January 5, 2009

Pain d'Epi in Five

Got a new book for Christmas, and it's made it even easier for me to bake yummy bread.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

Pain d'Epi

Pain d'Epi

You know, I like to try inventive breads: breads where people have added things to the recipe. Herb bread can be yummy. There are wonderful dessert breads out there which are sweet and have fruit in them. However, there is no bread I enjoy more than the simple crusty bread. I have the highest respect for the baker who produces a crusty, hearty loaf with a light and airy interior. Well, I have a slightly higher respect when that loaf is also a sourdough. But a plain crusty loaf occupies a special place in my heart, and in my stomach when I am lucky. When someone innovates a new way to make the most simple and delicious loaf with less drama, I take notice.

I won't go into huge detail about the baking (see the Links section below if you want additional details) but I highly recommend this book and method.

Quick rundown: the authors have simplified dough-preparation to simply mixing the ingredients in a bucket, then storing it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The shaping loaves and baking are essentially the same as most other baking, but the beauty of this method is that you have 4 lbs. of dough ready to bake for two weeks. (Or more, if you use a bigger bucket) Make boules, baguettes, pizza, rolls, ciabatta or whatever. Make them now, tomorrow, or next weekend.

In many ways, this is even easier than the no-knead bread (and Low-Knead bread) I've posted about before because this is almost completely unscheduled. If the scheduling is what you don't like about baking, this is your method.

After fermenting in the fridge overnight, my first batch didn't last 14 hours, never mind 14 days. I made a peasant boule, and we liked that so much I baked the rest of the dough into pizzas. I immediately started a new batch. With this one, I attempted a wheat stalk bread, or pain d'epi (see pix). It's a really pretty presentation, and it's practical! The bread is easily broken up into roll-like portions without using a knife. Plus, it makes more delicious crust this way.

My wheat stalk didn't come out as pretty as it could have, but it was still both practical and delicious. The crust was crisp and flavorful, and the crumb was open, soft, chewy, and just wonderful. Because it's a wet dough, it gets a wonderful oven spring. And my boule crackled as it cooled, just as it should!

If you can stir flour and water and yeast and salt in a bucket, and that's about the size of your desired commitment to dough preparation, please try this method. If you've ever thought "I wish I had bread dough ready" please try this method. If you've ever paid for pizza dough at the supermarket -- try this method instead.

I'm excited to see what more time in the fridge does to the dough. It should improve both the flavor and the workability.


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Posted by James at January 5, 2009 2:08 AM
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Bravo! I knew you'd like this method. I haven't tried the pain d'epi yet, but now I can't wait. Re posting the recipe on my blog, I figured it was OK since it had already appeared in numerous newspapers (print & online) - and I also suspected that anyone who tried it would immediately run out and buy the book anyhow!

Posted by: Karen at January 5, 2009 8:07 AM

The wheat stalk was supposed to be prettier? I don't see how! The "nice" ones on the authors' blog are indeed very nice - a little too nice. They don't look handmade!

This technique is really amazing. I quit buying pizza dough at the store ages ago because I never liked the way it turned out. When I had the bread machine (eons ago) I used a French bread recipe to mix pizza dough. THAT came out beautifully.

Out of laziness (and a bizarre difficulty getting the right amount of flour when using measuring cups, despite following the directions to fluff it in and scrape it off, etc.), I need to figure out how this translates into flour by weight. I think 6.5 cups is about a pound and a half. What does the smallest package of flour weigh? Is it three pounds? Because (lazy) it'd be easiest if I could just buy a small package of flour and dump the whole thing in the bucket. Can I freeze the excess?

I bet that's all in the book. Unfortunately, I just placed an order with Amazon that's arriving this week. But I'm going to include this book in my next order, or grab it the next time I'm at a bookstore.

Posted by: Julie at January 5, 2009 9:35 AM

Karen: The master recipe is available many places online, and I could have tried the recipe without the book, but I wanted both to support these innovators and to see how they adapted their method to different breads. You definitely made them at least one book sale!

Julie: I don't know if the weight measure is in the book, but I definitely saw them comment on that in an interview. I'll post the link when I find it again. Their rationale for using cups instead of the more accurate weight or traditional baker's percentages (which are also done by weight) was to keep it simple for the beginner, who may not have a scale or be familiar with baker's percentages.

I'll try to get you that link. I think they quoted the % hydration of the dough at around 75-78%.

Posted by: James at January 5, 2009 10:33 AM

Salivary glands on overdrive...need napkin soon...

What an absolutely beautiful creation! While we don't do a lot of break baking, I may just pick this up - even if we get pizza dough out of it, it will be worthwhile!

Posted by: Bull at January 5, 2009 10:38 AM

If it's true, as I've read (I need to triple-check this), that flour is around 4 cups per pound, then their recipe uses just a little more than 1.5# flour, and exactly 1.5# water. That's certainly easy proportion to remember. In fact, it makes the whole recipe easy to remember:

1.5# flour (plus a little more... depends on how tolerant the recipe is)
1.5# (3 cups) water
1.5 tbsp salt
1.5 tbsp yeast

I do have a scale (leftover from my soaping days), and I think European recipes usually do dry ingredients by weight anyway. What I had hoped for was to be able to do a bag of flour at a time (because the leftover flour may go unused for a very long time). However, if the smallest bag of flour is three pounds, that would be way too much dough unless I can freeze it, even if I set aside a cup or two for dusting and such first.

Posted by: Julie at January 5, 2009 12:02 PM

That would give you 100% hydration, and it's definitely not that wet.

Here's the interview I read earlier. In it, they estimate the total weight of the flour is about 2lb.


They estimate about 5 oz per cup heir scoop-and-swipe method of scooping flour. I think I actually scoop more flour than they do; I think my total flour is closer to 2 1/4 lb (I'll weigh it next time). That's still not a total of 4 lb of dough, but close.

1.5# water / 2# flour * 100 = 75% hydration, which is their lower threshold. So, if I'm planning to do a longer term storage, I'd better make sure I either increase the water or decrease the flour I'm using.

I'm going to adjust the recipe for my own use next time, to get closer to a definite 4# total, that's 4 1lb loaves. But stay at 75% hydration. It's an algebra problem.

x# water/y# flour = .75
x# water + y# flour = 4#

It's about 2.29# flour and 1.71# water.

3.4 cups of water
2 lb 4.6 oz flour

May as well go
3.5 cups water
2 lb 5 oz flour.

That's an ounce over 4 lb, and between 75 and 76% hydration.

But really, I was not precise at all in my measurements. I did a scoop-and-shake (scoop about a cup, shake off the excess), and it worked fine. But perhaps my dough will not last 2 weeks. No matter; it won't be around for 2 weeks!

If you'd rather use a different amount of flour, 1.5 cups of water per 1# of flour is exactly 75% hydration. Adjust as you like.

Posted by: James at January 5, 2009 1:29 PM

Oh, but don't increase the recipe unless you have a container that's big enough. My mixture looked tiny in my 5+ quart container, and then it rose to almost fill the thing.

Posted by: James at January 5, 2009 1:34 PM

I wondered how big it would get. I have big bowls, but I don't know if those are satisfactory, and anyway, they're not space-efficient. My new fridge is going to be a little smaller than the one I have now.

I know that 1.5 flour to 1.5 water by weight is 100% (my math is at least that good), but you didn't sound sure about the 75% ratio yet, so I disregarded it in favor of the volume-to-weight conversion. The most plausible-looking estimates say about 4.25 ounces (actually 120 grams) per cup. That's how I arrived at just a little over 1.5 pounds for 6.5 cups.

It's a good thing you found that interview. The estimate of 4.25 ounces (weight) per cup is based on spooning flour into the cup and leveling it off, which is tedious and I hate it, but I thought that was the most reliable way to do it. Like they say here, for example. I didn't know they were scooping the flour. Evidently, that packs a lot more into the cup!

Posted by: Julie at January 5, 2009 3:59 PM

For yet another estimate, Rose Levy Beranbaum estimates 1 cup at 156 grams, or about 1/3 of a pound.

This is why I thought I might have over 2 pounds in my dough.

It'd be interesting to do a few experiments on methods. However, I'd just as soon give up cup measure for flour altogether.

Posted by: James at January 5, 2009 5:02 PM

I'm almost relieved that there's so much variability in how much flour you can put in a cup. I feel a little less incompetent now.

Posted by: Julie at January 5, 2009 10:30 PM

Really, many American beginner bakers have been done a disservice by cup-measure recipes.

In the case of the ABi5 recipe, it's a lot more forgiving than most, so I think they made the right decision if they're trying to get beginners interested. Experienced bakers can figure the percentage out for themselves.

I don't think I weighed my flour for the no-knead bread either. Actually, I don't think I ever weighed the flour for my pizza recipes. I do for my French bread, because it's more OK if a pizza shell is variable than if a baguette doesn't come out.

Posted by: James at January 5, 2009 10:40 PM

What a beautiful bread. I can just about taste it from the great photo you took!

Posted by: Patti M. at January 6, 2009 7:04 AM

I think you may have sold a couple more books as well. I'm tempted to seek out this volume myself.

Posted by: briwei at January 6, 2009 12:07 PM

Thank you so much for trying out the book. Your epi looks crusty and wonderful!

Happy Baking and enjoy all the bread!

Zoë François

Posted by: Zoë François at January 6, 2009 12:23 PM

Last night I dreamed that I was mixing like a quadruple batch of this stuff.

It's not abnormal to dream about bread dough, right?

Posted by: James at January 6, 2009 3:07 PM

Abnormal? It all depends on what the dough says just before it stabs you.

Posted by: Julie at January 6, 2009 4:38 PM

Well, it turns out that the smallest bag of flour they had at Trucchi's was 2 pounds. That seems just about perfect for 3 cups of water. (I have some older flour that I can use for dusting, etc.) However, I don't have a suitable container yet, and I want to wait till the new fridge is up and running before I start this.

Posted by: Julie at January 8, 2009 3:09 PM

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