Last spring, I was fortunate enough to attend a week-long cooking class in Paris hosted by Patricia Wells, a cookbook author, food critic, and long-time resident of Paris. The week was filled with cooking, of course, as well as tours and tastings and the sweetest one by far was a tour of Poilâne bakery in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Begun in 1932 by Pierre Poilâne, the bakery slowly gathered a following among the area wine bars after the war and, well, the rest is history.
Speaking of history, the wood-burning oven is more than 200 years old! It burns 24/7 and is fired every two hours for 20 minutes. The cost of wood is too high to allow for any other method.
Each loaf of sourdough is marked with an elegant P, a brand that was created to distinguish Poilâne’s bread from the growing number of impostors’ designed to capitalize on the bakery’s successful style. Each master baker makes his own tool, this one is essentially a razor blade embedded in a handle, nothing fancy and he doesn’t share.
All in a day’s work, oh that and all of the beautiful pastries that come next. Because the loaves cook for about an hour, they go in first, followed by the whatever cooks for 45 minutes and so on. He fills the oven back to front, and by the way, the oven reaches out under the street in front of the store.
Pierre’s son, Lionel, joined the business in the ’70s and among other things, worked with Salvadore Dali to create a room-full of furniture made entirely out of bread. An edible copy of the original chandelier hangs in the shop today. Sorry, no picture of that one. We were to busy enjoy cookies and coffee.
Note the ridiculously long-handled pizza peel. He uses that first, then progresses through the shorter ones as the he fills the oven. Joan, pictured in the white sweater, was a charming and informative guide/translator with the bakery.