French bread is one of life’s many pleasures. To enjoy a fresh loaf out of the oven is to enjoy a slice of heaven here on Earth, non? If you don’t believe me, then try this wheat stalk bread for yourself.
Wheat Stalk Bread
Wheat stalk bread, or pain d’epi in French, is a simple French baguette formed to look like a stalk of wheat. It’s a simple bread in that it requires no fancy starter or poolish, and can easily be recreated by a home baker.
A Feasible Recipe
I make this wheat stalk bread when I’m feeling particularly artistic and looking to impress a table of dinner guests. And while good bread is definitely something to ooh over and be respected for creating, most people overestimate the skill that goes into creating this bread.
I understand why people make this assumption. After all, many breads can require a tedious and complicated process. Sometimes it’s because that particular bread is just fussy, while other times it’s because the recipe was poorly written and overcomplicated.
I’ve seen many recipes of this wheat stalk bread, and some of them are downright confusing. The recipe I’m sharing today is simple, straightforward, and will yield 3 gorgeous loaves.
You don’t need a professional baker’s oven, nor do you need bread-making experience. There’s always a first time for everything, right?
They’re Worth It
Each of these loaves has a crisp, golden crust with an incredibly fluffy interior. I made this wheat stalk bread in a standard home oven, and used a simple baker’s trick to help me in the process, which you’ll read about below in the recipe card.
If you’re nervous about baking bread, you shouldn’t be. After all, aren’t these delicious loaves worth giving it a try? I promise you won’t regret it.
Wheat Stalk Bread (Pain d'Epi)
- 1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup warm water 105°F
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting and sprinkling
- 2 tsp table salt
- 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- vegetable oil for greasing board
- cornmeal for your pan
In a small bowl, add the active dry yeast. Pour the warm water over it, and do not mix. If you want to measure the water temperature, it should be about 105°F. Otherwise, simply test with your finger; the water should be warm but not hot. Just let the yeast rest in the water for about 5 minutes. It should look foamy and possibly bubbly.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment in place), add the flour and table salt. Alternatively, you can use a large bowl and a wooden spoon. Mix the flour and salt together until combined well. Pour in the yeast mixture and the lukewarm water. Stir everything together until a sticky dough forms that is mostly pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If your dough is looking too dry after it's been mixed well, then add a teaspoon of water in at a time.
Grease a large wooden board (like a cutting board) with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Flour your hands, then scoop the sticky dough out of the bowl and onto the wooden board. Use your hands to knead the dough for a couple of minutes. To knead, simply grab one end of your dough and lift up the dough, effectively stretching the dough. Place the dough back on the board, folding the dough over itself, like a book. Press the heel of your hand into the dough and push your heel forward. Again, grab hold of one end of the dough, lifting it up off the board, then drop back on the board and fold. Press the heel of your hand into the dough, then push your heel forward. Repeat this for a minute or so.
After a minute or two, you'll notice the dough starting to stick to your board. This is a good time to stop kneading. Grease a very large glass bowl, then transfer your dough to the bowl. Cover the top with a sheet of plastic wrap. Place the bowl in your microwave, and let the dough rise for 2 1/2 hours.
When you take the bowl out of the microwave, your dough should have tripled in size, rising up to the rim of the bowl. Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl. Grease your wooden board again with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Flour your hands, then gently scoop the dough out of the bowl and onto the wooden board. Don't be too rough with the dough as you don't want to ruin the rise you just created.
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Line a half sheet baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone mat. Sprinkle the sheet/mat with a little bit of cornmeal. Gently stretch out your dough into a square shape, then use a bench scraper or a sharp knife to cut the dough into 3 wide strips/rectangles. Then, gently mold those strips into baguette shapes, taking care not to elongate them too much. You want them to fit onto a standard half sheet baking pan.
Line up the baguettes onto your prepared sheet, spacing them apart. Now, take a pair of kitchen scissors and make vertical cuts into the baguettes. To do this, the pointy end of the scissors should be facing you. Start from the bottom of each baguette, making as wide a cut as you like on the surface of the baguette (just don't cut all the way through). Once you've made the cut, you should have a leaf-shaped flap of dough that's still attached to the main baguette. Gently turn this flap towards the right of left of the baguette, so that it's still attached but sitting off to the side. Make another cut, and move this leaf-shaped flap to the opposite side. So if you moved the first flap to the left, for example, move this second flap to the right. Repeat this process until you reach the top of the baguette. Once you're done, sprinkle a pinch of flour all over the loaf for some rustic appeal.
Place the loaves into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden on top. (BAKER'S TRICK: Throughout the baking process, use a spray bottle to spritz one spray of water over each loaf, doing this every 5 minutes. The water will help the loaves achieve their golden color, and it will also help you create that crisp crust)
Let the loaves slightly cool on a wire rack, then serve warm. The loaves are best served same day. If you want to freeze them, let them cool completely first. Then, wrap them in foil, and place the loaves in a ziplock bag. When you want to reheat them, let them thaw first, then bake in the oven at 400°F until crisp.