Let me tell you about one of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced in Paris…

It involves a cave, a little old man, and (the best part) bread!

I was very newly pregnant with my son, and I was taking a last hurrah trip to Paris. I was a flight attendant at the time, so I got wicked-cheap tickets. We’re talking scandalous. And we even went Business Class. Mmmm, delicious!

I took my mom, my best friend, and her mom. Girls only. Well, except for my little nugget– he was the only boy, but he was in utero and not even the size of a peanut yet, so he was allowed. ūüėČ

Anyway, we had beaucoup¬†adventures on that trip, which I plan to tell you more about. But today, I want to tell you about¬†Poilane.¬†It’s a bakery (boulongerie) but it’s not just any bakery. It’s THE boulongerie. It’s a third generation bakery that still bakes the old fashioned way. Let me show you…

So, here we are, four Americans in Paris, four women who each have had our love affairs with France, four women who were there to soak it all in. We’d heard about Poilane and were excited to go there and pick up a warm, fresh, chewy, yeasty, crusty¬†boule¬†of bread. But, oh, what we got was so much more.

We were lucky enough to visit when the bakery was quiet. There was only a couple people in front of us, and we perused the offerings while we waited impatiently. I’m sure, despite our best efforts to “look French”, we stood out as foreign tourists immediately. The kind woman behind the counter looked to us and said in French, “Would you like to see the ovens?” My best friend and I both knew the language, and enthusiastically nodded our heads YES!!! She gestured to us to follow her, and we eagerly obeyed.

She led us through a doorway and down a narrow and winding staircase. Where we were going, we could only guess. The ovens were in the dungeon? Well, ok then… Soon, we reached the bottom and it was immediately obvious that our trust in this woman was being rewarded. In front of us were shelves upon shelves of fresh dough and steaming bread loaves. Between these shelves was a woodfire oven and a little old man. He raised a hand in salutation and began to speak.

He had been a baker all his life, and it was clear he took great pride in his work. The cave makes the bread, he told us. The moisture, the natural yeast in the air…it all combines to make the bread for us. Every day creates a different loaf, nature decides what the bread will taste like. He believed he was simply the facilitator for this amazing process. As he spoke, we were all fixated on his appearance: small, attired in a traditional baker’s apron, and covered from head to toe in flour. Yes, covered in flour as if he’d taken a bath in it. Even his eyelashes were thick and white– coated in flour! He looked more like a cartoon character than a real person. He was the bread fairy, right there in front of us! We were under his spell.

When he finished his speech, we heartily thanked him and left him to his work. Ascending the stairs, we were speechless. Did that just happen? Were we just invited into a subterranean oven? Did we just learn the secrets of French bread from the Lord of Dough? It was amazing. It was magical.

So let me just leave you with this– they say that “man cannot live on bread alone.” But I assure you, Woman Can!

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  1. Incredible! On my trip to Lyon, an English-speaking friend of my B&B propri√©taire Marc was a lovely man named Patrick. He invited me to see the bakery where he worked as the ma√ģtre, before I left. Knowing nothing about it, I woke up at dawn on my last day there and followed my host Marc (he on roller blades, me on a rented bike) to the very tip of the old town island of Lyon. We stepped into the still-dark building, past the empty bakery display cases, into the bakery itself. An enormous, old-fashioned, wood-fired brick bread oven was blazing away, and Patrick, dressed in baggy white shorts and t-shirt, no apron, was nearly dancing through the hot, floury space with fast but steady, practiced movements. He demonstrated how the ovens worked, showed me the baskets for rising boules, and I watched him slash the tops of dozens of baguettes with a razor before loading them into the stone hearth on an 8-foot wooden peel. He then asked how I liked my baguettes – crispy crust or softer? He packed up one of each, plus a boule for good measure, then they sent me on my way back to Paris. I arrived back at my friend Julie’s and told her the story, pulling out the wrapped loaves. When she saw the Poil√Ęne bags, she screeched! Though I had no idea at the time that he was an actual big deal, I had spent my morning witnessing the master baker of Poil√Ęne Lyon in action. I am thrilled that the Paris version of the experience is shared by someone I know!

    1. That is such a wonderful story, I love that you got to see the “magic” in action! It’s really a special memory for me, as I can see it is for you. Thank you for sharing your story! J’aime le pain francias!

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