A Baker’s Extraordinary Tale

Kristina’s Bookshelf

Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery
By Apollonia Poilâne
(Houghton Mifflin, 2019)

As the seasons change, so too do the fresh foods filling market bins. Fall brings a dozen different kinds of apples; bright orange persimmons; corrugated, thick-skinned delicata squash; and the new, unfiltered olive oil called olio nuovo, which comes along only at the start of the olive-pressing season.

I received a special bottle of Estate Olio Nuovo from Séka Hills in Capay Valley—part of a limited quantity harvested and milled in mid-October. The silky green oil tastes bright and fresh, and smells of many different fruits, vegetables, and herbs, much like a nuanced glass of wine. Those flavors and scents seem to change and evolve after the bottle is opened, but this fresh, unfiltered product should be used right away.

Fortunately, this has not been a challenging assignment. I’ve drizzled the oil over apples, persimmons, and roasted delicata squash, onto salads, sautéed greens, and fresh pasta. But what I enjoyed most was to have it simply on a piece of toasted, thick-crusted bread with a twist of ground black pepper and a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

Those inspired to make their own bread to accompany the new olive oils may want to explore a new cookbook celebrating the famous bread bakery, Poilâne. Founded in 1932, the family-owned business shapes every loaf of sourdough bread by hand and bakes each in the wood-fired oven. Alice Waters, in the forward to the book, claims that all of the good bread now available in the United States exists in part thanks to Poilâne.

More than just offering a collection of recipes and lovely photographs, the author and bakery owner, Apollonia Poilâne, also shares her own story. In the introduction, the third-generation baker explains how she took over the family business at age 18 after her parents were killed in a helicopter crash. A freshman at Harvard at the time, she completed her degree in economics while running the bakery from overseas. After college, she returned to Paris and continued to build the bakery into the institution it is today.

Besides bread recipes, the book includes breakfast offerings like a Cardamom-Ginger-Swirled Brioche Feuilletée (a puff pastry with sweet filling), recipes with bread as an ingredient, like a Beet Salad with Roquefort and Dukkah Croutons, and sweets like Saffron and Lemon Baba au Rhum and Arlettes (cinnamon-sugar cookies). You’ll also find croissant puddings stuffed with sliced fruits, as well as many salads and other dishes made from grains like rice, corn, barley, oats, and millet.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables, olive oil, sourdough breads, an absorbing cookbook—altogether a perfect combination of ingredients to occupy you during these lovely fall days. Excellent gifts too!

Edible East Bay’s book editor Kristina Sepetys is eager to share her ideas and book recommendations with our readers.