As a child, [Apollonia Poilâne](https://www.masterclass.com/classes/apollonia-poilane-teaches-bread-baking) wanted to be a baker in the morning, like her father, and an architect in the afternoon, like her mother. At 16, she began apprenticing at the bakery that bore her name. In 2002, when she was 18 years old, both of her parents, Lionel and Irena “Ibu” Poilâne, a Polish-American architect and designer, were killed in a helicopter crash in Western France. The next day, Apollonia, with her younger sister Athena still in high school, took over operations of Poilâne. \n\nShe decided to attend Harvard University the following year, as planned while running the bakery from her dorm room in Cambridge. She had bread overnighted to her every Monday and flew to Paris once a month for important meetings.\n\nApollonia carried on the traditions of her father and grandfather, using the same recipes and the same 80-plus-year-old [sourdough starter](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/apollonia-poilane-sourdough-starter-recipe) to produce Poilâne’s artisan breads. But Apollonia has also put her own stamp on the family business: She developed the bakery’s first gluten-free offering, published a cookbook showcasing bread’s potential as an ingredient in other recipes, and ushered Poilâne into the social media age.\n\nPoilâne loaves are shipped worldwide, with loyal customers from New York to Californai placing orders for bread direct from Paris. Apollonia now oversees 160 employees at five locations across Paris and London.\n\nThe story of Poilâne begins in 1932, more than a half-century before Apollonia was born. That’s when her grandfather, Pierre Poilâne, opened a boulangerie at 8 Rue du Cherche-Midi, in the bohemian St. Germain-des-Prés district of Paris’s Left Bank.\n\n- __Pierre’s sourdough snags the hearts of artists__. The first bread Pierre sold was the kind he grew up eating in Normandy: a rustic sourdough loaf the size of a large pottery wheel. Skinny [baguettes](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/classic-french-baguette-recipe-learn-how-to-make-baguettes-at-home) made from refined white flour and commercial yeast were the trend in Paris at the time. But Pierre’s miche found its audience with starving artists, who appreciated the sourdough bread’s longer shelf life. Local bistro owners also found the loaf’s dense crumb ideal for tartines (open-faced sandwiches). When the Left Bank became a tourist destination, celebrities like Frank Sinatra stopped in, while actors Lauren Bacall and Robert De Niro had loaves shipped from Paris.\n- __Pierre’s son Lionel enters the family business__. The Parisian bakery’s popularity, especially among the glitterati, ramped up when Pierre’s son, Lionel, entered the family business. As a teen, he’d been a reluctant apprentice, but in his early 20s, he had an epiphany. If he couldn’t leave the oven to see the world, he could bring the world to his oven at the bakehouse. Lionel took over Poilâne in the early 1970s and forever changed the popular image of a baker. He collected (and wrote) books about bread history and culture and maintained a dapper wardrobe while traveling the world. He once built an entire bedroom out of bread for Salvador Dalí. (A replica bread chandelier still hangs in the Poilâne offices as an homage.) He insisted that the old traditions of breadmaking were an art form worth preserving.\n- __Lionel opens La Manufacture Poilâne__. Lionel oversaw the bakery’s transformation from a beloved French institution to an international powerhouse. In the 1980s, he enlisted Ibu, his wife, to draw up plans for a new baking facility. It would be located in Bièvres, about 30 minutes outside Paris. Called La Manufacture Poilâne, this location featured 24 wood-fired ovens—all replicas of the one at Rue du Cherche-Midi—arranged in a circle around a stock-pile of logs. Each oven was tended by one baker, who shaped each loaf by hand. The Manufacture allowed Poilâne to expand the business without sacrificing handmade quality.\n\nKnown as a fiercely devoted traditionalist in the world of boulangers, Apollonia favors the engagement—and satisfaction—of the five senses over trends or flash. Color, smell, sound, taste, and texture are the critical signposts of a Poilâne loaf, which is why she still makes time to personally inspect one loaf from each of the 24 ovens at La Manufacture each day. (Even the ovens at La Manufacture have no thermometers; the heat is gauged by placing small strips of paper in the mouth of the oven and observing how quickly they brown.) \n\nAs a third-generation baker with an international reputation to uphold, there is a distilled simplicity to Apollonia’s approach to breadmaking and a loyalty to what came before. As such, each bread occupies a singular place and purpose on the menu. Fresh breads should effortlessly complement the meal—not steal it. \n\nIn October 2020, Apollonia released an English-language cookbook dedicated to the philosophies and techniques of Poilâne. Intended for skilled and novice bakers alike, *Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery* includes recipes for most of the boulangerie’s iconic offerings (most notably, the hefty, hearty miche that first brought them acclaim so long ago, along with other favorites and soft, pillowy [brioche](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/french-brioche-recipe-from-apollonia-poilane)). The cookbook also helps readers curate a relationship with bread—how to make perfect toast, [croutons](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-make-homemade-croutons), or pesto bolstered by bread crumbs and extending the life of a loaf through proper storage. \n\nIn an era when so many have turned to bread baking as a mode of self-discovery and empowerment, *Poilâne*, with its foreword by fellow essentialist [Alice Waters](https://www.masterclass.com/classes/alice-waters-teaches-the-art-of-home-cooking), is one of the best new cookbooks for any bread lover.\n\nWe’ve got you covered. All you knead (see what we did there?) is The [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com), some water, flour, salt, and yeast, and our exclusive lessons from Apollonia Poilâne—Paris’s premiere bread maker and one of the earliest architects of the artisanal bread movement. Roll up your sleeves and get baking. \nLearn about acclaimed baker Apollonia Poilâne’s approach to breadmaking and the beginnings of the Poilâne family business in Paris.