Brioche, Beautiful Brioche

Last year I attempted brioche for the first time after discovering this recipe from King Arthur Flour.  I’d honestly never believed that brioche could be this easy; I mean how could only a few ingredients and some muscle produce such a meltingly rich and tender crumb?  But I gave it a try and was thrilled with the results.  The dough was as supple and silky as a Hitchcock heroine, and the loaf was heavy and almost creamy, with a rich, complex flavor, satisfying on its own and heaven with butter or jam.

Since then brioche has become something of a treat around here.  It takes planning since the mixing and kneading and rising and resting and baking  (whew!) can take up to 18 hours, so I have to mix up a batch in the afternoon before the morning when I want to bake.  Out of the fridge it feels so good in my hands I have to fight the desire to keep playing with it.  Yes, I love this loaf.  Does it show?

So at Glinda’s urging I planned to start a batch this afternoon.  I decided to try making a double batch because it goes so fast around here, and we usually give some away.  We were also talking about brioche French  toast for Sunday morning.  But I also know that doubling recipes isn’t always as easy as you might think.  So I started an online chat with the KAF help folks.  Yes, I could double the recipe.  It would be best to leave the yeast at the original amount  (1.5 t) and increase the salt only by half.  Other than that everything would just be doubled.  I love KAF; they have wonderful products, great recipes and they’re immensely helpful.  They really are my go-to resource for bread baking.

I had to snag half a dozen eggs from Glinda just to be sure I had enough for the brioche and the pie I want to make next week… or Sunday, I’m not sure yet.  The first step is to mix the eggs, flour, yeast and water together, so I dumped it all in the KitchenAid and began to mix.  I did actually add a touch more yeast, but I didn’t double it.

The flour/egg mixture after beating.
Covered, resting, with the rest of the ingredients measured out and waiting.

After mixing, the proto dough has to rest for 45 minutes or so, so I took some time to contemplate the mint I rescued from Glinda yesterday.

 Then I went off to read email and make notes on a new story idea and the  45 minutes flew by.  When I came back, the yeast had begun to bubble the mixture as expected.  So I added the rest of the flour, the sugar and salt and began to knead the dough.  Because it was a double batch, the process was a bit terrifying with the bowl coming loose and then reattaching as the dough rolled around inside.  Once it was smooth and moving more easily I started adding the softened butter.

There’s an entire pound of butter in this double batch, and I hope you appreciate what it means when I tell you that this recipe makes what’s known as “middle class” brioche.  Rich man’s brioche has  twice the amount of butter.  Imagine what that means if you have to knead the stuff in by hand.  I have a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook and I found it tedious and a little unnerving.  The butter doesn’t want to be part of the dough, it really doesn’t, so it leaps around the side of the bowl, smearing itself all over the bowl and the surface of the dough, making a hideous mess that would cause the faint-of-heart to assume the recipe was ruined, and toss it all in the garbage.

But if you’re stubborn like me, you’ll just keep dropping lumps of softened butter in and scraping down the sides of the bowl until the butter and dough come to an agreement and merge forming a beautiful, loose ball of dough that is at the same time sticky and oily.  It’s something of a miracle really.

At this point it’s time to let everyone rest, dough, mixer, and baker alike.  Plop it into a greased container and cover.  Leave it alone for about an hour.  I got involved watching John Oliver and let it go for 90 minutes.  It more than doubled.  Oops.

It gets turned out onto a clean surface and kneaded lightly deflating it substantially, placed back in the greased bowl, and left in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and as many as 16.  Even in the fridge this thing inflates so that by the time I rescue it the next morning, it’s doubled in size again.  It’s ice cold and hard to work, but my pastry cloth and a bench knife made short work of it.  I shape three mini loaves and one large brioche pan full of dough, cover them with the pastry cloth and go off to have breakfast with Glinda.

The oven is on the whole time, it helps warm the dough so it can do its final rise prior to baking.  But the loaves rises at erratic rates so after breakfast I put one small one in.  It takes only 30 of the allotted 40 minutes before my brand new instant read thermometer — one of the freebies I got through the Vine program — tells me that the bread is definitely above 190 degrees inside.  The next two small loves hit doneness at about 25 minutes.  Finally the brioche pan goes in.  It’s not achieved any real loft this time around, so it’s not the beautiful loaf I’d hoped for, but it’s pretty substantial.  And it takes close to 50 minutes to bake to the right internal temperature.

The final result:

This is a loaf of bread that could make you weep with gratitude.  It’s buttery, tender and fragrant.  With a touch of butter and honey, it’s a fairy tale breakfast.  Just look at this texture:

All that butter means that this is also a lot shorter than most breads.  There’s a fragile quality to the crust that is reminiscent of a great croissant or cookie.  The recipe I used is on the sweet side (though I didn’t double the sugar on this batch) which makes it perfect as a breakfast loaf, or for tea or a snack.  But it can also be a savory bread if that’s the way your tastes lie.  I’m working up a recipe idea for a saffron brioche, but I’m not entirely certain of how I want to proceed.

We ate way too much of this stuff over the weekend.  I’d planned to give part of the large loaf to our neighbors, but because I didn’t see them on Sunday, I gave up on the idea.  Good as it still tastes to me, it really is a rather fragile loaf and it’s beginning to seem dry.  The smaller loaves had been spoken for, alas.  Next time I’ll be certain they get to share.

Long story short, brioche is a lot of work, but it’s eminently worth it.


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