Back in Paris this summer, I very much enjoyed the official second best croissant in town at Sébastien Gaudard, and during my short trip to London in autumn, I was happy to have a prize-winning sandwich shop around the corner. It was back then, that I first wondered why there are no food awards in Berlin. In a flash, the idea of the Berlin’s Best Bread competition was born, and last week it was actually put into action.
I knew I needed a top-class jury to help decide what’s Berlin’s best bread, which is why I asked some of the finest foodies I know to join me: Cathrin Brandes, food consultant, writer of Berlin Tidbits and founder of Speisenclub Neukölln; Malin Elmlid, Swedish baker and initiator of Bread Exchange; Kavita Meelu, initiator of Street Food Thursday and host of Mother’s Mother dinner club; Florian Duijsens, writer for this very blog and carb lover extraordinaire; and Luisa Weiss, food-blogger par excellence. Sadly, Luisa got sick the day before the tasting and couldn’t take part.
First we narrowed down the list of bakeries that would contribute to 15, all of which bake their breads in Berlin from scratch. Sadly, since Luisa wasn’t there to pick up the breads from our Charlottenburg contenders, we lost Brotgarten and Brot&Butter, and due to troubles with a courier, we also couldn’t get hold on Dresdner Feinbäckerei on the day of the tasting. We’ve marked them down for the next edition! Still, we had 15 loafs from 11 of the best Berlin bakeries to taste in two categories: white and dark bread.
During the actual tasting, these two apparently simple categories turned out to be a little tricky. Although we discussed beforehand which categories we should test and how these categories should be defined, in the end we weren’t sure whether breads baked as a free-formed loaf and those baked in a bread tin can really be compared. Or at what shade a bread actually is dark or white. And although we asked the bakeries to submit their “plainest” breads with neither seeds, nuts, nor spices, some of the contenders did contain some extra ingredients and we weren’t sure whether that meant they could be compared to the others…
As you’ll find out when you read on, this led to quite some trouble in the dark bread category.
The jury awarded points between 1 and 5 in five different categories: look and form, surface and crust, crumb and structure, aroma, and taste (with the latter counting double in the overall calculation). There were broad discussions about aroma versus taste, about when a bread should actually be tasted (right after baking, when it’s a day old?), about how long it’s supposed to be enjoyable and much more. Sometimes butter and salt, as well as Sardinian olive oil, and in extreme cases even toasting was involved. This last technique led to the rather surprising discovery that the one white bread that scored very few points, was the most delicious one when toasted and in fact should be used as a base for a poached eggs city-wide. But then, everything is better toasted, right?
Despite their scoring differences, the jury was overall in agreement on the winner of the white category. In the dark category, however, we had to hold a long discussion, since the clear winner by points was actually a spiced bread, although we asked all bakeries to submit a non-spiced bread…
Without further ado, here’s the ranking:
7. Mehlwurm – white bread
Last place in this list shouldn’t be read as an indictment. All these breads have something to commend them, some just suffered in comparison. This one, for instance was called boring by some, though its particularly yeasty smell was praised by Cathrin.
Price forthcoming, scored 68 of 180 possible point
6. Endorphina – Weizentoast natur
With just one point ahead of Mehlwurm, this classic white bread is not recommendable when not toasted. Yet its super fine pores and very white crumb push it to excellence when confronted with heat – by far the winner in the toasted category, if there’d been one.
2,70€ a loaf, scored 69 of 180 possible points
5. Zeit für Brot – Bergsteiger
This bread comes in giant loaves that nicely decorate the interior of this Mitte bakery. Yet the taste and color when cut couldn’t convince, the rather odd, almost greyish color and its very flat crust fell through.
5,20€ a kilo, scored 74 of 180 possible points
4. Butter Lindner – Italienischer Bauernlaib
As a typical Italian bread, this one comes as a huge, round loaf. Cathrin praised its pretty pores and Daniel liked its nice crust, nevertheless its overall impression was too bland. Malin pointed out that this one was already quite dry, meaning it possibly won’t be very good the second day.
5,30€ a kilo, scored 81 of 180 possible points
3. Alpenstück – französisches Weißbrot
This pretty loaf scored high on looks, but lost in the taste department. Malin thought it was surprisingly good, but didn’t predict a long freshness.
2,40€ a kilo, scored 108 of 180 possible points
2. Beumer&Lutum – Schweizer Brot
With just two points ahead of Alpenstück’s white loaf, this one had a beautiful taste, although it was slightly under-baked. And there was mutual consent that this is the perfect bread for a grilled cheese sandwich.
3,10€ a loaf, scored 110 of 180 possible points
Winner: Sironi – Il pane di Milano
This giant loaf from this very fine Italian bakery scored very high with every juror. Thanks to its super attractive looks and great crumb it made it to the top of this category, and by points the overall winner of this competition. Kavita said she was stunned by the perfect color and contrast between crust and crumb. Daniel called it perfect, only Cathrin and Florian noticed a slight lack of salt.
9,80€ a loaf, scored 136 of 180 possible points
9. Soluna – Schwarzkornbrot
The low ranking of Soluna is a tragedy, as we all agreed, since it actually is an all-time favorite in Berlin. Despite numerous mails, calls, and requests, we never reached someone responsible to ask them to submit a bread. Since we still wanted them in the tasting, we just went there like a normal customer, asking for a dark bread with neither seeds nor spices and the Schwarzkornbrot is what we were given. Sadly, the loaf was severely under-baked and thus very wet, maybe it would get better after resting for a few days.
4,60 Euros a loaf, scored 60,5 of 180 possible points
8. Wiener Brot – Sonntagsbrot
No one would’ve predicted that Wiener Brot would rank so low, yet their Sonntagsbrot was described as disappointing in taste, especially because it lacks salt. Cathrin even tasted some cheese aromas.
9,00 Euros a loaf, scored 83,5 of 180 possible points
7. Bäckerei Balzer – Landbrot
Bäckerei Balzer is this small bakery in Mitte’s Sophienstraße that everyone loves because it still has a very traditional, GDR-like appeal to it. Basically a bakery like you remember from your childhood, so it must be good, right? Sadly, the Landbrot wasn’t very convincing, Kavita called the form plump and conservative. And although its aroma was surprisingly sweet, all judges considered the bread over-salted.
2,70 Euros a loaf, scored 85 of 180 possible points
6. Alpenstück – Bauernschrot
We were surprised that Alpenstück decided to submit a tin loaf bread, and its crumb was still quite wet. Florian considered it under-baked and unexciting. Still, Malin added that this one would get better with more time.
2,40 Euros a loaf, scored 90,5 of 180 possible points
5. Zeit für Brot – Bauernlaib
Whereas I found this one rather bland and dry, Cathrin praised its beautiful form and color and its fine sour taste. Daniel called this one a classic German bread and Malin called its dense pores very practical for spreads.
4,90 Euros a kilo, scored 96,5 of 180 possible points
4. Butter Lindner – Sanssouci
Admittedly, the jury was surprised about the quality of this bread, although it was called too sweet by some. Its beautiful, wild crust and dark color pushed it to rank four.
5,70 Euros a kilo, scored 103,5 of 180 possible points
3. Mehlwurm – dark bread
Unlike its white bread, Mehlwurm’s darker one scored very well indeed. In the end it suffered most due to its neutrality: Cathrin didn’t like its slightly grey and boring crust and said it lacked salt (Malin agreed), but enjoyed its nice color of crumb and good sour taste. Daniel, meanwhile, enjoyed the crunch and Florian called it the most whole-grain-tasting of the bunch.
Price forthcoming, scored 104,5 of 180 possible points
Rank 2: Endorphina – Uckermarker Nudel
This one got overall high points especially on looks with a color called delicious by Cathrin. Florian can’t wait to have it with some stinky-ass Swiss cheese and it was Kavita’s favorite among the bunch since it’s very versatile, perfect for savory as well as sweet spreads.
4,20 Euros a loaf, scored 111 of 180 possible points
Winner: Weichardt Brot – Weichardt Spezial
This is where it gets difficult, with a smashing score of 120 this bread is the clear winner point-wise. But it scored that high thanks to its fascinating spice flavors, something we asked the bakeries to not submit. The jury actually discussed wether this bread should not be scored, because it has spices and the others don’t. In the end the jury voted on whether they should be included, separately counted the taste points, and summarized again. And the vote was clearly for Weichardt. Our reason: We know the quality at this bakery is very consistent with all breads they offer and it’s a bakery with a history of 35 years in making organic bread by Demeter standards. The late Peter Klann, who started Soluna and is the reason for its success, actually learned his skills at Weichardt. Which is why we consider it more than fair and absolutely deserved to award the win in this category to Weichardt Brot.
5,10 Euros a kilo, scored 120 of 180 possible points
This was so much fun, we all agreed we want to do this again next year. Although we will change the categories, probably to either judge sourdough bread only and make a special category for spiced breads. Or just ask the bakeries to submit what they think is their best bread. Or we’ll just make a dozen categories and a public tasting. We’ll see. In the end, there will be bread.