Made to resemble the grains on a stalk of wheat, an epi-baguette is also known as a “wheat stalk” baguette.
The recipe for this charming loaf begins with a poolish, which is a type of starter typically used in French baking and which uses equal parts flour and water by weight.
Photograph by Annalize Nel
Makes 4 epi-baguettes A LITTLE EFFORT 4 hrs + 6 hrs/overnight, to ferment
WHAT YOU NEED
100g stoneground bread flour
pinch instant yeast
1kg stoneground bread flour
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
HOW TO DO IT
Prepare the poolish by mixing the 100g flour, 100g/125ml water and pinch yeast together in a mixing bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to ferment for 6 hours/overnight. After fermenting, the poolish should look like a thick pancake batter with a strongly fruity, but not acidic, smell. There may also be lots of tiny bubbles on the surface.
To make the dough, mix the 1kg stoneground bread flour, salt, 1 tsp instant yeast and 750g/765ml water together in a large mixing bowl until you achieve a pillowy and sticky dough that holds together well. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water and combine until you achieve the desired consistency. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Add the poolish to the dough. Due to the poolish adding extra strength and structure to the dough, you will immediately feel the consistency of the dough become firmer and easier to handle. Set aside covered with a tea towel and leave the dough to rise until about double in size, 1 – 1 hour 30 minutes. This is called bulk fermentation.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. It’s important to note here that you will need to bake the baguettes with steam, which you can prepare in one of the following ways: either fill a spray bottle with water and set aside for later use or place a small cast iron pot/skillet on the lower rack of the oven to heat up. Just before baking the epi-baguette, fill the hot pot/skillet with ice, which will melt fast and create steam.
Tip the dough out onto a work surface counter lightly dusted with flour and cut it into 4 equal pieces. Pre-shape the pieces into loose rounds and allow to rest, covered with a damp tea towel, 10 – 15 minutes.
Take a piece of dough and gently pull it into an oval shape. Place the dough horizontally on the work surface and fold the top half towards the centre as you would an envelope. Rotate the dough 180 degrees and fold towards the centre again.
Continue folding and rotating until the dough feels firm and not loose or weak.
Seal the two folds of dough by creating a seam. Gently press the base/palm of your hand down on the edge of the folds and continue along the length of the dough until one long seam has been formed.
Turn the dough over so the seam is facing downwards (is under the dough) and start to roll the dough from the centre outwards to create a sausage shape. As you roll, the dough will become longer. Once you are happy with the length of your baguette, place it in a couche (a special baker’s cloth available at baking supply stores) to support it. Repeat steps 5 to 8 with the remaining three pieces of dough.
One by one, place the baguettes on a baking tray lined with a well-floured sheet of baking paper. Starting at the end of the baguette closest to you, cut into the dough at 45-degree angles, making sure to cut only halfway or two thirds of the way through the dough and not to sever the pieces entirely. You can make the cuts as close together or far apart as you like, depending on how many pieces you want.
Again, starting from the end of baguette closest to you, gently fan out each cut piece, alternating left and right as you make your way towards the top end of the baguette. Ensure there is enough flour underneath the baguette so the pieces do not stick to the baking paper.
Place in the preheated oven and bake with steam for 25 – 30 minutes until golden and crispy (or a little longer depending on your oven and personal crust preference). If using the spray bottle to create steam, spray into the area above the loaf (not directly onto the loaf) every 3 – 4 minutes for the first 10 – 15 minutes of baking. If using a cast iron pot/skillet filled with ice, no spraying is required, as the ice will continue to melt and create steam in the oven.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve the epi-baguette as a centrepiece at your next dinner party. Guests can tear off pieces to enjoy as individual bread rolls,