What is Epi Bread?
Epi bread is a type of artisan bread which is often made at French-style bakeries. The bread is a popular picnicking bread, since it consists of a series of yeast rolls which are interconnected to look like a stalk of wheat. As diners need chunks of bread, they call pull rolls off without making a mess of the loaf. It is also relatively easy to make epi bread at home, and it can make an interesting novelty for a dinner party.
In French, epi is the word used to describe the flower of a wheat stalk. Since pain, roughly pronounced “pan,” means “bread” in French, epi bread may be listed as pain epi at many bakeries. A wide assortment of breads are usually on offer at a good French bakery, ranging from small rolls to hefty loaves. Epi bread is a classic and common artisan loaf, since it is easy to make and stylish to look at.
Commonly, bakers use baguette dough to make epi loaves. A good quality baguette dough will create a bread with a thin, crackly crust and an airy, creamy crumb inside. In many bakeries, the dough is made with a long rise, so that it acquires a complex and slightly sour flavor. Once the dough has gone through the first rising, it is divided into small rolls which are crowded together so that they form the grains of a sheaf of wheat. As the rolls rise, they stick together so that they will form a single, solid loaf.
During the holiday season, epi bread is often available in the shape of a wreath, so that it is more decorative. Like many other varieties of French bread, pain epi tastes best when it is fresh. As it ages, the bread will start to go stale, and it will first turn rubbery and then become dry, chewy, and unpleasant. If allowed to stale long enough, the pain epi can be used to make croutons or bread crumbs.
A loaf of epi bread can be used much like baguettes would be used. It may be set out with cheese and other spreads, packed into a picnic lunch, or used to make rolls and sandwiches. For the best bread, try to visit a bakery when the breads are coming out warm, so that you can grab a freshly made loaf. Store the bread wrapped in paper until it is used, and if the bread has begun to go stale, try sprinkling it with water and briefly baking it to refresh it.
Epi bread is my "party trick" bread -- I bake a lot as a hobby, and people usually ask me to bring bread or cake to holiday parties, etc, so I always go with epi bread.
It's actually not that hard to make -- I use a basic whole wheat epi bread recipe, and it works every time -- and it really is very charming to look at.
Of course, you can't really use your bread machine recipes here -- epi bread is very hands on, and takes a little bit of practice before you can get the right shape, but it definitely pays off.
And besides, it feels great to be the person with the impressive artisan looking bread when everybody else just brought a sliced loaf of cinnamon bread, or stopped at Panera for a loaf of sourdough. So in the end, you feel great about making such a pretty bread, and everyone else feels great for getting to enjoy eating such a pretty bread -- win-win situation!
I had never heard of this until I went to France a few years back over Christmas and saw all those beautiful epi bread wreaths that they make!
It was quite a shock for me to see how beautiful bread can actually be, especially since before that the only baking I had done was with my bread machine recipes -- and let's face it, while a bread machine is best for some kinds of loaves, gorgeous shaped breads like epi bread are not the bread machine's strength.
When I got back home, I found a recipe for whole wheat epi bread, and went at it. It took me a few times, but I eventually got a nice looking "stalk" loaf. Of course, getting it to look like the ones I saw in France took a lot longer, but I was surprised how quickly you can get a decently shaped loaf.
So if you're at all interested in this kind of bread, I'd really encourage you to try it, even if you don't have a lot of experience as a baker -- you can really get some nice results in a surprisingly short amount of time.
How do you get the epi bread rolls to have the correct shape when you bake it?
Mine always end up all blobby, and my stalk of wheat looks more like a lumpy baguette than anything else.
I don't know if I'm doing something wrong in the recipe, or if there's some secret to shaping epi bread that I'm missing, but I'm really stuck with this.
Can anybody give me some tips on getting your epi bread to have the right shape, or at least look somewhat like it's supposed to? Thanks!
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