“So what’s in brioche?”
“Oh, just a few sticks of butter, 5 eggs, and some whole milk. A little sugar–”
It was at this point that he cut me off saying his angina had called, and was all that really necessary?
Of course it’s necessary. Peter Reinhart calls brioche, the fourth recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, “the standard by which all rich breads” are judged. In France, revolutionaries attributed an old quote of “qu’ils mangent de la brioche” to Marie Antoinette, and it got her head cut off. When Americans tell that same story, they sub in “cake” for brioche. It’s that rich. It’s light, delicate, airy in crumb, and ephermal on the tongue. But, maybe it didn’t have to be a rich as I described. I was dreaming of making Reinhart’s Rich Man’s Brioche, which uses a full pound of butter to give his bread the ultimate flake.
So, I compromised and made the Middle-Class version of the brioche with only 2 sticks of butter in it. My compromise was partially rooted in the fact that there were only two whole sticks of butter in my fridge, and I didn’t really want to make a trip to the store for more butter. I admit, I also had some reservations about mixing this dough by hand with a whisk and wooden spoon instead of a Kitchen Aid. I’d heard some say that getting the butter in by hand was next to impossible. I’m happy to report that it really isn’t, but the key is in having your butter truly at room temperature. To start, I put two sticks of butter out on Friday night, so that they could soften completely by the time I was ready to make the sponge and dough on Saturday.
No one lied when they said that this would be a workout. I made the sponge, and it rose beautifully. I added the eggs, which had been whisked smooth. I added in the flour, the sugar, the salt. Getting everything evenly hydrated involved lots of scraping, lots of folding, stirring and coaxing. I was glad of the five minute rest for the gluten to develop. I returned to add in the butter. Taking Reinhart’s advice of adding it one quarter at a time was not impossible. The butter was beautifully soft, and it spread and coated the dough. I continued mixing, folding, adding more butter; not once was I tempted to make my hands do the work. Now, his advice to mix for an additional six minutes after adding all the butter was a bit more work. My arms were so tired from forcing a wooden spoon through the dough. It was soft, but still very hard to mix. I mixed for closer to ten minutes, realizing that as I tired I would not mix as well. I placed my Silpat on the bottom of my baking sheet and misted it with spray oil. I formed the requisite rectangle of dough, misted the whole with more spray oil, and placed it in the fridge. There may have been no kneading involved, but the stirring was quite the workout!
The next morning brought shaping. I was going to make one large brioche à tête, four smaller ones, and use anything left for rolls. I did not fear handling the dough. I knew it must remain very cold, and I kept my hands well-floured. Shaping went well until I panicked regarding my large brioche à tête mold. Fill it halfway – what is halfway? I couldn’t decide, so I kept it conservative. I had a lot of dough left, so I made pullapart rolls with the rest. I now know that every bit of dough in those pullapart rolls should have gone into the large brioche à tête. It came out of the oven rather skimpy, even though all of the dough produced a wonderful oven spring.
The other thing I noticed post baking is that the little “têtes” had varying degrees of uprightness. A few were right where they belonged. Others leaned a bit to one side during proofing. Those that leaned became even more prominent after baking. This time I shaped the brioche à tête in two separate pieces, adding a ball to the top. Next time, I will experiment with making some in one piece as suggested alternatively in the book.
Nonetheless, I brushed my egg wash on the brioche, baked them off, and they were delicious. They baked up quickly in the amount of time suggested in the recipe, easily reaching the appropriate internal temperatures.
The crusts were glossy and flaky.
The crumb was tight and golden.
The recipe is winning. I am fantasizing about making them again and serving them for dessert filled with chocolate hazelnut gelato– but I tend to need to occupy my mind while riding my bike. This is a bread that requires a bit of exercise post-enjoyment!
This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.