It is among my highest culinary praise to say something tastes like it does in Italy. And that was my first thought when I tasted Breadsmith's ciabatta ($5.25 for a 1 3/4-pound loaf). The crust, sprinkled with salt, was chewy. The inside was airy. And the amoeba-shaped roll was redolent of good olive oil.
Making good bread shouldn't be that difficult. But good bread is often hard to find in the Washington area. Which is why we're taking a break from the usual takeout places to highlight Breadsmith. The bakery franchise of the Milwaukee-based company of the same name opened in the Cabin John shopping center last month.
The parent provides the recipes and mandates top-of-the-line Italian bread ovens. But every bread is made from scratch on the premises. Owners Brenda and Tamir Bennaim turn out seven "signature" breads and a rotating selection of seven specialty loaves, such as cranberry orange, honey-raisin-pecan and rye, each day. All the breads are kosher, and on Thursdays and Fridays there is water and vanilla-egg challah ($5.45 for a 1 3/4 -pound loaf). (Avid fans should note that the bakery is closed Friday afternoons and Saturdays in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.)
The Bennaims had no baking experience; they opened the business at least in part as a way to satisfy their picky 5-year-old, who had refused to eat sandwiches until she tasted Breadsmith's bread, Brenda said.
But you wouldn't know it. The sourdough ($4.75) has a strong tang and terrific chew. The pull-apart garlic cobblestones ($6.25 for a nine-inch round) are like Parker House rolls, but better. They seem specially designed to sop up a good pasta sauce.
The bakery is equally adept at sweets. Coffeecake is an often abused treat. But Breadsmith's is topped with walnuts and has ribbons of caramelized brown sugar running through the yeast-risen dough ($7.50 for a nine-inch cake). Not too sweet, and perfect with a cup of joe. (Breadsmith sells Seattle's Best.) The scones ($1.75 each) too are a rare find and a bargain. I loved the pecan, which had a creamy texture and was not overly sweet.
Breadsmith also offers ready-to-bake pizza dough ($3.50 for a one-pound ball) and has a selection of jams, chutneys and P.B. loco's flavored peanut butters, such as banana ($6.95 for 16 ounces) and Asian curry spice ($7.50).
Intriguing. But for this bread, all you need is butter.
-- Jane Black (Good to Go, Dec. 16, 2009)