When most people think of French bread, they probably think of a long, white crispy baguette — the kind you find in almost every market in France. But actually, traditional French bread is not the slender, crispy type, but rather round, dark, sourdough loaves; it wasn’t until after World War II that Parisiennes started to prefer the white bread, in opposition to the dark flour loaves they had to eat during the war.
Pierre Poilâne opened his first bread shop in Paris in 1932 selling the traditional French sourdough loaves. He baked his bread using stone-ground flour, sea salt from Guérande, and a wood-fired oven. And despite the overall trend toward white baguettes, Poilâne flourished. Today, there are two bread shops in Paris and one in London, and the bread is supplied to retailers and restaurants across Europe. (You can read the whole history here.)
It is my most favorite bread — perfect for toasting, and great for sandwiches. I usually buy it from our local grocer, but it’s always fun to pay a visit to the Poilâne shop on Elisabeth Street in Southwest London, where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time and crossed the channel to a lovely old Parisian bakery…
The Poilâne shop is lovely, and truly a very French experience. You can buy the loaves whole, or in sections, and they’ll slice it for you if you want. They also sell the most divine raisin bread, jams and other little treats, but the emphasis is certainly (and deservedly) on the sourdough bread.