Easy Pan di Epi for Lammas

Wheat Ear

An ear of wheat in a wheatfield. Probably on the Russian steppes. How romantic.

Lammas is in the middle of the week this year, which means most groups will celebrate it the weekend before or after. I may be a bit late in posting this because I gather many groups celebrated it this past weekend as a joint celebration with the sabbat and this past Friday’s much touted longest lunar eclipse of the century. My coven, however, is celebrating it next weekend, so my baking is happening a bit later. No complaints from me, though! August 1st is back-to-school day for most districts in Indiana, which makes it a rough week for those of us who work in education. Truthfully, I’d be tempted to skip the sabbat altogether if I didn’t have my coven keeping me honest. I know that with all the demands on my time and energy this week, the last thing I would want to be doing was kneading and waiting on bread to rise. But Lammas is “loaf mass”.  Celebrating the grain harvest is a large part of this sabbat’s symbolism, and celebrating it without the smells of warm bread perfuming the house just seems wrong.

Luckily for me, I was an early adopter of the “no knead bread” phenomenon that built up steam (hah!) beginning in 2006 when New York Times food writer Mark Bittman publicized Jim Lahey’s easy recipe. What no-knead baking does is allows you to simply mix all the ingredients together, walk away for several hours, and then shape your dough and bake it. While it technically does take a day or more to make the bread, only about five minutes of it is hands on time. I find it to be easier than a bread machine, actually, and way more versatile.

My favorite no-knead recipes come from Dr. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’s Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book series. Originally published in 2007, they updated their primary book in 2015 with better measuring methods and additional techniques that totally revolutionized my bread making. Today, about 90% of my bread baking is from one of their recipes. (A noted standout in my repertoire is the phenomenal but much fussier Milk Bread from North Carolina’s Kindred restaurant.)

Hertzberg and François’s method basically has you whip up a large batch of dough, then refrigerate it until you need it. Refrigerated, doughs with milk or eggs in them will last 5 days, and doughs without these enrichments will last for 14 days. You can hack off a pound a day and bake it up as you need it if you want. You do need to let the chilled dough rest for bit before you bake it, but I’ve found that the no-knead dough is way easier to handle and shape when chilled, so I think the additional rest is a great trade off. If you don’t think you’ll want to make all that bread, it is easy enough to half or quarter their recipes.

pan

Several loaves of Pan di Epi. This image comes from Alchemy Bread.

One of the techniques I learned from Hertzberg and François was how to shape bread into a Pan di Epi (or Pain d’Epi if you’re feeling French). These darling baguettes look like large ears of wheat, which I think makes them perfect for Lammas. They’re also wonderfully crunchy, crusty baguettes since they have a lot of surface area per loaf. The technique to shape them is shockingly easy, and definitely beats the pants off of painstakingly shaping your bread into a man shape, only to have it emerge all deformed from the oven in epic, Pinterest-fail ways.

Pan di Epi can be made from any bread dough, though you’ll have more classic results if you use a basic French or Italian bread recipe. The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day master recipe will work well, as will their gluten free master recipe, so long as you follow the specialized instructions for gluten free epi. (That gluten free recipe is the absolute best gluten free bread recipe I know of, by the way.) However, I vastly prefer Hertzberg and François’s specialized dough for Pan di Epi, which incorporates bread flour. If you want nice, pointy “grains”, you need the additional protein bread flour gives the dough. That recipe is as follows:

Pan di Epi (Pain d’Epi), or Wheat Stalk Bread
Makes seven 1/2-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

Ingredient Volume (US) Weight (US) Weight (Metric)
Lukewarm water (100˚F or below) 3 cups 1 pound, 8 ounces 680 grams
Granulated yeast* 1 tablespoon 0.35 ounce 10 grams
Kosher salt* 1 to 1.5 tablespoons 0.6 to 0.9 ounce 17 to 25 grams
Bread flour 6.5 cups 2 pounds, ½ ounce 920 grams
Notes:

Any yeast works well in this recipe: granulated, active dry, instant, quick-rise, or bread machine yeast all deliver excellent results. Fresh cake yeast can be used too, though the yeast volume should be increased by 50%. Recipes were standardized using Red Star brand active dry yeast.

If using yeast packets, 1 yeast packet can be used for every tablespoon called for. Rising time may be slightly slower. (A yeast packet contains 2¼ teaspoons of yeast.)

AB in 5 recipes were tested with Morton brand kosher salt. If using table salt, use 2 teaspoons for every tablespoon of Morton called for. If using Diamond brand kosher salt, add 1 teaspoon for every tablespoon of Morton called for.

Mixing and Storing the Dough:

  1. Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 6-quart bowl or lidded (not airtight food container).  (A round 6-quart Cambro bucket is perfect. You can poke a hole in the lid…but I usually just set my lid slightly ajar.)
  2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, large silicone spatula, or a Danish dough whisk.
  3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
  4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate the container of dough and use over the next 14 days.

Notes: AB in 5 dough recipes frequently rise to about a 6-quart volume, then deflate to about 4 quarts upon refrigeration, as seen below. The Pan di Epi recipe uses bread flour, however, and I’ve never had it rise to these amounts, as the flour seems to have more hold. I would say a 5-quart first rise and 3-quart refrigeration is more my experience.

If you do not want to or cannot mix the dough by hand (it can be a minor workout to incorporate all the flour), a stand mixer can be used. You may wish to then transfer the dough to a larger container to rise.

bucket

Refrigerated dough in the bucket.

Shaping and Baking the Dough:

If you would appreciate a photo tutorial, Hertzberg and François have an excellent “How to form the Pain d’Epi” post on their blog.

  1. If using a baking stone, place it  near the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450˚F for 20-30 minutes, with an empty metal broiler tray on any shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread. The long preheat will ensure the stone is at the correct temperature. If not using a baking stone, a standard preheat will be fine.
  2. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1/2-pound (orange-sized) piece. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four side, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.
  3. Using the letter-fold technique, form a slender baguette. (LETTER FOLD TECHNIQUE: Gently stretch the dough into a 1/2-inch thick oval. Fold in one of the long sides and gently press it into the center, taking care not to compress the dough too much. Bring up the other side to the center and pinch the seam closed. This letter-fold technique puts less dough on the ends–that’s what gives you a nice taper. Stretch very gently into a log, working the dough until you have a thin baguette. Again, try not to compress the air out of the dough. If the dough resists pulling, let it rest for 5-10 minutes to relax the gluten, then continue to stretch. Don’t fight the dough. You can continue to stretch lengthwise during the 20 minute rest until you achieve the desired thin result, about 1 1/2-inches wide.)
  4. If using a baking stone, lay the baguette on a sheet of parchment on the edge of a prepared pizza peel. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes. If not using a baking stone, lay the baguette on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. You can fit 2-3 baguettes per sheet. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  5. Dust the surface of the baguettes with flour (alternately lightly brush them with water and dust with sesame or poppyseed…or whatever else you might like). Using kitchen shears and starting at one end of the loaf, cut into the dough at a very shallow angle, about 20˚. If you cut too vertically, the “wheat grains” won’t be as pointy. Cut with a single snip to within 1/4 inch of the work surface, but be careful not to cut all the way through the baguette, or you’ll have separate rolls.
  6. As you cut, lay each piece over to one, side, alternating sides. Continue to cut in this fashion until you’ve reached the end of the stalk.
  7. If using a baking stone, slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 25 minutes or until richly browned and firm. If not using a baking stone, slide the sheet pan onto a centrally located oven rack. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 25 minutes or until richly browned and firm.
  8. Allow to cool on a wire rack before eating.
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