Cuisine Fiend

poilane style sourdough


Poilane style miche

Poilâne is the legendary, best-in-the-world loaf of bread. This epitome of artisan traditional loaf, made all by hand, was developed by Pierre and then his son Lionel Poilâne in a Parisian boulangerie in 1930s. 

Pain Poilâne is all about stoneground flour, natural fermentation and wood-fired oven. Lacking the last element, I can’t very well say I’ve made pain Poilâne – and anyway I believe the recipe is a bit of a secret squirrel, in the league with Sacher, Coca-Cola and KFC crispy breadcrumbs (okay – I KNOW the other two are not in the same league as Sacher).  

What is known is that it uses stoneground whole wheat flour, but with some of the bran sieved off, just to be extra pernickety in a Parisian way. There is an addition of spelt flour too, and the salt used should be grey Normandy. My version has a little rye as well, after Breadtopia’s excellent instructions.  

Poilane sourdough loaf

What is also known is that each next loaf is leavened with a little ‘old dough’ which in my Poilâne excitement I completely forgot to put aside. But not all is lost – the bread is truly so tasty I’m sure to make more and reserve a chunk for future then. 

poilane style sourdough


  • For the starter: (evening of day 1)
  • 200g water
  • 120g sourdough starter, rye or wheat (mine was rye, refreshed a day before)
  • 236g wholemeal flour
  • For the main dough: (morning of day 2)
  • 274g water
  • 85g light rye flour
  • 170g whole or white spelt flour
  • 13g salt (Normandy or Guérande if you can get it)
  • 250g strong white bread flour plus more for dusting and kneading


On the evening of day 1 mix all the ingredients together with a dough whisk or a large spoon. If your sourdough is thick, dilute it in the water first, then add to the flour. Place it in a bowl (it won’t rise much), cover with cling film and leave at room temperature for 12 hours.

On the morning of the next day add the water to your starter and mix well. Add the rye and spelt flours, the salt and almost all of the white flour and mix in - it will now have to be kneaded by hand or in the standing mixer with a dough hook (which is cheating!). When the dough has formed a ball, the standing mixer won’t do – dust the work surface lightly with extra flour and knead by hand for about 10 minutes. It should still be slightly sticky to the tough but look smooth and elastic. Oil a large (it will roughly double in volume) bowl lightly, place the dough in and turn it around to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge for 24 hours.

Poilane miche proving

After that time (on the morning of day 3) remove the dough from the fridge first thing as it will take about 5 hours to warm up and start rising. Turn it out onto the work surface and shape into a ball, tighten the dough surface by dragging the ball on the worktop towards you with your palms cupped underneath it. Generously flour a large banneton or a proving basket and place the dough in it seam side up. Dust the top with more flour, cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warmish place for 4 ½ - 5 hours, until risen by about a half.

Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/gas 8 with a baking cloche or stone, or a large cast iron casserole inside. When the dough has proved, remove the dish or stone from the oven, carefully turn the loaf into the dish, score the top with a lame or a serrated knife, place the lid on and return to the oven. If you bake on a stone, spray the oven with water when the bread’s gone in.

Bake for 25 minutes, then take the lid off and bake it for further 20 minutes – the internal temperature, when ready, will be 100C/200F. Cool on a wire rack.    

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