“At the heart of hearts, baking is about feeding the body and souls of a community,” explains Apollonia Poilâne. Having the support of a community was important to Apollonia as she took on the incredibly difficult challenge of taking on her family business at the age of 18.
Though the Poilâne name was already an icon in the food world at the time, Apollonia was critical in growing their footprint in the UK and ultimately, ensuring the nearly 100-year-own brand continued to evolve and reach new audiences, whilst continuing to delight their loyal customer base.
Many people underestimate the importance of a high-quality loaf. Poilâne does not have a wide product range, choosing instead to stick to a carefully-selected menu of items that are made with only the finest ingredients. Their signature miche Poilâne is a sourdough masterpiece, weighing 4lbs with a dark crust and a cursive P on top.
When I ask for her tips for picking out the perfect sourdough loaf, she says: “You should look for a well-cooked loaf, one that smells pleasant and natural, avoid yeasty breads. There is a volume to weight ratio that must reflect consistence. And the taste must be irresistible, from crust to crumb!”
I spoke to Apollonia about her strategy for the family business, her new cookbook, and her favourite spots in Paris.
Did you always know that you wanted to get involved with the family business?
Yes. For as long as I can remember, I knew the bakery was the place I would build my professional life. 18 years after following my parents’ footsteps at the head of Poilâne, I am proud that my love and passion for the business are greater than ever.
If you weren’t a baker today, what do you think you’d be doing?
Feeding people in one capacity or another.
French pastries are known to be absolutely top-notch and difficult to replicate. What’s the secret?
Using your five senses to adjust to the interactions between the environment and the ingredients of the recipe.
You played an integral role in Poilâne’s UK expansion. Why was this so important to you and what were some of the challenges you ran into to make this happen?
London was burgeoning when I took over. We grew together. The UK market is my testing and application field. Being half-French and half-American, London offers a unique scene for me to launch ideas and projects.
What is the feeling you want your customers to have every time they enter one of your bakeries or cafés?
That they are in a place where the culture for product and passion for service nurtures their everyday.
Pairing bread with the right dishes makes all the difference. What is your favourite meal to have with Poilâne sourdough?
With my wheat sourdough loaf, a simple piece of salted butter makes my day. But generally speaking, having a bread sommelier’s approach to bread pairing indeed makes all the difference. For me, the bread needs to boost the dish, lift it up to another level.
Why did you decide to launch a cookbook?
It happened in the summer of 2013 when I kept a loaf fresh for over a week! I just needed to spread the word.
For someone needing to whip up a quick dinner at home, which recipe would you recommend they try from your cookbook?
Go to the tartines section to offer finger foods for an apero or a proper meal ready in a second.
I have been to Paris a number of times but am always discovering new hidden places. The next time I’m in town, where would you recommend I go for: 1) breakfast 2) dinner 3) drinks?
Cafe de Flore for breakfast on a Sunday morning, early enough (before 10am) to catch the habitués chatting. Dinner at Vantre or Jaïs for great French foods paired with wonderful wines. Drinks at Marie Celeste. Their small plates, cocktails, and natural wines make for a versatile, perfect bar.
Address: 46 Elizabeth St, Belgravia, London SW1W 9PA
Phone: 020 7808 4910
Website: poilane.com (order online for delivery)
Photography credit (excluding main image): Philippe Vaurès Santamaria