Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Brioche, lovely, lovely brioche

When I posted a while back about using up leftover Easter ham, I gave you all a recipe for ham salad, and said it would be good on croissants.  As I was writing the post, I realized brioche would be equally as yummy as the croissants.

Since I really *didn't* want to go to the store last weekend, and since I'm not about to make croissants (scared...yeah....no counter space for the folding and rolling....even more so !) (some things really are better left to the pros), I thought I'd make a loaf of brioche to hold my ham salad when I finally made it.

I'd made brioche once before.  Last Easter, as a matter of fact, and it was dynamite.  But lacking the traditional, fluted pan, I'd instead made it in a loaf pan.  While the taste rocked, I wanted to prove to myself that I could form the traditional, rounded-with-a-top-knot brioche shape.  On one of my thrift-store crawls a while later, I found an actual brioche pan for a whole $0.99 !  A run through my dishwasher and it was in fine shape.

And then summer came, and bread-baking got put on hold (no AC in the little kitchen), and when the weather cooled, other breads beckoned.  But the ham salad got me thinking about, and craving the rich, yeasty, buttery, eggy goodness that is brioche.

Last weekend was it.  Brioche was on my mind, and in my oven.  THIS time, a traditionally-shaped, fluted loaf.  Here's how you do it....

First, a couple of random notes.  The recipe is essentially from Peter Reinhart's wonderful, amazing book The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  If you are at all, AT ALL, serious about baking bread, and you don't have this book, you need to rectify the situation as soon as humanly possible.  It explains the chemistry, and yes, the biology (yeast is a living critter after all) of baking bread, and how the dough develops.  It will make you a better baker even if you never make one actual loaf of bread from the "formulas" (as Reinhart calls his recipes) in the book.  But the formulas are amazing, and yield amazing bread, albeit with a bit of work and more importantly, a bit of time.

That said, most, if not all, of Reinhart's formulas make two loaves of bread.  I'm single, and can barely get through one loaf before it stales or molds.  And my freezer is already stuffed to it's limits, so that's not really an option for excess bread.  So I cut his formulas in half just about every time.  The quantities I'm giving below are for one loaf.  Double them for two.

Secondly....although Reinhart lists both weights and volumes in his book for the ingredients,  because I'm splitting the recipe in half, and some of the volumes would be much smaller than the average home-baker's scale can recognize, I'm giving you the amounts in volumetric measurements.  We'll have a discussion a while later (in another post) about the difference between measuring your ingredients for baking (especially bread-baking) in weights versus volumes.  Weights are more accurate, in a nutshell.  But, as I said, for half of Reinhart's wonderful recipe, we'll be dealing with very small volumes, and most home scales won't have that resolution.  So volumes it will be for this.  And yes, you can split an egg in half, see the note below*.

I've also only given you instructions for making the dough in a stand mixer.  You obviously can do it manually as well, but the time for all the kneading steps will be longer.

On to the brioche !

Middle-Class Brioche
(From The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)

1/4 cup unbleached bread flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm whole milk (about 90° to 100°F)

2&1/2* large eggs, slightly beaten
1&1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tblsp. granulated sugar
5/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick), unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy with a little water, for egg wash (or the reserved 1/2 egg from the dough)

Make the sponge:  Stir together the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Stir in the the warmed milk until all the flour is moistened.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand, to ferment, for about 30-45 minutes, at room temperature, or until the sponge rises and then falls when you tap the bowl.

Here's the sponge after the fermentation.  I actually mucked this up...I didn't heat the milk (d'oh!) and added it straight from the fridge (yes, the book has been highlighted for this step).  It didn't hurt anything so far as I could tell, just took a bit longer to bubble, rise and then fall.

Add the eggs* to the sponge and  beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until smooth.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt.  Add this mixture to the sponge and eggs, and continue to mix with the paddle on low speed for about 2 minutes.

Here's an action shot of the mixing.  Note that we're still using the paddle, not the dough hook:

Then, while continuing to mix on medium speed with the paddle, gradually work in the butter, about one-quarter at a time, waiting until each addition of butter is thoroughly mixed in before adding more.

This will take a few minutes.  Continue mixing for about 6 more minutes, or until the dough is very well mixed.  You will have to scrape down the bowl from time to time as the dough will cling to it.  Note that, for just a single loaf, at this point I had to switch to the dough hook, because there wasn't sufficient dough to work properly with the paddle.  It just all jammed up on the frame of the paddle, and never hit the sides of the bowl to knead it.  I'd say I let it go about 3 minutes on the paddle, scraped it all off, then another 6 with the dough hook.

When you're done, it should be smooth and soft.  Here's what mine looked like:

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and spray lightly with oil (a mister or cooking spray is fine.  I use a canned, olive oil spray from Trader Joe's).  Transfer the dough to the sheet pan, spreading it to form a large, thick rectangle about 3x4 inches.  (Roughly.  Again, this is a half recipe.  The original says 6x8, so I figured, hey, 3x4 sounds good.  Mine may have been a bit larger, but no harm, no foul.)  Mist one side of a piece of plastic wrap with oil, and place it, oil-side down on the dough.

Aaannnddd, the visual:

Place the covered pan into the fridge, and chill overnight, or for at least 4 hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and shape it while it is VERY COLD.  That will keep the butter evenly distributed.  If it warms up or softens, return it to the fridge.  Lightly oil, or use spray, to grease your brioche mold, or grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.  Dust your board with flour.  For a traditional brioche shape (called a brioche a tete), shape the dough into a ball, like this:

Flour your hands, and using the edge of one hand, divide off a smaller ball of dough on one side of the larger ball, by pressing down, but not totally, through the dough.  Kinda like a karate chop, only not so violent:

Use the tips of your fingers to further define and and separate the top-knot, without completely detaching it.  Center it as best you can, and get as much definition as possible.  Mine could have used a bit more, as we'll see:

Put the shaped dough in the brioche pan:

For a loaf, keep the dough in a rectangle, and working from a short side, fold the dough over onto itself in thirds, much like a letter, firmly sealing each crease, and smoothing to strengthen the surface tension of the dough.  The loaf will expand as you do this, eventually extending out to the full 9 inches.  Pinch the final seam closed, but do not taper the ends.  Place the loaf in the pan; the ends should touch the pan to ensure an even rise.

Mist the top of the dough with oil spray, and cover loosely with plastic wrap, which has also been sprayed with oil on one side (oil side to dough).  Proof the dough until it nearly fills the pan, about 2 to 3 hours for the large loaves.  Gently brush the tops with the egg wash, recover with the oiled plastic wrap, and continue proofing for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until the dough has filled the mold or pan.  My pan was probably a bit too large for my loaf, but it still looked OK, and tasted GREAT.

Preheat the oven to 350°, and put the rack in the middle.  Bake about 35 to 50 minutes for either a brioche a tete or a loaf.  The internal temperature, read with an instant-read thermometer, should be above 190°F and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Even though my loaf was on the small side, it took the whole time, and a bit more, so use that thermometer.

Remove the brioche or loaf from the pan as soon as it comes out of the oven, and cool on a rack for at least one hour before serving.

Yeah, that top-knot's a bit lame......but this was a first try on a traditionally shaped brioche, so overall, I'm pretty pleased.  And as I said, my pan may have been a bit too large.....next time I think I'll do the whole recipe, use more dough for the brioche pan, and bake the left-over dough either in a muffin tin (sort of like mini-monkey breads, rolling the dough into balls) or a small loaf pan.

But that's what this cooking journey is all about.  You cook, or bake, you make mistakes, and you learn.  And you get goodies as part of the learning process.  *THAT* works for me.

And, yes, it was simply "mahhhh-velous" with my ham salad.  And the last, staled-out dregs made the best French toast EVER today.

*NOTE:  To split an egg in half....crack into a small bowl, and whisk with a fork or a small whisk to combine the yolk and the white.  Then pour off  half of the amount into a second bowl (you can also portion out by measuring spoon-fulls).  Reserve the remaining half for another use, or feed to your grateful Furry Sous Chefs.

If it's bread, the cool place to be is Yeastspotting !

1 comment:

  1. The last time I made brioche was over 20 years ago. I can see that I definitely need to remedy that. Your loaf is gorgeous! Beautiful crumb and color. I do love Peter Reinhart. I'm using his starter method with pineapple juice right now and it is very happy so far. :)