How to Form the Pain d’Epi (wheat stalk bread)

Pan D’epi

The classic wheat stalk shaped bread is impressive and somewhat intimidating, until you see how easy it is to make. We love the Pan d’Epi not only for its gorgeous appearance but because it is the crustiest loaf there is. All of those cuts and angles leave more surface to crisp in the oven. Something a little more sophisticated to serve with dinner than ordinary rolls but just as easy!

Here’s how it is done:

Start by sprinkling the surface with flour so it won’t stick to your hands. Take a peach sized piece of dough from your bucket (master dough (page 26), Pan d’Epi dough (page 41), European Peasant dough (page 46), really anything but the enriched doughs will work.

Pan D’epi

Pull up the amount you want and cut with a pair of kitchen scissors or a serrated knife.

Pan D’epi

Pan D’epi

Sprinkle with more flour so the cut edges won’t be too sticky,

Pan D’epi

quickly form into a loose ball. This should take about 30 seconds.

Pan D’epi

To form the Pan d’Epi we are first going to make a baguette. To get a really nice shaped baguette we start by gently stretching the dough slightly into an oval.

Pan D’epi

Next you want to fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. Bring in one side and gently press it into the center.

Pan D’epi

Bring up the other side and pinch the seem closed. This will help you to get a tapered end on your baguette or Pan d’Epi.

Pan D’epi

Stretch the dough very gently into a log. You don’t want to compress the air out of the dough. If it resists your pulling on it then let it rest for just a moment to relax the glutens.

Pan D’epi

Continue to work the dough until you have a nice thin baguette. It is okay if you let the dough rest a few minutes and then come back to it to give it a gently stretch. No need to fight the dough.

Pan D’epi

Once your dough is the length and thickness you want, this will depend on the size of the ball of dough you started with and how thick you want your bread. Mine are about 15″. Lay the baguette on the edge of your cutting board, or whatever surface you intend to use to get the bread in the oven. Doing the following steps on a piece of parchment will reduce the chances of the dough sticking as you put it in the oven.

Pan D’epi

With your kitchen scissors cut the dough from one end at a 45 degree angle until you are about a 1/4″ from the cutting board. Being careful not to cut all the way through the dough.

Pan D’epi

Lay the piece you’ve cut over to one side. Continue to cut in this fashion until you’ve reached the other end.

Pan D’epi

Pan D’epi

Before you slide the cut dough into the oven, make sure that it has not stuck to the board. If it has gently pry it up and put more cornmeal under the stuck parts. Because this Pan d’Epi is longer than my stone is wide, I slide the oven rack out and put the dough in at an angle so it will fit on the stone.
Pan D’epi

Put a cup of hot water into the broiler tray below the baking stone and quickly shut the door. Bake for about 30 or until it is nicely browned.

Pan D’epi

Pan D’epi

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173 thoughts on “How to Form the Pain d’Epi (wheat stalk bread)

  1. Zoë! What a fabulous series of photographs! Thank you so much. They are beautiful.

    Question: What is the value of folding the dough in thirds?
    -Bubbles

  2. Hi Bubbles,

    It is the traditional way of shaping the bread. It gives you a more tapered end to your loaf and a cleaner line to the baguette. (I can guarantee you that Jeff has never, and will never do this extra step!!! He like to stream line the process.) I thought I’d show it for anyone who wants to get a more striking point to their Pan d’Epi!

    Let me know how yours come out!

    Thanks, Zoë

  3. Having been challenged in this way, I will, this very weekend, try this exact method. This folding-into-thirds maneuver.

    And we shall see.

    Jeff

    PS: Zoe, your pictures are beautiful with that little camera of yours, as usual.

  4. Hi Gretchen and cookworm,

    When Jeff and I do book signings and tastings we always create this bread during the demo. Everyone is amazed at how easy it is! I’m so glad the pictures help and I look forward to hearing how it goes!

    Thanks, Zoë

  5. Wonderful post. Although my wife is a bit hesitant to try “from scratch” baking recipes, I have talked her into giving this one a whirl.

    Beautiful bread!!

  6. Hi DocChuck,

    I hope she tries it! We really developed this method for home cooks who are afraid to bake. It is that easy!

    Thanks, Zoë

  7. Mine never turn out so beautifully, but I’m alright with that. It’s the magic of having a string of dinner rolls that appeals to me. Every serving has tons of delicious crust! Thanks for sharing this great info!

  8. HONEST DISCLOSURE MOMENT:
    So, in front of 21 witnesses at Cooks of Crocus Hill, where Zoe and I were teaching a bread class (www.cooksofcrocushill.com/) this past Saturday, I honored my pledge to attempt Zoe’s letter-folding trick with dough, in order to more artfully shape my loaf. And gratefully, I must ackowledge that the loaf was beautifully shaped. Zoe was kind enough to shape a loaf my way and say that it was almost perfect and didn’t even mention the forked-tongue effect on the left end of the baguette.

    Even bread can be a humbling experience.

    Jeff

  9. The forked-tongue effect is my favorite part! ;)

    Jeff, you’re such a good sport.

    Zoe, you’re quite the diplomat! And thank you for demonstrating the folding-in-thirds maneuver. The epi has become my favorite bread to make — it’s so beautiful and everyone loves to break off chunks of their very own. I can’t wait to try this method and get the nice tapers on the ends.

  10. Thanks for the great photos and description,it’s really helpful. I’ll be trying it out this week. I am loving the book. I bought some rye flour over the weekend so I could make the deli rye loaf, and some pecans for the pecan sticky rolls. There’s just so much to try, it’s wonderful. My pizzas have been so good and a few of my friends have bought the book. Thanks again.

  11. I too am loving the book. I have made bread for years and this is by far has the easiest method of prep with fantastic results. I tried Zoe’s suggestion in another thread about shaping a loaf and then letting it rest in the fridge overnight to then pop into the oven cold – had the best oven spring so far! Have made the basic formula, Vermont Cheese, Rye, and Pumpernickel so far and the book only arrived last week!

  12. Thanks for your enthusiasm Lisa. Keep us posted as you work your way through the more complicated recipes (assume that’s next?). Jeff

  13. Hi Lisa,

    The overnight rise is great!

    Sounds like you have lots of buckets going. You’ll need one more for the brioche once you get to the back of the book!

    Thanks, Zoë

  14. Last night I mixed up a batch of dough for the bread. Baked too loaves today. Thanks to the pictures I was able to shape it pretty good. Got to tell you though, it came out to be the
    CRISPIEST bread I have ever had. It wasn’t burnt or anything. The crust was a nice light brown as in the picture but, very crunchy. I thought it tasted very good especially
    with an italian bread dipping sauce I made. Just to let you know I did want it crunchy to hold the aujus from the italian beef I made today that
    we are going to have tomorrow.

  15. Laura: Crisp is good! Sounds like you’re getting a sense of the difference between thick hard crust (not what you want), and thin crispy crust (exactly what you want). Thin-crispy is the result of a nice gluten-cloak plus the effect of steam in the very hot oven on a stone, with the excess moisture wicking away into the stone.

    So nice to hear! Jeff

  16. Made this one last night and it tasted fantastic – love all of the crust! Didn’t look so swell though. Question – there is no mention here of a 30 minute rest after shaping into baguette – step 6 in the book. Maybe not necessary if it rests a bit here and there as you are shaping?

  17. I, too love this book. I have become a bread baking fiend. It’s addicting! One suggestion for buckets I have not seen, and which work very well for one recipe of four loaves is an ice cream bucket (5 quart) and it’s cover. the bread seems to rise as much as it wants to, and it doesn’t take alot of awkward room in the fridge…….

  18. Hi Nancy,

    So glad you are enjoying all the fresh bread!

    Just in the past week several people have mentioned using ice cream buckets. Great minds think alike!

    Thanks, Zoë

  19. Is it ok to bake this on an inverted cookie sheet? I don’t have a baking stone. If so, what adjustments would I need to make with regards to baking time and/or temperature, if any?

  20. Hi Cris,

    You can bake it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. I would just make the loaf on the parchment and slip the whole thing onto the preheated cookie sheet. It won’t have quite the same crispy crust but it will be very close.

    Don’t forget to use the steam to get a nice crust.

    Let me know how it goes! Zoë

  21. Today was crazed baking day in preparation for Easter. I made two beautiful panettones for gift giving and then tried my hand at the epi shaping. Yikes!!! I need Zoe, or I need to practice a bunch. The fold over shaping is brilliant and I had this nice 15″ shaped baguette, but my cutting technique was so lame that I folded everything back on top of the loaf. It actually turned out to be a quite charming baguette. But…can’t tell you how much I love this book and recipe. I am baking every day and my husband is so thrilled that he came home with unbleached flour the other day that was on sale for 2 for $3. He is singing your praises, and mine, now that bread prices are rising (pun intended) Thanks to you both

  22. Ah, I’m finally going to be able to shape a satisfying Pain épi (that’s the way we call it here, in France). Thanks.

  23. Hi Florence,

    So glad to hear from you! I’m thrilled that you are trying the bread in France. I look forward to hearing your experience.

    Enjoy the Epi!

    Zoë

  24. Hi Rosemary,

    The Epi will come with practice! Perhaps someday we will come to your town to teach a class and then I will show you step by step. Until then keep trying, it will come!

    Thanks! Zoë

  25. Zoë & Jeff,
    Read an excellent review of your book in the Chicago Tribune a couple of months ago, which included your basic recipe. It sounded so unique (and easy) that though I wasn’t a breadmaker I thought I’d give it a try. (My husband is Dutch and there is nothing Wooden Shoes enjoy more than bread, particularly homemade). We couldn’t believe the success I had from the start. The boule was gorgeous in appearance and taste — what a thrill. Eight loaves of boule later and the purchase of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day I decided to try the deli-style rye. Oh my gosh, such bliss, so eight loaves of deli-rye later I became enamoured with my success and went for the gold. I told our Easter dinner hostess that we would bring the bread and thought nothing would be more fitting than pain d’epi. Oh that I had first seen this web site and your terrific photos. My bread came out shaped like a disgruntled crocodile, but I braved the anticipated chortles and prettily wrapped it up in Easter colors. Our darling hostess opened the bread, clapped with glee and said “Oh, look, you made a bunny.” But, the end result was a fantastic crispy bread.
    When and where will you be in the Chicago area?
    P.S. – Didn’t even know what a peel was — of course now I own one!

  26. Zoe & Jeff
    I have had so much fun with your bread. The basic recipe was printed in our local paper, I tried it and was hooked.

    As we have visited our kids and g-kids
    here in WA State and Denver, I have baked a batch for each family. (have pizza stone will travel) The 5 year-olds in Denver took one taste and said “Mommy can you do this?” They loved it.

    Right now I have 3 recipes going – will try bagels for first time in the morning, the light whole wheat is our favorite, and also trying Italian semolina this week.

    Thank you both so much. Would love to see you in Seattle – 3 hour drive, however – but you never know!!.

    P.S.- i used Hungarian flour in Denver – it is made for high altitude – and it worked very well with no changes to the recipe.

  27. Karen: You’re travelling with your pizza stone? Wow.

    We will be in Seattle to promote the book 6/19 through 6/22; please stay tuned to our “Events” page inside this website for details of where we’ll be teaching, and what our media appearances will be.

    Can you give any details on your “Hungarian” flour? Jeff

  28. No – the traveling pizza stone is my silly joke. The “Hungarian Flour” is what my daughter-in-law uses because her Mom did. She is not home right now so I “googled” it and this is
    what http://www.sourdoughhome.com says:

    Interesting Vendor Story: The name confuses everyone. Many people here in Gunnison, Colorado, at an altitude of 7,700 feet (2,346 meters) above sea level, think this flour is good to use at high altitudes. Actually, it’s no better than any other flour at high altitudes. And they are confused about the “Hungarian” part too.

    The “Hungarian” part of the name comes from the process used to mill the flour, which was developed in Hungary in the 1800′s. It was brought to Colorado by J.K. Mullen in 1875, and is still used on this flour. The flour is milled from hard wheat from Colorado, the Dakotas, and Montana, so the “high altitude” refers to where the grain is grown.

    So much for “high altitude” flour. :-)

  29. Found out about you and your book while on aol reading about how to save money! Strange turn of events (or clicks) leads me right to your website and WOW! I’m going out to buy your book today. Can’t wait to try it out. I am one of those that quit making fresh bread because of the time and energy it takes. Wore me out. You are absolutely awesome to have created such an easy way for anyone to have fresh breads every day! I would love to see bread shops sprout up that sold artisan breads at reasonable prices for people that can’t cook. Your recipes may have just solved the problems and eliminated the issues that have prevented making that a reality. I may just look into that myself.
    Thanks again for making my life a little easier.

  30. since hearing about this bread on showcase minnesota this morning, i have been reading comments like crazy to find out what a pizza peel is. is it just cornmeal with a wavy line made with fingers? i am anxious to try this bread and get the book!

  31. wow… that WAS a fast answer! i’m fascinated by the book (a definite must read slash review) and am probably going to take up baking pan d’epi this weekend. props for good bread!

  32. LOVE your book and recipes. Tried to get into classes, but they sell out, I’ll keep trying. Is there a way to make your bread in a small toaster oven? I have mini stone, but no second shelf for the water to sit and steam on?
    HELP!

  33. Audrey: I assume you’re in the Twin Cities, and you’re finding that the Cooks of Crocus Hill classes with Zoe sell out fast. We’re also starting some classes at Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater, but the first is already sold out on 10/11. There’ll be a second one, probably after the New Year, but maybe sooner (I’ll be doing that one). Check our Events page from time to time.

    I think the toaster oven will work… do you have a metal cup for holding a little water. That little stone will probably do the trick but let us know. If you don’t have a metal cup try an aluminum foil roasting pan propped over the loaf as it sits on the stone. That traps steam coming off the loaf and gives a reasonable approximation of steam bath. Jeff

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  35. Muchas gracias por la descripción tan detallada del hermoso pan Epi.
    Las fotografías son valiosísimas para el proceso.
    Saludos.

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