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Épis de Blé - a Thanksgiving-worthy baguette

October 7, 2012

I had the privilege of being invited to a Thanksgiving feast potluck at a Central Vancouver Island farm yesterday, the very place I buy my amazing vegetable plants each spring, in fact. My friends who own this farm have begun the Thanksgiving weekend tradition of throwing a huge potluck feast in one of their greenhouses and this year I was invited to join them.

I've been baking my own bread at home for the past few years, and was asked to bring some for the party. There were 100 people coming and I was determined to find a way to make enough bread for everyone without doing the monotonous, zombie-like rolling of over 100 buns.

I figured there must be a better (and fancier) way to serve everyone and decided on some sort of baguettes that could be laid down the long dinner table. After some internet searching I came across the beautiful Épis de Blé, an easy baguette variation with a unique cutting technique that turns an ordinary straight baguette into a beautiful sheaf of wheat. While looking pretty on the table, the baguettes are also perfectly pre-portioned into individual 'buns' that can be easily torn off, lending a nice family-esque 'breaking of bread together' element to a holiday meal.

I found surprisingly few good explanations of how to execute the Épis de Blé cutting technique online, which is very simple but needs to be done very precisely to get them perfect. I'll share some how-to information here, but for a specific step-by-step overview King Flour has a great article here with pictures you can follow.


Any good baguette recipe should work just fine, but because I was working in such massive quantities of ingredients (30+ cups of flour!!) I went with the easier, no-knead Artisan Bread in Five Minutes recipe. I mixed it on Friday night and had it proofing overnight to improve the flavour. It was a wetter dough than a tradition kneaded baguette would be, but was still easy to deal with for this technique. I had a funny moment when I forgot about the dough during the first rise while watching the new Avengers movie. Went into the kitchen to make popcorn to discover my huge stock pot lid sitting a foot in air above the pot as the dough had exploded out the top and had to be immediately punched into submission and divided into multiple vessels for overnight rising. Like I said, not so much experience in the making huge quantities of bread yet.

Having rolled out the traditional baguettes after proofing, transforming them into Épis de Blé was a simple as snipping consistent cuts along bread with sharp, clean scissor. The cuts go three-quarters of the way into the baguette, on a 20 degree angle as shown below, and each piece is then moved left or right to create the wheat sheaf design.

There seems to be multiple schools of thought (in the little I could find about Épis de Blé technique online) of when in the final baguette rise you should be doing the cutting. I decided to go with 'cut at the beginning of the final rise' and I'm not sure it was the right choice - the nice crisp looking 'wheat' shapes puffed out too much during the final rise in my opinion. I'll try cutting towards the end of the rise next time to see if a later cut solves this problem and keeps the pattern crisper.

For a little variety in the baguettes, before cutting them I rolled some in poppy seeds, some in extra flour and left some plain. The poppy seed ones were my favourite, really showing off the design the best, although they all turned out very pretty. I also put together a silly little bread turkey for the children's table with the leftover dough, and he turned out pretty cute, if a little cock-eyed.

The Épis de Blé baguettes turned out great and I was proud to see them laid all the way down the long table as we celebrated a lovely Thanksgiving feast with our friends and neighbours. I highly recommend giving them a go, an easy way to dress your home-baked baguettes up for the holidays.

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