The Queen Almond ChallahLior The Baker
10953 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, #105, Scottsdale
All hail the Queen! This heavenly hybrid is half challah and half almond croissant, plus almond paste, for a brilliant crossbreed that proves food fusions can be doubly delicious. The braided, almond-topped, sugar-dusted crust opens to a layered, buttery inside so decadent and bursting with almond flavor that it could easily be confused for cake. Lior The Baker, helmed by husband-and-wife team Lior and Lily Ben-Shushan, also serves a mean chocolate rugelach and a divine cheese Danish, but it’s this lovely loaf that has us weak in the knees. Drizzle with dark chocolate, slather with Nutella, or bake up into the best bread pudding ever.
4525 North 24th Street
It takes 36 hours to make a single loaf of Noble Bread. Needless to say, baker Jason Raducha isn’t into cutting corners or making a fast dough. He uses a can’t-be-rushed organic levain starter (a culture of wild yeasts), as well as organic GMO-free flours, and hearth-bakes them to perfection. True, the full lineup of loaves is brag-worthy, from the light-and-airy Country to the sunflower seed Sunny Flax, making it tough to choose a single loaf. But, gun to our head, we’re going with the Semolina, made with semolina flour. The sesame-crusted, golden exterior surrounds a light and robust interior, durable enough to handle a swipe of almond butter yet spongy enough to sop up olive oil. Your jaw will get a workout as you tear through the crusty, nutty edges; your taste buds will get a workout as they savor the springy texture and grainy flavors. Pick it up at Noble Eatery in Phoenix or farmers markets and top with aged cheddar, tomato slabs, or simply slather on jam.
SourdoughProof Artisan Bread
This is no wimpy sourdough. Boasting sublime striations and poetic patterns to show the maker’s handiwork, this bread is almost too pretty to slice. But cutting in brings a new level of discovery. Slightly brown and brawny, it’s a wonder that just four ingredients birth such a complex mosaic of slightly sweet, slightly sour, slightly nutty flavors. But that’s what natural leavening and long fermentations do. Proof’s second owners, Amanda Abou-Eid and Jonathan Przybyl, love it toasted and topped with avocado or dipped generously in soup. Butter always works, too. They still bake loaves out of their east Valley garage, but now a storefront is in the works in downtown Mesa.
Pane Bianco’s baguette is so holy it’s like a religious experience. Its divine creator is Marco Bianco, a self-taught bread-maker who passionately studied, experimented, researched, read, and got his elbows deep in dough to learn the trade. His hard work is our gain. That know-how, combined with freshly milled heirloom flour, plus plenty of patience (the yeast ferments 16 hours) and passion yield a crusty, cavernous creation that’ll have you saying hallelujah. It’s toothsome yet tender, with a slightly salty crust and airy interior with more flavor than white bread should have. Just bite into it like an apple or pair with soppressata and Swiss. No matter how you slice it, it’s beyond delicious.
Cranberry Pecan LoafMediterra Bakehouse
226 South Main Street, Coolidge
There’s no wasted space between this loaf’s tapered ends, just plenty of toasted nuts and dried fruit — over a half-pound of cranberries and pecans. The cranberries add zing and the nuts a toothsome texture, but it’s really owner Nick Ambeliotis’ smarts that set it apart. Ambeliotis was schooled in the art of old world bread-making techniques in Europe. He sees baking more as a process than a production, one that uses natural fermentation, house-milled flour, and a custom-build stone hearth oven. The result is a lofty loaf that works with both sweet and savory toppers (grilled cheese, yes please!) and makes a mean French toast. Get it at the Mediterra Bakehouse Coolidge location, AJ’s, or farmers markets.
La ParisienneLa Belle Vie
Nathas Kraus, a baker without a bakery, sells a dazzling array of classically French pastries a few days a week at farmers' markets like Gilbert and Uptown. Though his cream-flavored "rhino" croissants and butter-saturated kouign-amann are showstopping, his simple breads are quietly excellent. If you get to the La Belle Vie stand before everything sells out (hint: get there early and prepare to wait in line even then), be sure to walk away with La Parisienne. This long, lancing loaf is naturally leavened. It cuts into rounds or larger swaths (perfect for cheese) with a compact, crackly, almost hard shell and a light interior. This is Old World bread baked with skill and sweat, the kind of loaf that inspires trans-Atlantic trips.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 15, 2018. It was updated on November 19, 2020. Allison Young contributed to this article.