A lesson in baking from Apollonia Poilâne

The CEO of the iconic Poilâne bakery shares her story alongside a recipe for crunchy melba toasts

Written by Clara Strunck March 31, 2021

For Apollonia Poilâne, going into the family baking business was not so much a choice as a calling. ‘I started working at the bakery basically from birth, when my parents decided to use a bread basket as my crib!’ she laughs. ‘More seriously, I started working at Poilâne when I was five or six, when I learnt how to count by giving change to our clients.’ Growing up, Apollonia always expected to take over the iconic Parisian bakery, founded by her grandfather in 1932. Sadly, she took the reins much earlier than expected at the age of 18, when her parents passed away in a helicopter accident.

Now 36, Apollonia has turned Poilâne into a household name across the world, counting Ina Garten and Martha Stewart as fans of the company’s exquisite, traditionally made bread. ‘I feel such incredible pride at being in charge of this family business,’ she says. ‘Most of my friends are on job number two or three. I feel like I’m on job 20! On my resume I only have one line, yet it feels like so much more than that: I work at the bakery, I write books, I do research. I never feel fatigue, or the need to do something different.’

Like everything else Apollonia turns her hand to, the Poilâne cookbook (which was released in the UK last year) was an immediate success. ‘I actually really like writing, it’s a fun process,’ she says. One of her favourite recipes from the book is this one, a simplified version of melba toasts. ‘They’re perfect for all kinds of dips, or to dunk into hot soups,’ she says. ‘They can be easily flavoured with a sprinkling of fresh herbs – I especially like finely chopped rosemary – or by using a flavoured oil or rubbing the dried slices with a clove of garlic. People are often looking for something no-fuss to make, but that really makes a difference and looks nice. If you’re spending a lot of time on your table, you want something that looks good as well!

Ingredients

  • Poilâne-style sourdough or rye bread, very thinly sliced
  • A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 120C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Spread out the bread slices in a single layer on the baking sheet and drizzle lightly with oil.
  • Bake, flipping once, until dry and cracker-like, which 30 to 45 minutes (the timing will vary depending on thickness).
  • Let the toasts cool, then break them into pieces, of whatever the size you like.
  • The bread chips will keep for two to three weeks in an airtight container.

Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery by Apollonia Poilâne can be purchased here

Photos supplied by Baudouin and Philippe Vaurès Santamaria