Whole Wheat and Bacon Pain d’Epi
Everyone has those certain things that they will never run out of, because such items tend to be bought in bulk and are used so frequently that there is always some on hand. For example, I buy compostable green bags, toothpaste and disinfectant cleaning wipes so often that even after the zombie apocalypse, it is unlikely that we will ever be facing a shortage. Which is important, because fighting against having one’s brain spooned up like strawberry sorbet is still not an excuse to take shortcuts with good oral hygiene.
The same can be said for my main pantry staples, like sugar and flour, the latter of which I tend to buy in bags that could fit on a grain scale. In fact, until last weekend, the possibility that I would ever run out of all purpose flour would have been so comically remote that I would scoff at the very suggestion, even while signing up to make, say, chocolate peanut butter cake and bacon bread for a family gathering.
And then I started baking and realized that I had about two cups of all purpose flour.
On a long weekend.
With no car, and no friendly and available neighbors.
Not cool, you guys. NOT COOL at all.
I went flying downstairs to see what I had in my reserves, because surely, even if my jar was almost empty, there must be a half sack or so on the shelve….nope. Nothing. Well, that’s not true. I had three (3!) bags of whole wheat flour, tapioca flour and even chestnut flour, but prospects on the all-purpose were looking pretty weak. The good news is that I am nothing if not industrious, so while I worked out how to purloin some A/P for the cake, in the mean time, I got started on the bacon bread….which was clearly destined to be whole wheat.
So what’s the deal with this “bacon bread” that I keep talking about? I wish that I could take credit for such brilliance, but in fact I first came across the marvelous idea of a Bacon Epi over at Diamonds for Dessert (who you should check out, by the way, because she does the cutest darned things that you will ever see when it comes to cookies and cupcakes).
I love shaped breads, be they braided, curled, twisted or tied, and pain d’epi (bread formed like a stalk of wheat) is one of my favorites. I used to vary my loaves by rolling the dough around shredded cheese or forming a crescent shaped pesto pain d’epi, but once I made the bacon epi….well, that was it. Because, you know, bacon. I have a soft spot for pig.
This is the first time that I used a soft whole-wheat dough to make the bacon pain d’epi, but I have to say…I liked it. Quite a bit. The heartiness of whole wheat flour really tempered the salty, fatty flavor of the bacon, and I really dig the unapologetic “Big Mac with a Diet Coke” feeling that you get from making a light whole-wheat loaf, and then stuffing it with cured pork belly. Because…why not?
Whole Wheat and Bacon Pain d’Epi
Makes 8 individual pain d’epi
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 cups warm water
- 1/2 cup mashed potato flakes *
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1.5 cups all purpose flour, plus ~ 1/2 cup more for board
- 1 tsp salt
- 8 slices bacon **
* Instant mashed potato flakes are a handy thing to have in your cupboard for bread making. In all honesty, I can’t say that I have ever used them for another purpose (such as, say, making mashed potatoes), however they can be pretty invaluable when it comes to making a tough, dense dough like whole wheat rise up nicely light and springy. The box is dirt cheap and will last you through many a bread loaf.
** Do you love the meaty, chewiness of thick cut bacon? Oh man, so do I. So good news: you get to keep that for your next breakfast. For this application, you want a thinner, standard sliced bacon because otherwise it will not cook through adequately and/or be touch and unappealing in the epi.
Measure the yeast, sugar and mashed potato flakes into a mixing bowl and stir in the warm (not hot!!!) water. Set this aside for a few minutes until it looks nice and frothy, which means that your yeast is active. If the mixture does not bubble and swell after 10 minutes, it likely means that your yeast is dead and you should start again with a new packet, being mindful not to use water that is too hot.
Sprinkle in the salt and then stir in the whole wheat and all purpose flours. At first, when the flours begin to incorporate into the dough, it may seem a bit dry and scrappy. Knead it a few times in the bowl.
What you will find is that the more you knead the dough, the stickier it gets. Continue to knead it directly in the bowl, as best you can, until all of the flour is incorporated into a soft, tacky and slightly wet dough.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set it aside to rise in a warm spot for about 1 – 1.5 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
In the mean time, prepare your bacon. You want to partially cook the bacon strips in advance because they won’t have much time in the oven once they’re wrapped inside that moist whole wheat bread. There are two ways to do this.
The first method is to cook the bacon in a frying pan (or in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet) for a few minutes until it is half-cooked and the strips are starting to curl, then drain the bacon on paper towel until you’re ready to form the loaves. This gives you a much stronger, saltier bacon-y flavor in the bread, although the loaves also tend to be a bit greasier.
The second method is to blanch the strips in boiling water for about 2 minutes, then let them drain on paper towel until you’re ready to form the loaves. This removes much of the salt and grease but also yields a much milder bacon flavor.
Truth be told, I prefer the greasier and salty oven-cooked bacon in these loaves, but my conscience leads me to boil them most of the time. On the plus side, that bacon flavored water never gets thrown out, because it is perfect for adding a depth of flavor to simmering lentils and legumes, soup stocks and even (shame on me!) pasta water.
Flour your work surface rather liberally as well as flouring your hands. Pinch the dough into 8 evenly sized mounds, dusting each one in flour before laying it down on your board. The dough is sticky, but that extra moisture is going to make a difference in the rise of the loaves, believe you me. Be patient and don’t worry too much about it, as long as you keep everything well floured where the dough will touch.
Pat one mound of dough into a long 8×3″ rectangle, dusting the dough with a bit more flour if it sticks to your hands as you pat it out. Lay a strip of bacon along the center of the dough and roll it up jelly-roll style. Repeat with the remaining dough and bacon.
Lightly grease two large baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper for easy bread removal and clean-up. Lay the loaves seam side down on the sheets with at least 2 inches of space between each one.
Cover the loaves with a clean tea towel and set them aside to rise in a warm spot for approximately 45 minutes, or until they are swelled and almost doubled in size.
While the bread rises, pre-heat your oven to 450ºF with your rack in the lower third.
Immediately before baking the bread, take a sharp pair of kitchen shears and make 6-7 parallel snips in the bread, each one at a 45º angle and snipping almost -but not entirely- through the bread, making sure that the base is still attached. Take the point of the first snip and pull it out to the left. Take the point of the second snip and pull it out to the right. Repeat this process going up each loaf of bread and teasing each section apart so that it looks like you have a sheaf of wheat.
Bake the bread for 9-12 minutes in a hot oven. The bread is ready when it is golden brown on the top and bottom.
These little bacon pain d’epi would be perfect for a picnic or a potluck as a nice alternative to your standard whole wheat dinner roll, and they are easily pried apart to be shared. Or not. After all, after baking with all that healthy whole wheat flour, who could possibly begrudge you your own measly strip of bacon? Certainly not I!