Warmth in Winter: A Visit to Poilane in Paris

By cookbook author and travel writer Victoria L. Cooksey

Early one morning, on a cool winters day, Genevieve Briere guided me on a tour of the famous Poilane bakery in Paris on 8 rue du Cherche-Midi. Upon arrival the bakery smells like home should, with each breath of the baking bread becoming richer than the first.

The bakery was first opened in 1932 by Pierre Poilane. Even though other bakeries were switching to white flour based breads Pierre Poilane continued using stone-ground flour, natural fermentation, and a wood burning oven because he remained confident this was the best way to make bread. The same style 100-ton wood burning oven, which lasts around 30 years before needing to be replaced and the same baking process is still used today at both of Poilane’s Paris locations, as well as the recent edition in London. The London location uses ingredients shipped from France in order to have the exact flavor.

Beyond the Poilane bakery is a room filled with paintings in which artists in the 1950’s used to trade paintings for bread. There is a working chandelier made of bread dough on the ceiling which is a replica of the one Salvador Dali asked Poilane to create for him.

A trip down winding steps revealed a small room containing the wood burning oven. There is no temperature gauge; the bakers must use their expertise to control the heat. Even Poilane’s thin butter cookies are baked in this oven. In fact, some customers call and ask for the cookies and the various breads to be either over or under baked because that fits their personal tastes, and Poilane indulges them. Each baker must go through a 9-month internship in order to bake the famous bread.

The signature Poilane loaf made from wheat and rye flours weighs 4-pounds and can be fed-ex in just 1-hour after coming out of the oven for 38 dollars (includes shipping), or purchased on sight for around 15 euros. (I brought one home in my carry on bag). The loaf may be frozen, well wrapped, for 3 weeks. Because of the quality the bread will last a week well wrapped on the counter. Serve lightly toasted with a little butter and honey, or spread toasted bread with cool foie Gras.

Poilane combines the best of modern technology, such as the Poilane website, while never sacrificing the quality of the origins of Poilane bread.

Visit Poilane online at: www.poilane.com

Victoria L. Cooksey is a food/travel columnist and the author of three cookbooks including Cooking with Cooksey available at online bookstores including www.amazon.com, and www.bn.com (Barnes and Noble), or by calling: 1-800-AUTHORS (288-4677). Victoria will be returning to Paris this fall.

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