6th, and 7th were very close, then we jump up to the 3rd and 4th place rankings, and finally, the 1st and 2nd place winners, which were only two points apart!

La Brea Bakery 7th place: Over half ranked the baguette from La Brea last, giving it an overall score of 61.  However, this grocery store baguette didn’t take the more unanimous last place of our croissant ringer, because a few felt that it had a better crunchy crust and soft interior than the worst of the bakery baguettes.
Macrina Bakery & Cafe 6th place: Macrina didn’t have a good showing today.  Their baguette was the palest of the bunch, with a bubbly crust, and had very little textural contrast between the interior and exterior.  For the most part, it was in the bottom three on people’s lists, garnering a total score of 58.
Macrina Bakery on Urbanspoon
The Essential Baking Company 5th place: Essential got points for a caramelized crust, but many thought it was too dark, almost burnt in spots, and the baguette overall was tough.  The interior was the least traditional of the lot, with a darker wheat crumb, the sourest flavor, and none of the large airy holes inside that people favored in the higher ranking baguettes.  Its overall score was 50.
Essential Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon
Tall Grass Bakery 4th place: Here we enter the next clustering of baguette scores.  Seven of the ten of us ranked Tall Grass’s baguette 3rd, but the others’ lower rankings pushed it down to a score of 37.  One of those who ranked it lower gave it a “low crumb rating” and several felt that it had a simple, uninteresting flavor.
Tall Grass Bakery on Urbanspoon
Grand Central Baking Company 3rd place: Grand Central’s bread got higher accolades for the flavor and had a toasty brown crust, but the exterior was too hard for some.  With blunt ends, this wasn’t a traditional shaped pointy baguette like our top two finishers.  This one had the widest range of rankings, landing everywhere except last on people’s lists, giving it a final rating of 34.
Grand Central Baking Company on Urbanspoon
Bakery Nouveau 2nd place: There were opinionated discussions about the top two results, and it seemed to come down to either texture or flavor.  Many preferred the complex flavor of the 2nd place Nouveau’s baguette.  But while four felt that it was a winner across the board, others didn’t like the texture as much as our winner.  The color of this baguette was a beautiful golden brown.  Its overall score was 21.
Bakery Nouveau on Urbanspoon
Columbia City Bakery And our winner, by a hair: Columbia City Bakery, with 19 points!  All but one placed it in their top two, and most felt Columbia City’s baguette was the closest to the ideal baguette texture, with a crisp exterior and a moist, elastic, chewy interior.
Columbia City Bakery on Urbanspoon

So tell me, what is your favorite baguette?  And what should be our next taste-off?  Bagels?  Cupcakes?  Even teriyaki has been suggested.

And if you missed any of our past taste-offs, you can find them here:

9 Responses to “The Seattle baguette taste-off”

  1. Eric Vigesaa says:

    Great post! I did not expect that this tasting would turn out to be such a 2-horse race. Only these guys really nailed the crunchy exterior and chewy interior. For me, the surprise underperformer was Macrina. I expected a lot more. Hopefully just an off-day.

    Loved that after the serious judging was over we got to indulge with jams, cheeses, pates, salumi. That’s the way to enjoy a good baguette!

  2. Lorraine says:

    Interesting results, I will have to re-visit the Columbia City baguette. Perhaps cupcakes since that has been such a popular phenomenon recently (and can I join you?). Le Panier is always a favorite fresh from the ovens. I agree, I’ve never been a fan of the Macrina version. I will say that my favorite also varies depending if I’m eating plan with butter/cheese or in a sandwich.

  3. Michael Natkin says:

    Very nice test, you guys, and good info. Useful, as I can never remember which ones I like and end up just grabbing one from any of the local bakeries when I’m at the store. I tend to love all of Columbia City’s breads, so I’m not too surprised they came out on top.

  4. Kye says:

    Wonderful and detailed post to a great event! It seemed like the next tasting might be shaping up to be cupcakes and bacon?????

  5. Valentina says:

    Great choice for a tasting, and I’m not surprised with the results. Columbia City Bakery is, no question about it, the best bakery in town. Still, our very favorite baguette in town is from Le Fournil. Not only for its wonderful flavor and chewiness, also it lasts longer than other baguettes we have bought in the past. Plus, it makes Nettletown sandwiches magic.

    Awesome post. Thanks for sharing your impressions!

  6. Jess says:

    Not surprised by the results, either – but so good to see the process! Also neat to see side-by-side shots. I always like comparing how the lame splits the tops… Well done!

  7. Bruce says:

    Bagels would be great although everyone who cares already knows (or at least thinks they know) which is best. Pizza and coffee/espresso have the same problem. Cupcakes are way too trendy. Terikyaki would be extremely useful but you might need to have a few regional taste-offs followed by a citywide final! Other ideas: hummus, banh mi, Chinese delivery, Thai takeout.

  8. Laurie Pfalzer says:

    I have always been a big fan of the Columbia City baguette. I’m glad it took the win! Overall, I think their bread is superior, but often will hit Tall Grass too as their grain breads (including the Volkhornbrot) are especially well done.

    I vote for bagels and don’t forget to include Sweet and Savory. One of the best bagels I’ve ever had!

  9. Jon Rowley says:

    Thanks for sending the link. Great post. We are doing a similar tasting with five tasters to find a baguette to carry at the new Taylor Shellfish retail store. We are doing it in two rounds. Some bakeries bake their baguettes mid-day instead in the morning.

    We blind-tasted the five baguettes with pretty much the same methodology except we asked tasters for a rank rather than a score. Five us agreed on the favorite. We’ll taste another five today and then probably do a taste-off of the “finalists”. Care to join us?

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