Épis de Blé
My bread is often appreciated, but is rarely remarked upon. Baked goods aren’t exactly a scarcity at our house.
This bread was different though.
“That bread you made was really good,” Matt said. “What was different about it?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t that different, but it was just so good,” said Ollie. “I had to restrain myself from finishing it all in one sitting.”
I consider this a victory, and told them that the more compliments they gave me, the more bread I would make.
I call this bread “épis de blé”, but that’s actually just the term for the shape of the loaf. The buns coming off the main stem are supposed to look like a stalk of wheat. And you can see it, even though mine was not as delicate as some. I didn’t take any chances and checked the shaping technique in my old handbook, Hamelman’s Bread. And they were great instructions: make a long, skinnier loaf than usual; hold the scissors at a very shallow angle and cut, parallel to the roll, almost all the way through the dough. Then pull each of the buns off to the side to form the “grains” of your wheat.
You can make this shape with any type of dough, so the shape alone wasn’t want made the bread tasty.
The recipe came from the February 2009 issue of Gourmet. Of the 13 issues of that magazine that ever arrived in my mailbox, this one was by far my favorite. The recipe caught my eye because of the unique shape of the loaf, but I was wary about the recipe itself. There are (or were) only a few bread recipes in Gourmet, and I had worried that maybe it meant they were lacking in bread expertise and the recipe would suck. I had baked enough bread to be a bit of a snob.
I baked it the first time that winter, minus the épi shaping. It was pretty good.
Recently, I got inspired to try the bun/roll recipes from this issue again, but using sourdough. This is the first recipe I tried, and I think the sourdough really improved it. Perhaps it’s my personal preference for sourdough talking though.
So in answer, finally, to Matt’s question: the bread was barely different at all from my usual sourdough loaf. I used honey instead of sugar, and a small amount of cornmeal mixed in instead of the wheat or rye flour. That’s all.
I would definitely urge you to try it, and even try the shaping, which looks difficult but is not. It makes a beautiful loaf, and one of the few tasty enough to get a comment from the boys!
I’m sending this one to YeastSpotting, as usual.
Crusty Sourdough Épis de Blé
(adapted from “Crusty Cornstalk Rolls”, Gourmet Feb 2009)
1 to 1 1/2 cups fed sourdough starter
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon salt
5 cups white bread flour
1 cup cornmeal
Stir together the sourdough starter and the warm water until the structure of the starter is broken up a bit. Then add the honey, salt, 2 cups of flour, and the cornmeal. Stir into a slurry and then add more flour, a cup or half-cup at a time, until you have a nice, though slack, dough to work with. At this point turn the dough out onto the counter to rest for 5 minutes while you clean the mixing bowl and smear some olive oil in it. Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary, for a few minutes until you have a smooth ball. Plop it back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 2-3 hours.
Once the first rise is complete, divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a long, narrow log – like a baguette – and let rise, preferably supported from the sides so it spreads up rather than out, for one hour.
Preheat your oven to 425°. Once it’s hot, throw a few ice cubes in to moisten the air. While they evaporate, transfer the loaves to your baking sheet and cut the them into the épi shape. Using a good pair of scissors, take shallow cuts in the direction of the loaf. You can cut most of the way through the log. After you’ve made a cut, pull the upper part of the dough over to one side, so that the point is toward the edge. Alternate which side you pull the “grains” to.
Put the baking sheet in the oven, and throw a few more ice cubes onto the bottom to create more steam so you get a nice crust. After 15-20 minutes, open the oven and rotate the pan 180°. After 5-10 more minutes, take the loaves out! Be sure to let them cool before you move them from the pans, because they are delicate and will break.