Sunday, August 31, 2014

Brioche


I often debate whether brioche or challah is my favorite bread.  They share many similarities, for sure.  But brioche has that perfect illusion of lightness that can only come from a TON of fat.  Like slicing into a rich, buttery cloud.  Here I'm using Peter Reinhart's brioche recipes from his classic book The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I say recipes, because I made both the Rich Man's Brioche and Middle-Class Brioche, the difference between the two mostly just being the amount of butter.  The rich man's brioche has a full pound of butter, resulting in an extremely moist bread with a more open crumb and a very intense buttery flavor.  Great for eating as-is, toasted or untoasted, or with jelly or preserves (my favorite accompaniment is actually a sour cherry compote which I sadly don't have at the moment.)

The middle-class brioche has only (hah) a half-pound of butter and is better suited to sandwich buns than its richer sister because the dough has a little more stretch and thus the bread holds together more, while the rich man's will pretty much crumble between the pressure of sliced meat and teeth.  It's excellent for French toast,  too.  The middle-class brioche is also a little easier to shape, because working with a really high butter content dough is kind of like trying to make pottery with clay that melts when you touch it.




Rich Man's Brioche

Sponge
1/2 cup (2.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
1 tablespoon (.33 oz) instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 oz) whole milk, lukewarm (90° to 100° F)

Dough
5 large (8.25 oz) eggs, slightly beaten
3-1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached bread flour
2-1/2 tablespoons (1.25 oz) granulated sugar - I like my brioche sweeter, so I use 1/3 cup sugar.
1-1/2 teaspoons (.38 oz) salt
2 cups (16 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy, for egg wash

To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a large bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer.)  Stir in the milk until all the flour is hydrated.  Cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 20 minutes, or until the sponge rises and then falls when you tap the bowl.


To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and whisk (or 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 stir (or continue to mix with the paddle on low speed for about 2 minutes) until all the ingredients are hydrated and evenly distributed.


Let this mixture rest for 5 minutes so that the gluten can begin to develop.  Then, while mixing with a large spoon (or on medium speed with the paddle,) gradually work in the butter, about one-quarter at a time, waiting until each addition of butter assimilates 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.  The dough will be very smooth and soft.




Line a sheet pan with baking parchment or plastic wrap, and mist lightly with spray oil.  Transfer the dough to the sheet pan, spreading it to form a large, thick rectangle measuring about 6 by 8 inches.  Mist the top of the dough with the spray oil an cover the pan with plastic wrap or place it in a large food-grade plastic bag.  This dough will not rise much while retarding, so I wrap mine tightly in well-greased plastic wrap.


Immediately put the pan into the refrigerator and chill overnight, or for at least four hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape it while it is very cold.  If it warms up or softens, return it to the refrigerator.

The most common ways to shape brioche are as a loaf, as small rolls or buns, or as brioches à tête.  I made loaves and muffin-pan brioche for ease and speed.  Unless it is a very small roll (usually around 1.5 oz,) which can be shaped and baked on a silpat liner or parchment, you will want to proof and bake the brioche in a (lined or well-greased) mold.  I didn't get many pictures of this process, because I was working really quickly, and when it comes to working with this melty, buttery dough, usual shaping methods that assume a little bit of stretch and give in the dough are just not going to do the trick.  For a standard-size (greased!) loaf pan, you can use between 1/3 and half the total dough, and however you can quickly shape it into a rough log, that will do.  



You can use small, fluted molds for round rolls or têtes if you have them, or like I did, use a muffin pan with cupcake liners or tulip cups, or just grease the cups very well.  I used 2.5 ounces of dough for each in the first batch, and 2 ounces in the second.  Shape them into rounds by flouring one side of the piece of the dough, and folding it over itself to the bottom from every side.  Then, loosely cupping the dough in your hand, place the bottom on the work surface and move it in a circular motion until the skin of the dough pulls taut and forms a smooth ball.

Têtes are a bit beyond my skill to explain without a visual aid (if you want it to keep its shape after proofing and baking, you need to poke a hole and pull part of the dough through,) but you can find lots of resources on the myriad ways to shape brioche on the web.  I don't get too fancy with it because my main concern is devouring it asap.

Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and loosely cover the pan(s) with plastic wrap.  Brioche sometimes needs coaxing, so I'll set it on top of a warm oven to proof.  Proof the dough until it nearly fills the molds or loaf pans, 1-1/2 to 2 hours for small rolls or têtes or longer for large shapes. As I was going for a muffin-top on my small brioche, I started much closer to filling the molds and let them proof over the tops.  Gently brush the tops with the egg wash.  Cover the dough again with plastic wrap that has been lightly misted with spray oil.  Continue to proof for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until the dough fills the molds or pans. 

middle row has some cinnamon sugar rolled in it
Preheat the oven to 400° with the oven rack in the middle shelf for small shapes, or 350° for larger loaves.

Although I have the utmost faith in Mr. Reinhart... I always find his baking times way too long in my experience, so I will just say internal temperature is key!  You want the internal temperature of small brioche to be at least 180° F, and 190° F for large loaves.  I'd check a 2 oz roll starting at around 10 minutes, and a large loaf starting at around 22-25, and continue testing periodically from there if it hasn't reached temp yet.  You don't want it to go too high above the target temperature or you're losing moisture!  The bread should be golden brown and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom, although this brioche is very soft and airy when it comes out of the oven, so the thump test isn't that easy to perform.



Remove the brioches or loaves from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven and set on a wire rack until fully cooled before serving.

Middle-Class Brioche Variation

Sponge
1/2 cup (2.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons (.22 oz) instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 oz) whole milk, lukewarm (90° to 100° F)

Dough
5 large (8.25 oz) eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups (13.75 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons (1 oz) granulated sugar - I still use 1/3 cup!
1-1/4 teaspoons (.31 oz) salt
1 cups (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy, for egg wash

Proceed as described for Rich Man's Brioche, extending the fermentation time for the sponge to 30 to 45 minutes.

Et voila- brioche!


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