What makes an ideal loaf of bread? Is it the texture, the flavor, the ratio of bread to air pockets, or how much it lends itself to the formation of an excellent sandwich? As it turns out, the only way to answer this question is to conduct a national taste test—enter the Tiptree World Bread Awards. (Fittingly, the awards are sponsored by jam and preserves company, Wilkins & Sons, located in Tiptree, England).
Hosted in New York City on Oct. 30, 2019, the World Bread Awards compared freshly baked loaves of bread from across the country, all of which were delivered on the morning of the competition for maximum freshness. More than 30 judges, including Dana Cowin, the former editor-in-chief of Food & Wine and current host of the Speaking Broadly podcast; Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, and David and Tracey Zabar of Zabar’s, the landmark speciality food store on New York City's Upper West Side.
The awards were originally founded 7 years ago in the U.K.. But awards director Caroline Kenyon was inspired to bring the self-billed "Bread Oscars" stateside when, upon visiting New York for a family wedding in 2016, a visit to an unnamed Park Slope restaurant yielded "simply the best focaccia [she had] ever tasted."
“The choice, range and quality of bread in America today is immense,” Kenyon remarked. And this second-ever run of the Tiptree World Bread Awards in the U.S. proved it.
According to the official results of the 2019 Tiptree World Bread Awards, supported by American Bakers Association, the best loaf of bread in the U.S. happens to be located in our nation’s capital.
Top honors went to baker Jonathan Bethony of Seylou Bakery and Mill in Washington, D.C., whose pain au levain (French for "sourdough bread")—a classic sourdough loaf made with freshly milled whole-wheat flour, water, levain (a naturally occurring active yeast culture), and salt—was named the competition’s overall winner, as well as the winner of “Whole-Wheat/Wholemeal” category. Along with a Tiptree hamper and a trophy, Bethony was given a check for $1,000.
Other winners included Barry Yogev of Liv Breads Artisan Bakery in Millburn, New Jersey, whose country loaf, pretzel bread, and challah each won a prize. Baker Allen Wang of Recolte Bakery, in New York City's Upper West Side, was named the winner in the "Speciality Sweet" category, with his Pink Lady bread: a painstakingly crafted bread inspired by Wang's native Taiwan, including lychee liquor, dried raspberry, and rose petals, plus 18 hours of fermentation and a secret yeast recipe. And Cheryl Holbert, of Derry, New Hampshire’s Nomad Bakery, won in the "Speciality Savory" category with her asiago challah twists—a cheesy adaptation of Nomad's honey-and safflower-oil challah.
Importantly, the World Bread Awards did include a "Best Bagel" category. That highly brag-worthy distinction went to the everything bagel baked by David Shalam of Heritage Bakers in Glen Cove, New York. Shalam’s Little Scarlet cream-filled cinnamon sugar popovers were also named this year’s “Tiptree Showstopper USA.”
Finally, the World Bread Awards also honored non-professional bakers with a "Home Bakers" category. Very fittingly, the winning bread was one called “Crusty Every Day Bread” by Yonasan Schwartz. It’s the only one you can’t purchase out in the world—for now.
For the full list of winning breads and where to get them, check out the World Bread Awards’ complete record of category winners.