Pain Poilâne: the best bargain in Paris?

April 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

The little box of Pierre Hermé macarons I wrote about in my last post set me back 25 Euros. For a third of the price, you can buy yourself beautiful, round, whole loaf of arguably the finest bread in the world weighing in at a shade under two kilos.

Here are the loaves on display at Poilâne’s newest store (opened in July 2011) on the rue Debelleyme in the Marais. The staff are charming and friendly and, unlike the Pierre Hermé shop, were happy for me to take photos. You’ll see that the word for what we might call a cob is not a mere “boule” but a “miche” literally a generously rounded buttock! I love that idea.

It was such a treat to carry out the whole loaf, still faintly warm from the legendary wood-fired oven, lovingly wrapped, and less lovingly stuffed into my rucksack for the journey back to Manchester. It survived the journey intact:

and was soon sliced up ready for sampling:

What makes the bread so special? It has the dark, crackly crust typical of a wood-fired oven bake. The crumb is not white but a deep cream colour attributable both to its wholegrain content and its long fermentation. The texture of the crumb is dense but not heavy. It’s chewy, just a touch sour, flavoursome and slices well. Fresh, it tastes excellent but thanks to its sourdough fermentation it keeps for a week and a few days old it toasts brilliantly.

What’s in it? The Poilâne website tells you that the bread is made from just four ingredients (stoneground flour, sourdough starter, water and Guérande sea salt) but doesn’t go into detail as to what type of flour is used. Lots of people have written lots of things about the flour in a Poilâne loaf. US baker Peter Reinhart in his book “The Breadbaker’s Apprentice” describes the flour as a stoneground 85% extraction wholewheat ie with some of the bran removed. This is not a type of flour readily accessible to homebakers but can be approximated by mixing three parts white flour to one part wholemeal/wholewheat. Other commentators refer to the inclusion of 30% spelt (épeautre in French) flour in the Poilâne mix but I haven’t yet found an unimpeachable source for this claim.

According to the Poilâne website, legend began in the 1932 when Pierre Poilâne from Normandy set up shop in the rue du Cherche Midi in St Germain on Paris’ Left Bank. He made a traditional loaf in the traditional way (best quality ingredients, long fermentation, natural yeasts, baking in a woodfired oven) rather than producing the more popular white flour baguettes. His sons Lionel (and also Max) continued the family baking business. Lionel was the marketing genius – very convenient if you’re going to supply countrywide if you can first convince the world that your bread tastes best not when absolutely fresh but 3 days’ old! – and it is his bread which has gone onto achieve iconic status worldwide. Lionel died in a freak helicopter accident in 2002 leaving his 19 year old daughter Apollonia in charge.

I’ve occasionally wondered how Poilâne bread can appear on English and French supermarket shelves when there are just three tiny traditional outlets in Paris. I’ve visited two of them, sadly not the original rue du Cherche Midi shop yet which I’ll have to save until next time.

Here’s the Boulevard de la Grenelle shop:

and here’s the newest rue Debelleyme shop in the Marais:

The answer to the supply conundrum is that in the 1980s, Lionel built a 24 wood-fired oven “facility” as the website delicately puts it, to supply growing demand. The discreet little cream-coloured tree-screened factory is located in Bièvres in the southwest outskirts of Paris not far from Versailles.

Harvard Business School graduate Apollonia Poilâne seems to have inherited her father’s business sense as well as his passion for good bread and has made a number of discreet innovations. I’m not convinced about the matcha flavoured green teaspoon shaped biscuits but the “Cuisine de Bar” outlets that have appeared adjacent to the bread shops in the rues du Cherche Midi and Debelleyme (also in London now) are an excellent idea. They are essentially cafés based on toast (tartines in French). So next time you’re in Paris looking for a fashionable, wholesome and inexpensive breakfast or light lunch, you know where to go.

After a bit of research

Contact details (Paris)

38 rue Debelleyme (Marais- “Cuisine de bar” adjacent to shop)
Paris 75003
Tel +33 (0) 1 44 61 83 39
Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm

49 bld de Grenelle (Eiffel Tower)
Paris 75015
Tel +33 (0) 1 45 79 11 49
Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm

8 rue du Cherche-Midi (St Germain – “Cuisine de bar” adjacent to shop)
Paris 75006
Tel +33 (0) 1 45 48 42 59
Opening hours :
Monday to Saturday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm

Parisian macaron update

April 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

Just back from our regular easter trip to Paris and Fontainebleau and this year, Bayeux in Normandy too. The focus of the Paris part of my trip was taking part in a couple of pâtisserie classes at the Lenôtre school on the avenue des Champs Elysées (making chocolate desserts and the legendary Gâteau St Honoré). Whilst there, I took the opportunity to use my carnet of metro tickets and my own two feet to explore the city, visit some iconic bakeries and pâtisseries, and try and work out by observation the newest Parisian pâtisserie trends.

In the first of three Paris posts, I thought I’d begin with an update on the macaron trend. In the UK I think I can say they’re officially mainstream now that our local Marks and Spencer Altrincham branch regularly stocks its Own Brand pack 6 pack. Paris is of course awash with them and whilst there I took the opportunity to try a cutting-edge selection from Pierre Hermé and classic favourites from Ladurée.

First stop was the Pierre Hermé Avenue de l’Opéra shop (which, cashing in on present trends just sells macarons and chocolates, not pâtisserie). One unwanted consequence of the proliferation of food bloggers is that polite requests such as mine to take a quick photo inside the shop are sadly refused. So here is a photo of said shop from a safe distance outside:

Here’s the selection of macarons I bought and subsequently tasted. The turquoise presentation box is just a little lurid perhaps?

whereas the bag in which it was presented with its pale blue panels and cut-out broderie anglaise style leaves is much easier on the eye:

The Pierre Hermé macarons are characterised by their generous (some might say overgenerous?) fillings and bewildering palate of flavours. For the record, this is the latest menu with some of the names as fanciful as the flavour combinations. With the aid of Pierre Hermé’s Macaron book which gives instructions in meticulous detail for constructing his signature combinations, I’ve added a little extra information.

MOGADOR: milk chocolate and passion fruit – yellow shells speckled with cocoa powder; passion fruit milk chocolate ganache
INFINIMENT ROSE: rose & rose petals – pink shells; rose buttercream
INFINIMENT CHOCOLAT PORCELANA: pure chocolate origin Venezuala Porcelana – chocolate shells; Porcelana chocolate ganache
INFINIMENT CARAMEL: salted butter caramel – light brown shells coloured with yellow food colouring and coffee extract; salted butter caramel filling
CARAQUILLO: chocolate, coffee & aniseed – chocolate shells; chocolate ganache flavoured with aniseed
AMERICANO PAMPLEMOUSSE: orange, campari and candied grapefruit – orange shells; white chocolate ganache flavoured with Campari, grapefruit juice and orange juice; cubes of candied spiced grapefruit peel embedded in the ganache filling
CRÈME BRÛlÉE: vanilla and caramel shards
INFINIMENT CASSIS: blackcurrant – purple shells; white chocolate ganache made with blackcurrant and redcurrant juice rather than cream; one or two whole blackcurrants in the centre
ISPAHAN: rose, lychee & raspberry – deep pink shells sprinkled with red coloured sugar or ruby dusting powder; white chocolate ganache mixed with pureed preserved lychees and flavoured with rose extract; square of concentrated fresh raspberry jelly in the centre
INFINIMENT MENTHE FRAÎCHE: mint – blue-green shells; white chocolate ganache flavoured with an infusion of fresh mint leaves and Crème de Menthe
INFINIMENT JASMIN: jasmine flowers and jasmine tea – shells whitened with titanium dioxide with dried jasmine flowers sprinkled on top; jasmine tea white chocolate ganache flavour boosted with jasmine essential oil;
MÉTISSÉ: orange, carrot and Ceylon cinnamon – orange cinnamon shells; carrot, orange & white chocolate ganache
PLÉNITUDE: chocolate and caramel – one chocolate shell; one caramel brown shell (coffee extract and food colouring); milk and dark chocolate ganache mixed with salted butter caramel
PIETRA: caramelised hazelnut and crispy praline
HUILE D’OLIVE À LA MANDARINE: olive oil and mandarin – one olive green shell (green colouring and coffee extract); one orange shell; white chocolate ganache flavoured with vanilla mixed with extra virgin olive oil
MOSAÏC: pistachio, Ceylon cinnamon & griottine – natural shells sprinkled with red sugar or ruby dusting powder; white chocolate ganache flavoured and coloured with cinnamon and pistachio paste; stoned griottine (trade name for morello cherry preserved in kirsch) in the centre
ÉDEN: peach, apricot and saffron – peach coloured shells; white chocolate ganache infused with saffron mixed with purée of fresh white peach and small cubes of soft-dried apricot
INFINIMENT VANILLE: vanilla from Tahiti, Mexico & Madagascar – natural coloured shells flavoured with vanilla seeds; white chocolate ganache flavoured with 3 types of vanilla pod
MÉDÉLICE: lemon and crispy praline hazelnut wafer – yellow shells sprinkled with hazelnut wafer shards; natural colour lemon cream filling
INFINIMENT CITRON: lemon – yellow shells; natural colour lemon cream filling

They sound amazing don’t they? The truth is though that sample one with your eyes closed and you’d be hard pressed to say what the flavour is. There’s a healthy dose of psychological trickery going on here and the apparent flavour is boosted if you a) your macaron is strongly coloured and b) you can read the description of what you’re supposed to be tasting.

That said, the macarons tasted pretty good, even the mint one which was surprisingly subtle and fragrant rather than being filled with a toothpaste-like substance as I joked it might be before tasting it.

I didn’t make it to Hermé’s flagship store which is on the Rue Bonaparte on the left bank. He now has a myriad of shops throughout Paris, like the one I visited on the Avenue de l’Opéra selling just macarons and chocolate. Presumably these are shipped in daily by the dozen rather than being lovingly crafted on the premises. Well, I suppose you have to ride that trend while it lasts…

The original and classic macaroon maker Ladurée is playing the same game. You can load up on macarons in various locations throughout Paris, even at their newest outlet Terminal 2 Charles de Gaulle airport, which is exactly what I did. You can opt for the classic eau-de-nil and gold packaging:

Or the dinky duck-egg blue and shocking pink “Hello Kitty” presentation box aimed fair and square at the Japanese market:

The current Ladurée list of flavours runs as follows:


Café – coffee
Caramel – caramel
Cassis Violette – blackcurrant and violet
Chocolat – chocolate
Fleur d’Oranger – orange flower water
Framboise – raspberry
Pistache – pistachio
Réglisse – liquorice (black)
Rose – rose water
Vanille – vanilla
Incroyable Guimauve Amande – incredible almond marshmallow


Citron – lemon
Fruits rouges – red fruit
Fleurs de cerisier – cherry blossom
Chocolat pure origine Colombie – Colombian chocolate
Praliné – praline
Marron – chestnut
Pomme Verte – green apple
Chocolat au lait – milk chocolate

Read the small print underneath the box to discover the list of ingredients needed to make this range of flavours:

sugar; almonds; eggs; butter; cream; cocoa; blackcurrants; raspberries; pistachios; chestnuts; coconut; hazelnuts; mint; lemons; morello cherries; whole milk powder; glucose syrup; cornflour; pectin; coffee; rose syrup (sugar syrup, natural red colouring, rose flavour); redcurrant; dark rum; honey; candied fruit (sugar, glucose, citron, ginger, lemon, orange); flavourings: orange flower, citron, lemongrass, chestnut, mint, mimosa, violet (invert sugar, propylene glycol, alcohol); cinnamon; star anise; ginger, gelatine (not porcine); emulsifier: soya lecithin; natural vanilla extract; vanilla; lime; rose essence; salt; sunflower oil; vegetable fat; barley malt extract; emulsifier: glycerides of fatty acids; colours: luteine, carmine, carminique, carantho, chlorophyll, spinach, coal black, brilliant blue fcf, carotinoids, caramel.


If you still feel like buying some here’s where to go:

Pierre Hermé Paris addresses

72 rue Bonaparte, 6th arrondissement (flagship store – the full range)
185 rue de Vaugirard, 15th – pâtisserie, macarons, chocolates
just macarons and chocolates:
58 avenue Paul Doumer, 16th
39 avenue de l’Opéra, 2nd
Galeries Lafayette concession, amongst shoes in the basement (!); home on ground floor; and designers on the 1st floor, 40 boulevard Haussmann, 9th
Publicis Drugstore concession, 133 avenue des Champs Elysées, 8th
Printemps Parly II concession, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Le Chesnay nr Versailles

Ladurée Paris and surrounding area addresses

16-18 rue Royale, 8th arrondissement
21 rue Bonaparte, 6th
75 avenue des Champs Elysées, 8th – AT DATE OF WRITING CLOSED FOR REFURBISHMENT
Orly airport West Terminal
Charles de Gaulle airport Terminal 2
Printemps department store concession, 64 Boulevard Haussmann, 9th
Chateau de Versailles, Versailles

A simple salad for spring

April 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

A ate a simple and delicious little salad for lunch last week in Paris, sitting outdoors in the spring sunshine, just off the the Champs Elysées. It was described on the menu as a “Salade Farandole” or merry-go-round salad, presumably because of the wheel shaped arrangement of the leaves.

The ingredients were chicory leaves, orange segments, strips of smoked duck breast, walnuts and a few spinach leaves together with just the right amount of a citrussy dressing.

It was such a good combination – crisp, bitter leaves, sweet orange, salty duck, crunchy walnuts – that I decided to recreate my own version at home. The Parisian version included some wafer thin slices of what might have been wet walnuts, unlikely at this time of year I know. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask the waiter to ask the chef what this mystery ingredient was. Back home, I remembered that I had a jar of inky-black pickled walnuts at the back of the fridge so I fished one out, sliced it as thinly as I could and added this to my salad for an extra flavour and texture.

Smoked duck isn’t that easy to get hold of, but locally the excellent Smokehouse in Wilmslow prepare their own smoked duck breasts and you can buy them ready sliced from Waitrose or Ocado in the “Reflets de France” range. Talking of Ocado, I’ve being going a bit crazy with their new range of Natoora specialist fruit, veg and deli products so I happened to have a bag of Sicilian blood oranges in my fridge which make a visually appealing addition and taste extra sweet:

It made a lovely light lunch and the slightly bitter chicory combined with the orange were a perfect antidote to all that Easter chocolate. I was so pleased with my little salad that I made it again the next day, this time with some red Treviso radicchio I happened to have left over (I’m going through a bit of a bitter leaf phase at the moment) and with pistachios rather than walnuts as that’s all I had left in my cupboard. There’s no need to be too prescriptive about the ingredients as it’s a salad you can make your own. I hope you enjoy it.

Recipe for chicory, orange and smoked duck salad

Serves 2


For the salad

2 medium heads chicory (white, red or a mixture of both)
2 and a half oranges, peeled and cut into pith-free segments
2 pickled walnuts, thinly sliced
handful walnut halves, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 smoked duck breast, cut into the thinnest slices you can manage, fat removed if you prefer
handful baby spinach leaves

For the dressing

juice of the remaining half orange
2 tablespoons walnut oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
few snipped chives, torn mint leaves or other soft green herbs (optional)

Wash and dry the chicory heads. Cut of the base and pick off the larger outer leaves carefully. Arrange in an attractive wheel shape on your serving platter or in individual salad bowls as you prefer. Chop roughly the remaining centre part of the chicory, combine with the spinach leaves and pile in the centre.

Scatter over the salad the orange segments, pickled walnuts, chopped toasted walnuts and strips of smoked duck breast.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad shortly before serving.

Honours even: world marmalade awards 2012

April 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Once again, the World Marmalade Awards held at Dalemain in Cumbria brightened up those last days of February just before spring proper arrives. Tim and I had both submitted our marmalades for judging, each using our favourite recipe. Tim favours a straightforward Delia Smith recipe with a firmish set, whereas I’m wedded to an alternative recipe with very fine shreds of peel and a softish set. You can find both of our recipes via the Recipe Index page.

We were delighted to discover that both of us had been awarded 19 marks out of a possible 20 this year. This gained us a silver award each and, more importantly meant marital harmony over the breakfast table was maintained.

So where did we each drop that final elusive mark? In my case the judge remarked that my marmalade was “just rather cloudy” which was true as this picture of my 2012 batch shows:

I don’t know what made my marmalade cloudy this year but the most likely tip I’ve found is to skim off the scum rigorously while boiling and NOT to add a knob of butter to the boiling pan to reduce scumming as this will cause it to be dissolved back into the mixture, thus making it cloudy. So that’s the change I’ll be making next year.

In Tim’s case, the judge quibbled that his peel “needs a little more cooking” something which can be pretty easily put right. I think this may have happened as his oranges were hanging round in the fridge for about a month before he got round to making his marmalade right at the last minute.

Here’s one of the judges giving Tim a few tips to achieve that elusive gold next year:

It’s human nature to dwell on the one point lost but perhaps it’s more constructive to focus on what we did right.

We both used beautiful organic oranges delivered via our Riverford veg box man. This was really top quality fruit which was bursting with zesty flavour. I bought my fruit early and used it straightaway and found the peel was quick to soften (ready in half an hour or so whereas older fruit can need an hour or more to soften) and a set was achieved relatively quickly once sugar was added. I think a shorter cooking time means a fresher, zingier citrus flavour.

I experimented with a sugar thermometer this year and stopped boiling once my marmalade reached 104.5 degrees C in order to achieve the wobbly softer set I was looking for. I think if I’d used the chilled saucer and fingertip wrinkle test alone, I’d have been tempted to boil the mixture for a good 5 minutes or so longer.

I potted while the mixture was still extremely hot, filling the jars to the brim, hoping that the peel would be correctly saturated with sugar and would therefore be suspended in the marmalade in perfect equilibrium. It didn’t work and infuriatingly rose to the top! This was soon put right by making sure the lids were on firmly and gently inverting and rotating the jars once the marmalade had cooled a little to help redistribute the peel.

Enought navel-gazing and what of the marmalade festival itself? As well as viewing the hundreds, nay thousands of jars of marmalade on display in the house itself, I attended three additional events this year.

The first was food historian Ivan Day’s talk on the history of marmalade and its links with Dalemain. He then proceeded to cook “Lady Westmoreland’s White Pot” a recipe for an enriched bread and butter pudding from a collection within the Dalemain archive. He’s a fascinating man with a laudable devotion to authenticity and an evident passion for his specialist subject. I’ll be checking out his website for details of food courses next time I feel like treating myself.

The second was celebrity baker Dan Lepard’s breadmaking workshop. One might have expected Dan to talk about baking the perfect loaf of bread to set off a pot of award-winning marmalade, but this session was more of an improvisation on the theme of bread prompted by audience questions. Lots of interesting tips for the serious home-baker with a good deal of previous experience, but I’d defy a novice to be able to bake a simple loaf after this 2 hour session!

My final special event was a marmalade-making workshop run by The Jam Jar Shop team. Our little group of four actually made a batch of marmalade in less tanusing the boiled whole orange method under the watchful eye of our friendly Jam Jar Shop tutor who took this picture:

In case you’re wondering how we managed to prepare a batch of marmalade in less than 2 hours, the whole oranges had been precooked in order for us to be able to complete the marmalade making process in a reasonable timescale.

What did I learn that was new? Well, making marmalade with soft precooked oranges is something I don’t do often. It’s pretty easy to cut up the peel and scrape out the pith using this method but I still prefer to begin with raw fruit as I think ease of cutting is outweighed by a slight loss of flavour.

I learned how to refine my muslin bag-making technique. First, we enclosed all the pith and pips in a big square of muslin and tied the square securely with string to enclose all the contents and stop them escaping. So far so good. Next, we were told not to trim the string but to fold in all the loose raw edges forming the neck of the bag then roll it back down towards the knotted string. Next we wrapped the string around the resulting roll of fabric and tied securely thus enclosing all the raw edges and stopping any loose threads escaping into the pan of marmalade. Finally, the long ends of string were knotted together to form a loop secured to the pan handle for easy retrieval. Very professional looking and a tip I’ll be using again.

This method forms a robust bag that can stand up to the all important squeezing to extract as much pectin as possible so that the marmalade achieves a good set.

The peel was a little irregular as four different people had cut it up each according to their own preference and skill level but the end result of the workshop wasn’t at all bad:

If you fancy giving this marmalade-making method a go next year (or maybe you have some Sevilles stashed away in the freezer), you can download the recipe directly from the Jam Jar shop website by following this link

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