“If there is such a thing as baking royalty, Apollonia Poilâne might be its queen.” (ABC News)
Apollonia Poilâne is a baking icon. Her bread is so desirable it’s Fedexed direct from her Parisian ovens across the world to the likes of Ina Garten, Robert de Niro and Alice Waters – to name but a few.
So it’s safe to say Apollonia has a lot to share when it comes to baking bread!
But just how good is the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass? What will you actually learn? Is it right for you and is it worth your time and money?
These are some of the questions I’ll be addressing in this Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass review.
So let’s get started.
If you’re short on time, here’s the headlines:
- Bake in the Poilâne style and spirit
- Deploy a huge range of techniques for creating consistently wonderful loaves
- Create and nurture a sourdough starter
- Make a home kitchen version of the fabled miche Poilâne
- Create and bake a range of sourdough and yeast based breads
- Cook fabulous recipes with stale or dry bread as an ingredient
- Teaches a sensory approach to baking that’s adaptable to your home environment
- Lots of amazing tips and tricks to perfect your baking
- Clear, concise and well planned delivery
- Includes simple yet delicious recipes that make use of dry or stale bread as an ingredient
- May not be advanced enough for very experienced bakers
- Needs to be more clearly advertised as a home kitchen based course
- Non dairy or vegan alternatives are not considered
Course length: 17 video lessons totalling 3 hours and 35 minutes
Best for: Anyone who wants to learn the science and art of bread baking from one of the best bakers in the world. Especially beginner or intermediate bakers. More experienced bakers who are fans of Apollonia will also benefit from an insight into baking with the Poilâne spirit.
Overall: Apollonia teaches an intuitive approach to bread baking—an approach that has set Poilâne apart from other bakeries since 1932. As well as learning how to make a range of sourdough and yeast based breads, you will learn how to cook with bread as an ingredient. She also shares the philosophies, stories and secrets gleaned from the family’s nine decades of bread baking.
Now for my more detailed review, here’s what I’ll be covering:
- A look inside the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass
- Pros and cons of the course
- Is the content unique?
- Is there anything better?
- Verdict: Is the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass worth it?
But first the basics:
About Apollonia Poilâne
If you don’t know who Apollonia Poilâne is, chances are you’re not French!
The dark, crusty artisan loaves emerging from her boulangeries are so popular, 200,000 a year are FedExed fresh from the oven to more than twenty countries around the globe.
The signature Poilâne loaf, known as miche Poilâne, contains no yeast. Fermentation occurs due to the addition of sourdough from the previous batch. In that sense, every loaf is descended from the first one baked by Apollonia’s grandfather in 1932.
So miche Poilâne is bread with a story and a heritage. And that is what gives it its unique look, texture, sound, smell and flavor.
Apollonia took the reins of the family business at the tender age of 18 following the tragic death of her parents.
Testimony to her success is that Poilâne is now an international business grossing over $18 million a year with four additional retail outlets (one in London) and nearly 200 employees.
As well as this, Apollonia has created a thriving online business, ”so the most fervent fans can have Poilâne breads overnighted, as Ina Garten, Martha Stewart and a range of restaurants from Europe to L.A. often do.” (Vogue Magazine)
And if you haven’t already checked it out, I highly recommend you watch the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass trailer:
MasterClass is one of the most popular online learning platforms out there.
Two things set it apart from its competitors:
- Extremely high production values, and
- Its instructors have achieved global celebrity status due to their accomplishments in their fields of expertise
The MasterClass philosophy is that we all deserve access to genius, the right to learn from the very best.
Inside the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass
“Baking at home, putting your hands in flour, getting a feel for the dough, seeing your bread rise in a basket and bake in the oven, is a one of a kind experience. One you must do in your lifetime.”
Apollonia Poilâne’s MasterClass comes in at just over three and half hours of viewing time. It consists of:
- 17 lessons which are mostly between 15-20 minutes long
- Access to an online community of fellow students
- An 58 page workbook containing all the recipes from the MasterClass as well as equipment lists, a history both of bread making and the Poilâne family, and more
I always print the workbook out and annotate it to help me remember key points and get to grips with the content more thoroughly.
I’ve broken down Apollonia’s MasterClass into 7 key sections:
- Meet your instructor
- Baking À La Poilâne
- Sourdough breads
- Yeast breads
- Bread cooking
- Bread as art
- Rye Sablés
To give you an idea of what to expect, I’ve summarized these below:
Section 1/7: Meet your instructor
“I want to give a sense and feel for what it is to bake in our style and with our spirit”.
This MasterClass opens with footage of Apollonia cycling through deserted Parisian streets.
As she arrives to open her Boulangerie in the wee small hours of the morning you will:
- Get to experience where Apollonia began her bread baking journey
- Understand how growing up in a bake house shaped her destiny
- Learn a little of the history of Boulangerie Poilâne and its long tradition of baking artisanal sourdough loaves
- Share in the moving story of how Apollonia came to take the reins of the business
- Find out what sets Boulangerie Poilâne apart from all other bakeries
- Make breads using sourdough and yeast
- Use bread as an ingredient in other dishes
- And, most importantly, “how to attune your senses to what it is that makes the perfect loaf”
And don’t worry, you don’t need a specialist wood fired oven for this course. This MasterClass is adapted for a home kitchen.
Section 2/7: Baking À La Poilâne
“There’s always a fine line in my world of baking between science and art. Feeling and precision.”
Apollonia introduces you to the fundamental thinking behind baking in the Poilâne style.
You will learn:
- About the vital role of the senses in baking à la Poilâne
- Why there are so few measuring tools in the Poilâne bakery
- Tips for buying the best flours and ingredients
- What equipment you need
- The importance of adapting your techniques to your environment
As this MasterClass is designed for the homebaker Apollonia explains that there will be more focus on measurement than would be the case in her bakery.
After all, her apprentices take nine months to master the art of attuning their senses to the art of baking bread. And of course they devote themselves to the task all day, every day on a grand scale.
It was super helpful that Apollonia set this out at the start as it sets expectations for the rest of the course.
I had noted, in my research for this MasterClass, a criticism that Apollonia wasn’t sharing the ‘Poilâne secret’. This lesson makes it clear that that ‘secret’ can only be developed in a lengthy apprenticeship under a master baker.
However, what you will gain from this MasterClass is experience with a variety of different bakes.
These will help you accumulate knowledge and build a mental library that you can nurture till you arrive at the ‘secret’ to baking beautiful bread in your own time and in your own environment.
Section 3/7: Sourdough breads
“Today is the starting point for your journey creating sourdough.”
The first section focuses on sourdough breads. And Apollonia gets the ball rolling by demonstrating how to make a French ‘at-home’ starter.
You’ll find out:
- About the richness and heritage that a sourdough starter lends to breads
- The core ingredients and equipment needed
- Practical tips for using your senses to successfully build and maintain your starter for future use
- Why things may go awry, and what to do if that happens
Apollonia uses yogurt to boost her starter and makes it clear that this is not an ingredient used in the bakery.
This makes sense as once a sourdough is made, it is kept in perpetuity. So the sourdough used in Boulangerie Poilâne has its roots in the 1930s when Apollonia’s grandfather started the business.
I say this because a sourdough purist may be shocked at the addition of yogurt. If that’s you – you probably already have a sourdough starter and don’t need to start one from scratch anyway!
However, it would have been nice to know how to get started without yogurt and this is, perhaps, a shortcoming for some.
Poilâne-Style wheat loaf
“The beauty of sourdough is that it has a distinctive flavor, it keeps your bread longer, it gives it a specific aromatic signature. But it’s a lot of work! And in choosing a sourdough method my grandfather made a choice that was harder, but just so much more rewarding because it has a story.”
Here, Apollonia focuses on making the bread that made Boulangerie Poilâne famous…
The country style wheat loaf or miche Poilâne.
In these two lessons you will find out:
- The ingredients for an ‘at home’ version of the Poilâne style wheat loaf
- Why you should use certain types of flour and salt
- What techniques Apollonia uses to mix, knead, shape and ‘give life’ to the dough
- How to adjust for your environment
- The influence of scoring on rising and how to score, bake, cool and store your loaf
- Tips for recognizing and correcting common baking issues
Apollonia points up that this is one of the hardest recipes she tackles in the MasterClass but that you don’t have to start with it. You can build confidence by trying some of the simpler loaves first.
She also makes it clear that she is using yeast to boost the starter – but that more experienced bakers can do without it.
I especially loved the side by side dough and loaf analysis. It made it super clear how to know when things have not quite worked, why and how to avoid those problems in the future.
In showing us these examples, Apollonia seeks to feed your mental library of what the right look, feel, scent and touch is. So that..
“Over the next couple of months or years that you practice your baking with my methodology, you will start developing this library of gestures, and attune your five senses as to how to bake a constant and beautiful loaf.”
“The real test when you’re baking your bread is to see how much you enjoy it with a little bit of butter on it…. Delicious!”
In this lesson Apollonia introduces you to the infinite possibilities for flavor in a rye bread. An often forgotten loaf.
The recipe uses the same sourdough starter as the wheat loaf. But in this session you will learn:
- The difference rye flour makes to a loaf
- How to use your senses to know when the texture of this dough is right
- Techniques for taking the dough through two rises
- How to score your particular dough correctly and why this matters
- Poilâne hacks for success at every stage of the process
Again, I liked that Apollonia clarified techniques she was using to help beginners, and steps that can be missed if you’re more experienced.
There were so many super useful tips – like how to prime and care for a new proofing basket. This was a feature of many lessons so a notebook might be helpful when watching these classes – or print out your workbook and annotate as you go.
Section 4/7: Yeast-based breads
Pain de mie
The second section of the courses focuses on yeast based breads.
First up: Pain de Mie which (with a light hand) is a bread with a cushiony, cloud like texture.
Apollonia explains why sourdough is not used as a starter for this very soft bread – in which the crumb is more important than the crust.
As it’s an easy bread to bake, there was nothing particularly revolutionary in this class.
However I did learn some really cool things like:
- Tricks for adding yeast to the mix to maximize fermentation
- How to add salt so that it doesn’t interfere with the action of the yeast
- The influence of mixed peppers (or other spices) on the mix
- Visual cues for knowing when your dough is correctly mixed and risen
- And that chocolate and pepper work well together!
My only criticism with this lesson is there is no discussion of whether it is possible to use plant based spreads as an alternative to butter. This despite there being quite a lot of time devoted to what specific butters to use.
This lesson is devoted to creating a rich brioche bread.
As a young apprentice, Apollonia worked on brioche every day as this delicate bread is tricky to get right.
In this lesson you will find out lots of Poilâne hacks for success as well as:
- Why making large batches of dough will give better results
- How and why you should use a stand alone mixer
- Why a light, delicate touch is key
- How (and why) you should cut, rather than slash the dough
Once again, it would have been nice to have considered non dairy, or vegan, alternative ingredients to the butter and egg.
However, I did a little research and used all Apollonia’s techniques for handling the dough, combined with a few ingredient substitutions. Here are my results:
I used apple cider vinegar to tenderise the gluten in the flour and olive oil instead of butter. Instead of the egg wash, I brushed the baked loaf with maple syrup.
I’m sure my success was mostly due to the techniques I gained from watching this MasterClass, including:
- How to add salt so it doesn’t interfere with the action of the yeast
- How to prepare and add the yeast to the mix
- The delicate touch – particularly with regard to the second rise
- Cutting rather than slashing the dough
Savoury corn flour bread
Here, Apollonia shares a recipe that was 10 years in the making. A gluten free, vegan loaf that she first experimented with as a student at Harvard.
She shares with us:
- The magical ingredients that make baking bread with 100% cornflour possible
- The visual cues for knowing when this unusual dough is ready
- The delicate touch you need to use to maintain the structure of this loaf
I loved the way Apollonia explained the ‘science’ behind her ingredient choice.
Understanding why things work the way they do provides you with the opportunity of experimenting yourself to take your bread baking to the next level.
Section 5/7: Bread cooking
“Most people think that dry bread is an unfortunate situation. I really view it as an opportunity to turn that dry bread into a new product.”
Here, Apollonia discusses the boundless versatility of bread and explains that it is not just a food, but also an ingredient.
Over the next six lessons you’ll learn how to make use of bread as an ingredient at every stage of its evolution. From fresh to stale. From crust to crumb. Eliminating waste and showing respect for the time and energy that’s gone into each loaf.
Apollonia shares techniques and recipes with bread at their heart. In each lesson she explains each technique, why it works and how to correct things if necessary:
- Quintessential sourdough wheat tartines (open sandwiches) using fresh bread – with hacks for perfect toasting
- Savory pain perdu (french toast) using dry bread – with a twist on the soaking recipe!
- Sourdough wheat and rye granola for a fabulous breakfast – using dry breadcrumbs instead of oats.
- Crouton Variations using stale bread – both oven dried and fried
- Apollonia’s reimagined Caesar Salad with marinated brioche croutons – in which the croutons are the star of the show
- Sourdough wheat pesto with an Apollonia twist – breadcrumbs, parsley and walnuts replace the parmesan, basil and pine nuts.
I loved the way every lesson encouraged experimentation. Apollonia describes most recipes as discretionary and encourages you to slowly figure out the proportions that suit your flavor palette best.
Section 6/7: Bread as art: decorating your loaves
Apollonia’s grandfather began a tradition of bartering loaves for paintings with the artists on the St Germain de Pres.
Her father’s friendship with Salvador Dali led to an interesting custom that can still be witnessed today in the back room of the original bakery.
This link between bread and art is present in all aspects of Poilâne baking, but none more so than in the intricate decorations that are fashioned by the Poilâne craftsmen and women in the bakery.
In this lesson, Apollonia teaches you how to use fortified bread dough as an art medium to make bread decorations that will retain their shape and not rise in the oven.
Section 7/7: Rye sablés
Apollonia’s MasterClass draws to a close with her teaching you how to make Poilâne’s signature grain based cookies.
And it’s encouraging to see that,â despite their heritage, these cookies are not above a good dunk in a cup of coffee!
As she bids us felicitations on completing the class, Apollonia hopes you’ll continue your baking journey and hopes that even if you have forgotten everything else, you’ll…
“Come back to your five senses, this is the way you are going to bake in the Poilâne spirit!”
What I liked about Apollonia Poilâne’s MasterClass
Teaches An Adaptable And Sensory Approach To Baking
Throughout this entire MasterClass, Apollonia reminds us to attune all our senses not just to the bread making process, but the environment in which it is taking place.
Becoming sensitive to touch, feel, smell, sound, visual cues and working temperatures makes you so much more aware of the chemistry – or alchemy – that is happening at your fingertips.
It helps to build a mental library and muscle memory that enables you to improve with each bake – and backtrack to work out where things may have gone awry.
Amazing tips to perfect your loaves
Apollonia is a 3rd generation baker and, as such, is sharing nine decades of baking experience with us.
She does know what works, and what doesn’t. And she is generous about her hard earned hacks that will enable you to avoid pitfalls and bake consistently great bread.
Delivery that makes everything clear
Apollonia’s body language and manner of speech draw you right in.
She is crisp and distinct and her delicate precise hand movements are filmed in such a way that give clarity to every gesture.
Versatile recipes to avoid waste and use dry/stale bread as an ingredient
Apollonia urges you to show respect for the time and energy that goes into baking a loaf by making use of it as an ingredient when it is dry or stale.
I loved the way she repurposed food that might otherwise be discarded. And that each recipe for ‘old bread’ encouraged experimentation and encouraged you to slowly figure out the proportions that suit your flavor palette best.
What I thought could be improved
May not be advanced enough for experienced bakers
It’s not easy to pitch an online class for a wide audience. More experienced bakers may find this class rather basic. In fact this was a criticism voiced by a few (see the section: What Others Have Said).
An example of this is that Apollonia demonstrates how to make a sourdough starter using yogurt to boost fermentation. This is not something that would happen in her bakery and sourdough purists would not dream of adding yogurt.
Needs to be more clearly advertised as a home based kitchen course
If you take this course expecting to duplicate the breads that leave Boulangerie Poilâne, you will be disappointed.
I deal with this more thoroughly in the section: What Others Have Said.
However, in summary Apollonia’s bakers are masters, are using heritage sourdough and are baking 50-100 loaves at a time in wood fired ovens. At home you may be baking with a new sourdough in very different circumstances!
This course really teaches how every infinitesimal part of the bread making process and environment influences the outcome so you must moderate your expectations if you are going to take this MasterClass!
Inconsistency in measurements
In the Boulangerie Poilâne measurements are not used.
But Apollonia advises you to be precise about these at home until you are very experienced. She even advocates using a digital scale.
Sadly, in the workbook, not all ingredients are given in grams. Some are given in cups or by volume. The workbook needs to be edited to avoid having to spend extra time on conversion so that a digital scale can be used as directed!
No non dairy or vegan alternatives given
Food allergies are an issue and Veganism is becoming increasingly popular.
So at least in the workbook (if not in the video lessons themselves) it would be helpful to have non dairy or vegan alternatives listed.
Who is the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass for?
In my opinion this class would be a good fit for anyone who can tick one or more of the following boxes:
- Fans of Apollonia Poilâne or anyone who wants to learn the subtle art of bread baking from the very best
- Beginner or intermediate bakers. The course tackles simple and more complex bakes so makes the perfect starting point for beginners or those wishing to improve their techniques
- More experienced bakers who are seeking some insight into the Poilâne philosophy and methodology
- Those with an all access MasterClass pass and a culinary passion
In terms of existing knowledge? On a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is a newbie and 10 is an experienced baker) I would rate this course as suitable for those who fall between 1-7.
This class will not suit someone who wants to replicate exactly the fabled Poilâne breads. To do that you will need to get an apprenticeship at one of her bakeries!
How much does the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass cost?
MasterClass pricing may have changed since this review was written, so for the latest purchasing information please check here.
At the time of writing, a MasterClass subscription costs $180 per year – or $15 a month.
With the subscription, you have access to all the 90+ courses on MasterClass for a full year.
The great thing about this offering is that the more classes you take, the less the cost per class is.
For example, if you’re able to find at least 4-6 classes you like, it means you’re effectively paying $30-$45 per course. ($180 / 6 classes = $30).
Bearing in mind that these classes are taught by world experts the value is unbeatable. It’s sort of a way to hack learning.
What’s more, MasterClass also offers a 30 day refund if you’re unhappy with your purchase.
If you want to buy the course individually, gifting is currently the only way to do this. It’s a tad tricky to do so follow our MasterClass gift guide here. The price then is $90.
However, arguably the best value is with the All-Access pass, especially considering the range of cooking classes that are complimentary course to this one.
Is there anything better than the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass?
The closest alternative to Apollonia’s MasterClass on the same platform is the Dominique Ansell Class on French Pastry Fundamentals.
But if you’re interested in cooking in general, there are loads of amazing chefs on MasterClass:
Other platforms offering a variety of bread baking courses include Udemy and the Online Baking Academy. Both of which offer much shorter courses on specific bread types – and with less illustrious bakers.
Your other alternative is YesChef which is an online learning platform focused 100% on cooking.
What others have said
No review would be complete without taking a look at what others have said about this MasterClass.
At the time of writing, the course had only been out for a couple of weeks, however, some class participants and future participants had things to say.
Reactions were, on the whole, positive but there were some negative comments and I’d like to speak to these first.
“I was hoping to learn how to make Poilâne bread. A bread that earned its fame for being made with 100% sourdough! There is not even one recipe for the Poilâne sourdough bread… it’s really disappointing!”
In my opinion this is an unfair criticism. The first bread you are shown how to bake is the classic Poilâne loaf – but with some adjustments for inexperienced bakers. This includes using yogurt to activate her sourdough starter and yeast to aid fermentation of the dough.
Apollonia states clearly that you don’t need to do either of these things if you feel confident or daring enough not to! And the workbook sets out how to create this bread without yogurt or yeast.
On top of this there are factors involved in baking a true Poilâne loaf that you just can’t replicate in your kitchen – unless you have some Poilâne heritage sourdough starter and a woodburning stove capable of baking 100 loaves together!
This next criticism I have a little more sympathy with:
“Love Ms. Poilâne’s class. However after 5 years of baking bread it is very silly to list some ingredients in cups and other ingredients in grams in the same recipe. This is so undesirable. Jumping back and forth ruins and adds work to the process”
The problem of mixed measurements is something I drew attention to earlier in the ‘cons’ section. Apollonia specifically encourages you to be precise about measurements – especially if you are a novice baker. And strongly advises you to use digital scales!
Yet the workbook mixes gram measurements with cups and spoons.
This issue could easily be dealt with by edits of the workbook and hopefully, with the community commenting on it like this, MasterClass will pick up on this and rectify the issue.
Other than that, the feedback in the community is positive with this being fairly typical:
“I think it is one of the best MasterClasses and best instructors I’ve viewed so far. She is incredibly clear, looks at so many details. I consider myself to be a quite advanced sourdough baker and still have learned a TON of things with Apollonia.”
And the thread inviting you to share a pic of the bread you’ve made from this class is well populated with successful bakes!
Is the content unique?
In a word, no, the content itself isn’t so unique. Most of the recipes in the MasterClass can be found in Apollonia’s book – Poilâne:The Secrets of the World Famous Bread Bakery.
While the content isn’t wholly unique, the class as a whole is.
Not everyone wants to learn from a cookbook and in the class, you’ll get a wealth of tips and hacks that give you that extra level of confidence.
And since the secret of baking à la Poilâne is sensory awareness, you can simply get far more from watching and hearing Apollonia in action than you can from the pages of a book.
What you will need
- Dough scraper
- Digital Scales
- Hand mixer
- Loaf pans
- Pastry brush
- Sharp kitchen scissors
- Mixing bowls
- Proofing basket
- Greaseproof or parchment paper
Good to have:
- Cocotte or Dutch oven
- Stand mixer
- Food processor
Verdict: Is the Apollonia Poilâne MasterClass worth it?
In a word: yes.
Apollonia Poilâne is a third generation baker who stands on the shoulders of baking giants. Her bread is transported around the world and has a litany of celebrity fans.
She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to baking bread.
That said, if you are already a very experienced bread baker you may decide that there’s just not enough that’s new in this course – other than perhaps some very specific Poilâne techniques and hacks.
You’re not going to replicate exactly the bread that has given Poilâne such global fame. For that you’d need access to the heritage Poilane sourdough, a nine month apprenticeship and a wood fired oven big enough for 100 loaves.
However you will experience a variety of different bakes (including the signature miche Poilâne) and build a mental library that you can nurture till you arrive at the ‘secret’ to baking beautiful bread in your own time and in your own environment.
I loved taking this class and I’m delighted with the quality of the bread that I’m now making. There’s nothing like a beautifully baked bread just out of the oven to enjoy with family and friends.
And with over 90 other courses to choose from (including 15 food related courses) I challenge you not to find at least three other classes you could do alongside this one!
And, with the 30 day refund policy what have you got to lose?
Frequently Asked Questions
A MasterClass all access annual pass is $180. This will give you access to all 90+ classes (and their resources) for 12 months.
It consists of 17 video lessons totalling 3 hours and 35 minutes.
No, but MasterClass offers a range of purchasing options and refunds if you’re not satisfied.
Yes, MasterClass offers a 30 day full refund policy.