June 14, 2008

do the do the brioche

Saturday, I spent my morning learning the fundamentals of making brioche. Originally, I was taking the class as sort of sloppy seconds to the boule/French bread class, which was full. As with any Saturday morning informal class, there was a motley assortment of bakers, from the know-it-all to the silent perfectionist and the quirky mother-daughter duo.

I had forgotten how my normally slackeresque persona morphs to a focused a-type when I'm in a classroom setting and really want to get something out of the class. Our instructor, chef Amy Osborne, was great. Very informative about technique as well as the history and the science of the bread.

You probably already know this, but brioche is a rich dough, which means it has a high quantity of sugar and fats and/or eggs. Because of the high fat content, the dough will be a bit more moist and yields a softer and richer texture.

Basic Brioche
(from Amy Osborn)

4 oz milk
.33 oz instant yeast
4 oz bread flour (more imporant than I thought, though "AP," all purpose, is the next best thing)

7 oz eggs (probably 4 avg-sized, with yolks)
1 lb bread flour
1 oz sugar
1/4 oz salt
7 oz butter, softened and cut into large chunks

In a small saucepan, warm the milk to 100o, or until you just barely sense it's warmed by testing with a finger tip or the inside of your wrist. Put the milk in a large mixing bowl, and dissolve the yeast in the milk. (You can stir it around, mix with fingers, etc., until yeast is almost all dissolved, approx. 1-2 minutes.) Add flour and mix by hand until it comes together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to double in size. (You can speed this up by placing the bowl in a sunny spot or on an oven with the pilot light on. Don't over do it though: Once the temperature goes above 90 degrees, the fermentation will begin to slow.)

Put the sponge in the bowl of your mixer and gradually add the eggs and then the dry ingredients. Combine for about 3 minutes on low, adding the butter slowly. Increase the speed to medium for another 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. It should be consistent, smooth, and very soft and tacky to the touch. (My dough was was actually pretty darn moist, and not entirely smooth, but the brioche came out pretty well anyway!)

Place the dough in a lightly sprayed plastic storage bag or covered bowl in the refrigerator overnight to ferment.

Within two days, use the chilled dough to create the brioche form of your choice.

Yield 2 pans of cinnamon rolls or about 2 dozen rolls.

I have very little wisdom to impart thus far down the brioche path (or that of the bread baker for that matter), but what I've learned so far is
  • When warming the milk, the heat should barely be perceptible to the touch. Too hot, and you'll kill or at least inhibit the yeast.
  • As you mix the dough, start at 3 minutes on low and then increase to high for 3 more minutes. If, by the end of the first 3 minutes, the dough looks very moist and does not seem to be coming together, be at the ready to sneak in a touch of flour (about a teaspoon at a time) until the texture becomes more consistent but is still very porous and sticky.
  • At the end of mixing, the dough should be dry enough to touch lightly but wet enough to stick to the bottom of the bowl or to a too-invasive finger. (Dirty!)
  • If glazing by brushing the dough with egg, be conservative: Too much egg running into the pan risks your bread sticking at the end of baking.
  • Brioche is good for hangovers (mine) and picky husbands who often are not impressed with your cooking (also mine).
  • It's a good idea to rotate bread once during baking to overcome hotspots. (I realize most cooks already know this, but I've yet to incorporate this into my own repertoire!)
In three hours, I'd made a pan of cinnamon raisin rolls, brioche a tete, and a pan of small pull-apart rolls perfect for a dinner party of family gathering. Not only that, but we also went home with a batch of dough that I'll be doing... something... with Sunday! Turns out the class wasn't a disappointment in the least.

Stay tuned and see how I may or may not screw up the lovely dough that awaits me in the fridge.

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