If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know that walnut bread is my favourite bread in the world. It's hard to get by in Belgium, so I was really happy when I found Poilâne walnut bread at Waitrose back in 2011 when I started living in London. I used to buy a small loaf every weekend, as a little treat. When my mom came to visit me in London, we'd go to the Poilâne bakery near Sloane Square to catch up over coffee and cake. Poilâne holds a special place in my heart thanks to these little traditions, so I couldn't be happier to share with you their latest bakery opening, right here in Belgium.
The brand new bakery is located in Wijnegem, a short drive from the centre of Antwerp. It's located in Axel Vervoordt's new redevelopment project which has lofts, work- and art spaces and a fresh market. But only a bakery can give that homely feeling to a community, which is why this is the perfect spot for Belgium's first Poilâne bakery.
The Poilâne story starts with in 1932 with Pierre Poilâne, who opens a bakery in the heart of Saint-German Des Prés in Paris, where he bakes traditional French sourdough bread in a wood-fired oven. In 1970 his son Lionel takes over the business and since 2002 his daughter Apollonia is at the head of the family business. All this time, the way the bread is made has remained unchanged, and the sourdough recipe is still a family secret.
Poilâne's philosophy is to take the best methods from the past and combine them with new advances ("retro-innovation" as they call it), while always focusing on quality over quantity. While Apollonia shows us around the bakery, she explains the steps for making their world-famous sourdough bread, the Poilâne miche, which takes 6 hours to make from start to finish. It all starts with a simple mixture of flour, sea salt, mineral water and a piece of naturally leaved dough from the previous batch (the starter). Since sourdough is kind of a living thing, which is passed on from batch to batch, the loaves that are baked at Poilâne today are direct descendants from the first ever miche backed by Pierre Poilâne in the 1930's.
When the dough is ready, the baker manually tears off pieces and kneads them, before transferring to floured linen baskets where they are left to prove. Before the loaves go into the oven, the baker carves a P-shape on each loaf, which is Poilâne's famous signature. Everything from the croissants to the bread is baked in the wood-fired oven, which fits 100 miche's at a time.
After listening to Apollonia's explanations and anecdotes, it was time to get to work and customise our own bread rolls. The Parisian bakers showed us how to make the little figures they use to decorate the bread. You can order your own customised bread which would make a perfect gift for any food-lover!
I've always struggled to cut bread properly, but I think that with Apollonia's tips I can nail it every time now. The secret? Cut the miche in half, turn it with the "cut side" facing down to form a steady base and then slice while holding the loaf at arm's length. Only slice as much as you'll be eating, since sliced bread dries out quicker.
This is the kind of bread that's so good it doesn't need anything, but who can say no to cheese from Van Tricht (the best cheese you can get in Belgium), French butter and some cashew-based vegan dips from Frecious? A well-deserved meal after our hard labour!
The walnut bread is by far my favourite from the range. It's chewy and semi-crunchy thanks to the walnuts. The secret to the shiny golden crust is to put a heat-proof bowl with water in the oven while the bread bakes.
Although Poilâne focuses on bread, there are a few other delicious options such as their punitions cookies, edible forks and spoons (perfect for a sweet coffee break), apple pie, granola and of course the classic French croissants, brioche & pains au chocolat.
I left Poilâne with lots of insider knowledge of Poilâne's world famous bread and a bag filled with sourdough - still warm from the oven. I couldn't have more respect for what Apollonia has done with the family business; keeping its core values and traditions while still growing as a global brand. And now we're lucky enough to have a Poilâne bakery in Antwerp! My favourites are the miche which you can even buy by the slice, the walnut bread and the dark rye bread. If you love bread, you're going to love this! Find them at