Today was the class Market Tour. 11 of us squeezed into rush hour Metro madness to go to the Blvd. Raspail Tuesday market. This same place I went to last Sunday, but not all organic.
Chef Boucheron mentioned something about visiting a bakery also, but I was still waking up and not paying attention. Halfway through the market, the caffeine finally kicked in and my brain processed what the Chef said earlier: we were going to the original Poilâne, one of the most famous bakeries in Paris. The one with the wood-burning oven, the one with the famous loves of crusty, beautiful bread that I had yet to try. My initial interest in the market was immediately replaced with an anxiousness to get to the pain!
The whole tour of Poilâne felt like a Charlie & the Chocolate Factory dream. A little history: this original location was a 12th century convent where Pierre Poilâne started producing bread in 1932. The same artisinal methods are still used today, the bread there legendary. I would write more, but you can read it on their website.
We carefully stepped down a stone staircase into the basement where the oven is located. Instead of oompa-loompas, a little man greeted us, wearing only shorts and sneakers. Meet Monsieur Baker. He shrugged into a Poilâne t-shirt, but I think he normally went sans shirt and suddenly gave a whole new meaning to the word artisanal.
Bare chest aside, he was very nice and completely enthusiastic about his chosen profession. He explained how the oven worked, the extreme temperatures, the factors that determine how long bread should be baked. The walls of the room were gorgeous- you could almost feel how someone chipped away at the rock when they were constructing the convent so many centuries ago.
Flour was absolutely everywhere, even on the ceilings and walls. Long paddles about 9 feet long shovel the bread in and out of the hot oven, which stretches quite a few yards back. He opened up the oven to let us see the loaves baking inside and pulled out a divine-smelling tray of fresh apple pastries. Every single loaf of bread for this location is kneaded, shaped, risen, and baked here.
After our tour, we said goodbye to the little baker man and went back upstairs. We sampled some of their butter cookies, and I purchased a 1/4 of their classic loaf to go with my cured meats from the charcuterie at the market (tomorrow's lunch is suddenly quite exciting).
To complete the whole Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feeling, one of the Poilâne ladies chased us down and gave us each an apple pastry. Not just any apple pastries, but the ones we watched come out of the oven minutes before. Pure Heaven. Warm, light, flaky, with a shattering crust, they disappeared before we even reached the end of the street. I loved how they balanced the apples and sugar- not too sweet or syrupy.
Back at school, Chef served what he bought for the class: cheeses (7 in all), meat, fruit, olives, salad, and bread. My favorite was the walnut bread, which blew me away. Not too dense, not too dry, and flavors really balanced. It went great with the cheeses, and I can't wait to try it with buerre à la motte, demi-sel. But before I go back to Poilâne to get walnut bread for myself, I need to finish my 1/4 loaf of their regular bread first. Oh, and the three cheeses that the Chef let me take home.
What sacrifices I must make. Such is the life of a Parisienne.
Wood Burning Oven
Bread, Pastries in the Oven
Poilâne - Two Locations in Paris, one in London
8 rue du Cherche Midi
Tel. 01 45 48 42 59
Métro: Sèvres Babylone
49 boulevard de Grenelle
Tel. 01 45 79 11 49
Métro: La Motte Picquet Grenelle