For most Americans, bread is something that keeps your sandwich from being a mess or maybe a nice little addition to a bacon and eggs breakfast. But in France, bread is much more than that; it's an integral part of the culture. I was lucky enough today to go on a tour of the Poilâne bakery, a family owned business dating back to the 1930s that is known in Paris and far flung places around the globe for its large round crusty loaves of dark sourdough bread. We watched as Felix, the sole bread baker on the premises in the shop on rue du Cherche-Midi, mixed the dough, put it into a large wooden cart to rise, apportioned it into linen lined wicker baskets to rise a second time, stoked up the wood burning oven, deftly cut a stylized P in the top of each loaf, and used a long wooden paddle to put 45 loaves into the brick oven. The heat was something else and the smell was heavenly.
You can order this bread online and have it shipped FedEx to the U.S. but be prepared to pay megabucks for the shipping. The family recently opened a shop in London though and you can also enjoy tartines, French open faced sandwiches, on Poilâne bread, at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and LA.