Epi bread is a type of artisan bread which is often made at French-style bakeries. The bread is a popular picnicking bread, since it consists of a series of yeast rolls which are interconnected to look like a stalk of wheat. As diners need chunks of bread, they call pull rolls off without making a mess of the loaf. It is also relatively easy to make epi bread at home, and it can make an interesting novelty for a dinner party.
In French, epi is the word used to describe the flower of a wheat stalk. Since pain, roughly pronounced “pan,” means “bread” in French, epi bread may be listed as pain epi at many bakeries. A wide assortment of breads are usually on offer at a good French bakery, ranging from small rolls to hefty loaves. Epi bread is a classic and common artisan loaf, since it is easy to make and stylish to look at.
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Commonly, bakers use baguette dough to make epi loaves. A good quality baguette dough will create a bread with a thin, crackly crust and an airy, creamy crumb inside. In many bakeries, the dough is made with a long rise, so that it acquires a complex and slightly sour flavor. Once the dough has gone through the first rising, it is divided into small rolls which are crowded together so that they form the grains of a sheaf of wheat. As the rolls rise, they stick together so that they will form a single, solid loaf.
During the holiday season, epi bread is often available in the shape of a wreath, so that it is more decorative. Like many other varieties of French bread, pain epi tastes best when it is fresh. As it ages, the bread will start to go stale, and it will first turn rubbery and then become dry, chewy, and unpleasant. If allowed to stale long enough, the pain epi can be used to make croutons or bread crumbs.
A loaf of epi bread can be used much like baguettes would be used. It may be set out with cheese and other spreads, packed into a picnic lunch, or used to make rolls and sandwiches. For the best bread, try to visit a bakery when the breads are coming out warm, so that you can grab a freshly made loaf. Store the bread wrapped in paper until it is used, and if the bread has begun to go stale, try sprinkling it with water and briefly baking it to refresh it.