I love baguettes. For me, they are the epitome of bread, and Pain de Epi is just another variation, and perhaps the most visually appealing, of the famous French loaf family.
Its shape resembles an ear of grain, thus the name “wheat stalk bread,” and you can just place it in the middle of the dining table for everyone to tear a piece while they gather for supper. No serving plates necessary. It’s so romantically rustic. Needless to say, I was most excited to bake this crusty bread during the two-day bread-making workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City.
Making a Pain de Epi can be a two-day process because you need poolish that needs to be set aside overnight. Poolish is the French version of its Italian cousin, biga (or also goes by other names like starter and sponge), a fermented starter made out of flour, water, and yeast. Lucky for us, Chef John had already prepared poolish for us so we were able to go through the entire baking process in less than three hours.
To begin, mix bread flour, warm water, yeast, salt, and poolish in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook for 3-4 minutes in low speed, and speed it up to medium speed for another 2-3 minutes. Let the dough rest in a greased bowl, wrapped in plastic, for 45 minutes.
Two things I learned during this process is that: 1. Don’t mix salt with the yeast, as it can kill the bacteria, and 2. It takes about six minutes for the mixture to develop gluten.
Remove the dough from the bowl and turn the dough onto a floured surface. Now, gently stretch the dough and fold it in third, then in third again, like you’re folding a letter. Repeat, this time starting with the bottom edge closest to you.
Return the dough to the greased bowl, with seam side facing down and let it sit for another 45 minutes covered in plastic wrap.
Place the dough in a floured surface and divide it into four equal portions (sorry, you only see three here). It’s best to use the scale to create an even portion. Gently pat down each dough to remove any large gas bubbles.
Shape the dough, according to Chef John’s instruction,” by rolling short edge of dough toward center, then wind dough from the back edge forward to from a short log.”
Place the dough log on a linen dish towel, with seam side down. Lightly cover the log with plastic wrap or the towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.
Return the dough to the work surface, seam side up. Gently but firmly press the dough to release large gas bubbles. Shape the dough “by turning up the bottom edge of the dough, then winding the dough from top down to meet the bottom. With heel of a hand, work from left to right to seal the same into the dough. Then using palms, applying even pressure, working from the middle of the baguette outward, roll the dough until it extends to approximately 14 inches in lengths. Pinch the ends of the loaves to taper them.”
I wish I can paraphrase it to make a simpler explanation but I’m not even going to attempt.
Now, place the baguettes onto a baking pan. To create the Epi design, make a 3/4 cut through the baguette at a 30 degree angle and turn each piece of dough to alternating sides.
Place pan filled with water on the bottom of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the baguettes become golden brown. Let them cool to room temperature before serving.
Aaah, look at these beauties! The freshly baked Pain de Epi was absolutely incredible.
Up next: Cream Biscuits!