Friday, August 14, 2009

Pain Poilâne

The other day, one of my coworkers asked if I had ever heard of a bread from France that when made, didn't need much yeast because the bakery was so old it had yeast in the air and walls to help with the rising. I had not, but the thought intrigued me so, of course, I went searching. I discovered my coworker was referring to bread made at the Poilâne Bakery in Paris. Started in 1932, the Poilâne bakery was made famous by (the son of founder Pierre) Lionel Poilâne. The bakery uses stone-ground flour, natural fermentation and a wood-fired oven. The bakery is most famous for it's sourdough country bread which is known simply as pain Poilâne.

After reading about the pain Poilâne I was dying to try some. I quickly went to their website and found out that you could have the bread shipped to you. Perfect! Except....while the bread itself ran a bit high in price, the shipping was ridiculous since the bakery flies each loaf overnight to make sure it's fresh. A loaf, bought by an individual would end up costing around 50 bucks. I wrote the bakery and asked if they had any retailers in Boston. As luck would have it, they do! A place in Wellesley and the Formmagio Kitchen in Cambridge. I called up my friend in Cambridge and made plans to pick up a loaf to try.

I was sent a text message on Thursday from my friend, telling me the bread had made its way through customs and some had been reserved for us! B and I headed over the Charles after work and were greeted warmly by our friends and shown into the kitchen were two quarter sourdough loafs of pain Poilâne were sitting patiently on the counter waiting to be devoured. Since the loafs are so big, the store cuts them up into quarter loaves (sufficient for 6 people) and sells them that way. The only disappointing thing about doing it this way was that we couldn't see the whole signature "P" carved into the bread.

To go with the pain Poilâne there was single-source acacia honey from France. As our friend explained to us, this means the bees used for this type of honey were kept in a specific area so the flavor of the honey would be distinctive of the acacia plant. The honey was delicious and had strong floral notes in it (I would later discover that honey + bread +butter + a dab of French sea salt make for a most remarkable combination).

As if the local French honey wasn't enough, our friend also purchased French butter. Now, I've had good butter and I've had good home-made butter, but this butter was just over-the-top delicious. Like, grab-me-a-spoon-cause-I'm-digging-in delicious. I finally understand Julia Child's life-long obsession with butter and wish to join her in that obsession. The butter (which you can buy at Formaggio) is called La Baratte des Gourmets (a demi-sel croquant de l'Ile de Re). Make sure to serve it at room temperature for optimum tasting. Onto the bread...

The pain Poilâne was delicious. Dense, moist, and full of flavor, it was excellent sourdough. The loaves themselves are just beautiful to look at and the taste matches its appearance. The bread alone is delicious, the bread with butter or honey is to-die-for. Since all sourdough is started off with a "mother sponge" (a piece of dough made from a previous loaf of uncooked sourdough) and each bakery starts off with their very own "mother sponge" each bakery produces a unique tasting sourdough. The pain we tasted was similar to San Francisco sourdoughs but at the same time, completely different. The sourdough's I've had in the past are usually filled with holes and not very dense. The pain Poilâne is more dense and darker in color but still has that tangy or sour taste that gives the dough it's name.

To accompany the food we had a delicious French wine called, "You are so nice". At first, our friend was a bit skeptical in buying a French wine with an English name but the recommendation from the Formaggio employee finally won out over his healthy New England skepticism. B discusses:

The wine was surprising and delicious. The nose was wonderful and bright, and I couldn't wait to taste it. To me, the attaque was fruity, the flavor full and somewhat peppery with a bit of a mineral finish. It was great. It was a French wine, but the label did not give us any hints as to where it was from or what the grapes were. Nevertheless, I'd definitely drink it again.

Overall, the evening was a success. The bread, honey, butter, wine, cheeses (I forgot to mention cheeses!) were all delicious. Bread over-nighted from Paris...what a wonderful treat!

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  1. Oh my this all sounds delicious! I'll have to see how much shipping to Andorra is ;-)

  2. Poilane is glorious! Thanks for sharing the post.