We Knead To Bake #42 : Pain d’Epi or Épis de Blé Wreath (Wheat Stalk Bread/ Ears of Wheat) With Caramelized Onion
I might have mentioned in a previous We Knead To Bake post that the members in the group are taking turns to choose the bread of the month. This month’s host had something crop up unexpectedly so I undertook to choose the bread for the month. I chose a Pain d’Epi or Épis de Blé Wreath (Wheat Stalk Bread/ Ears of Wheat) With Caramelized Onions. However, I ended up being late with posting both the challenge in the group and here on the blog because we suddenly lost our most loved member of our family – Fudge our Cocker Spaniel.
I believe someone said, “Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished” and I can wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment as will others who have loved and lost their dogs. He was with us for just 5 short years but they were the best years of our lives. It is perhaps fitting that I’m blogging a bread today because Fudge was true bread lover and he would patiently wait for the bread to come out of my oven and he invariably got the first tasting of all the breads I baked in the last 5 years, that was healthy for him to eat.
I first baked a Pain d’Epi years back when I got my copy of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. That recipe involved making a large batch of no knead dough and then fashioning the Epi from that. I baked Epis a few times after that and then forgot about it while going on to discover other breads until now. This time I chose to use a more “regular” sort of recipe where the dough is kneaded and baked within a much shorter period of time.
Epi is the French word used to describe the flower of a wheat stalk. So the Pain d’Epi or Épis de Blé refers to bread that looks like a wheat stalk or the ears of wheat. The Pain d’Epi is a classic and commonly made French artisan bread loaf but when made for special holidays and celebrations, it often shaped decoratively into a wreath.
The Pain d’Epi is easy enough to make and really just one step up from the French baguette. The dough is shaped pretty much the same way but then snipped with a pair of scissors to resemble a wheat stalk. It can be eaten just like the baguette is and can be served with soup, or made into sandwiches. This bread is best eaten fresh, the day it is made. Otherwise wrap it in paper until it is used. If the bread starts becoming stale, it may be revived by sprinkling it with a little water and re heating it in the oven for a short time. Else, use it to make croutons or breadcrumbs.
A Pain d’Epi is a plain bread but I decided to add some caramelized onions to mine just to add some flavour. You may omit this if you want to stay authentic with the bread. I also chose to shape my Pain d’Epi into a wreath this time because my baking sheet and oven would hold this shape better.
- Heat the oil and add the chopped onions to it. Sauté over medium heat till they turn a nice deep brown. Take it off the heat and let it cool.
- Put the remaining ingredients, except the water, in a bowl (or processor bowl) and mix well. Add enough warm water and knead until you have a soft and elastic dough, almost sticky dough. Add the caramelized onions and knead it into the dough till distributed uniformly. Shape into a smooth ball and place it in an oiled bowl, turning it to coat it well with oil. Cover loosely and let it rise for about an hour to an hour and a half till it has doubled in volume.
- Dust your working surface lightly with flour. If you’re going to shape it as a long wheat stalk (or two if your oven or baking sheets aren’t large enough to take one long one), then press out the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the long edge away from you towards the center. Fold the long edge near you towards the centre. Now fold over in half, like a letter fold and pinch the seam together neatly and tightly. See this tutorial for a better idea on shaping a baguette.
- Sprinkle flour generously over the baguette. Starting with one end of the baguette, make equidistant cuts in the dough (about three inches apart) holding a pair of scissors so they are parallel to the bread, and then tilting them so they are at a 45-degree angle. Make the cuts in the dough almost as if you were going to snip that bit off but it will still be attached, then take that piece and move it to the left. Make another snip about 3 inches down from the bottom of the last one and move that piece to the right. Keep on doing this until you reach the end of the bread. See this video for a better understanding of this process.
- If you want to make a wreath like I did, then take a look at this tutorial first. Place the risen dough on a floured surface. Gently poke a hole through the dough in the centre with your fingers and stretch out the dough into a round ring. Place this on the parchment lined baking sheet and then generously dust the top of the dough with flour.
- As described above for the baguette, make cuts about 2 inches apart and move each portion outward forming a wreath. Once the Epi has been shaped, loosely cover the dough and let it rise again for about 15 minutes.
- In the meanwhile, preheat your oven to 240C (470F) with a baking tray upside down on the rack and an empty Pain at the bottom of the oven. When ready place the Epi in the oven and pour a cup of water into the Pain at the bottom to create steam. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes till the Pain d’Epi is done and golden brown in colour. Let it cool completely before cutting.