The Great Torontoist Challenge: Baguette Edition
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The Great Torontoist Challenge: Baguette Edition

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Photo by aliocha.
Poor carbs. They get such a bad rap. With people turning to wraps and crackers in an effort to minimise their consumption of these misunderstood organic compounds, Torontoist has decided to show some solidarity and dedicate a challenge to our carb-laden and most tasty friend, the baguette. With a lot of wonderful bakeries in our city, we had a great selection and decided to test them the simple way—tear off a piece, dip in a wee dram of olive oil, take a bite and see what happens. Torontoist realises the simpler thing to do would be to just take a bite of the thing au naturel, but we like olive oil and dipping things, so there you have it.

The Contestants

  • Front Street Bakery. The in-house baked goods brand for Dominion and A&P, Front Street considers their breads to be of artisan quality. We’re pretty sure that means that they were baked by someone who knows how to bake bread. *Lucky*.
  • Thuet. Considered to be one of the choicest restaurants in Toronto, and especially known for its uber yummy Alsatian cooking, Thuet uses a 200-year-old family formula for baking its baguettes.
  • Ace Bakery. Often dubbed “Toronto’s Best Bread,” Ace baguettes are available at most major grocery stores. Ace prides itself on using a stone deck oven and all-natural ingredients.
  • Manoucher. Manoucher has described thier breads as “the world’s most talked about.” Torontoist, until this moment, hasn’t spent much time talking about bread, but we’ll take their word for it. One neat thing about Manoucher is that you can order their breads online! Convenient!
  • Le Comptoir de Célestin. Known as a traditional French bakery—and you know, we here at Torontoist love all things French—Célestin’s breads and other delectables are available at their location on Mount Pleasant, as well as the Cheese Boutique and Pusateri’s.

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Photo by Julie Reitsma.

The Criteria

  • Visuals. Colour of crust, size, general appetizingness.
  • Smell. Does it have that fresh bread smell? Or does it have a weird smell?
  • Crust. Tearability and chewability—can you tear off a piece without straining your arm? Can you chew it without concern for your teeth breaking on the crust? Does the crust have a good flavour?
  • Innards. Is it a good density? Full of air bubbles? Perfect consistency? Great flavour?
  • Freshness & Quality. Was it baked today? If so, can you really tell? Does it feel like it was made in a proper oven or more a garbage can fire?

Additional Criteria

The contestants are ranked below by cost. Torontoist was, understandably, quite surprised by some of the price tags.
Thuet ($2.50); Front Street ($2.59); Ace ($2.89); Célestin ($2.99); Manoucher ($3.99).

Results

  • Visuals. Ace—28/30. This is one good looking loaf of bread, and it really fits the archetype of what a baguette should look like. Speaking of archetypes, where’s our beret?
  • Smell. Célestin—26/30. This baguette had a wood oven scent to it, which was truly lovely. One judge even felt that it smelt like “the woods” themselves. We’re going to say that’s a good thing.
  • Crust. Célestin—27.5/30. Though the crust was a bit sharp—meaning that you could conceivably cut your mouth on it—it was an overall superstar. The best part? We could actually taste the crust. As a seperate entity to the innards.
  • Innards. Célestin—26.5/30. Mmmmmmmmm.
  • Freshness & Quality. Célestin—29.5/30. This was a really fresh baguette. The quality was undeniable and the entire experience was brilliant.

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Clockwise from top left: Dominion exterior photo by mechanikat; Célestin logo; Ace Bakery bread basket photo by psuba98; Manoucher logo; Thuet Bakery interior photo from Thuet’s website.

Conclusions

It doesn’t happen often, but it did this time—we actually had a contestant fail. Poor Front Street Bakery. Torontoist admits to having purchased more than one Front Street baguette in our day for crostini purposes. Unfortunately, after this challenge, those days are over. From the start we had our reservations—the baguette looked egg washed and was sort of dirty, with some unknown black specks on it. There were also two eerie aspects to this entrant—it had no discernible smell and when torn, produced no discernible crumbs. Weird. Once opened, Front Street’s offering had a chemicaliness to it, was dry, mealie and just tasted old. As one of our more succint judges noted, “This is pretty hard to stomach. When faced with this spit or swallow situation, which way will I go? I choose spit.”
Next up, with barely a pass, was Manoucher. One only has to look at this baguette in comparison with the other contestants to understand why. First of all, Manoucher is not baked fresh that day and instead comes wrapped in plastic with the suggestion to bake it for a very brief period, which we did do. We can only imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t. Granted, some of the judges enjoyed it’s twisty shape and agreed that it would be tasty with other foods, like soup. It would also, due to its bizarre lack of crust (see below right), be handy if you had braces or, perhaps, just gums.
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Photos by Julie Reitsma.
Smack dab in the middle was Ace Bakery. Now we generally like Ace, with its subtle buttery smell, and we do think that maybe they were having a bit of an “off day”, but based on what we ate, they just couldn’t come out on top. Sure, the Ace baguette looked fantastic. Unfortunately, looks aren’t everything. We had to yank pretty hard to tear a piece off, only to discover the insides, though relatively light and airy, to be bland and, quite honestly, not worth the carbs.
Runner-up in our baguette challenge goes to Thuet. First we’d like to note that this was the least expensive of our entrants, a pleasant surprise from what Torontoist would consider to be a pretty schmancy establishment. Thuet’s entrant had a nice smell and its colour implied toastiness. Its crust was crunchy without being messy, though it did appear as though the baker had thrown a handful of flour on it while yelling “POW!” That being said, and we’re really not sure if that last point was a negative, the innards were fluffy, slightly sweet and just perfect for a piece of brie. Best of all, it was so fresh—there is no doubt that this bread had come out of the oven only hours before. Deelish!
What else can we say about Célestin? While it was noted that this baguette is on the small side, it’s the perfect size for two people over lunch and you won’t have to worry about left-overs which will most likely go stale before you get a chance to eat them—is it it just us, or does that always happen with left-over baguette? As stated above the crust and innard layers were distinct and delicious, with a beautiful colouring and simply a lovely taste. While most of us don’t usually wander the streets of our fair city while nibbling on a loaf of bread, Torontoist is certain that if you got your hands on this one, you’d be hard pressed to make it home without sampling at least the nub. Let’s be honest, there’s something romantic about walking around and eating a baguette, and with the amazing goods on offer in Toronto, we just don’t need Paris.

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