It seems that one of the recipes nearly every home baker needs to try from Joanne Chang’s cookbook Flour is brioche. Not only is brioche a rich, buttery, wonderful treat on its own, but Chang also uses the dough as the basis for numerous other (even sweeter and richer) treats, like her famous sticky buns. Flour Bakery-Cafe even offers classes in making brioche! So of course I had to see what all the fuss was about. It’s a fairly complicated and time-consuming recipe, best made over the course of two days, so the dough can proof overnight in the refrigerator, but I had to work on Saturday so I didn’t have time to do that; the minimum required time is six hours, and by getting up fairly early (for me, for a Sunday) I was able to complete the entire process in one day. I did do some prep work before going to bed: I measured out all the dry ingredients and stirred them together in my stand mixer’s bowl, and most importantly, I portioned out the butter and eggs, and left them on the countertop overnight so that they would be at room temperature the following morning:
I covered the plate full of butter with a bowl to keep the butter from oxidizing too much. (In a bakery they go through butter so fast that there’s always some softened butter available, but we home bakers must generally take butter out of the freezer and let it come up to room temperature.) When I got up in the morning, it was a simple matter of dumping the eggs and the water into the mixer bowl, and starting it up:
Then it’s time to add the butter, in two-tablespoon hunks. My butter was quite soft (my condo tends to equilibrate at about 78°F over a summer night with the air conditioner left off), but still had no problem incorporating into the dough:
At first, the butter doesn’t look like it will combine with the brioche dough at all. But once you get half a pound kneaded in, the rest goes quite easily. (But I’d hate to have to do this kneading by hand!)
All of the butter has now been incorporated into the brioche dough, and it’s now nearly done with 15 minutes of kneading. Now it’s time to dump the dough into a smaller bowl so it will fit into the refrigerator:
This cold proof serves two functions: slow-raised yeast breads generally develop more and better flavor, but specifically in the case of brioche, an enormous amount of butter is worked into the dough, and the butter needs to be allowed to recrystallize so that it won’t leak from the dough during forming and bench proofing. Doing it this way allows you to work in fully softened butter using only the stand mixer. (Contrast the rather complicated butter-incorporation process Alton Brown describes in I’m Just Here for More Food, which is more like how you would make a laminated dough.)
Surprisingly, the brioche dough expands substantially in volume after just six hours, even in the refrigerator. This can probably be attributed to the amount of both yeast and sugar that went in at the start.
Chang’s brioche recipe makes enough dough for two loaves, so this giant ball of dough needs to be split in half for forming. The whole dough ball weighs about 1.4 kg (3 lb).
There is so much butter in the brioche dough that it really does feel, as Chang describes it, “like cold, clammy Play-Doh”. The first pound and a half of dough is pressed out into a nine-inch square and then folded up, like a business letter, to form the proto-loaf. (That’s one matter on which Chang and Brown do agree — although there’s no need to fold it more than once after all the kneading it had.)
After shaping, the brioche is bench-proofed for another four hours. The pan is lubricated with more butter (it was easier than cutting parchment to fit).
I dithered for a while over which pan to use; the one I ended up with is a 9″×5″ one, but I also considered a 9¼″×5¼″ one (which the first one fits inside). Maybe I should have used the slightly larger one, given how much the dough “log” expanded during bench proofing:
The top of the brioche is brushed with egg wash before baking in a 350°F oven.
It was done in only 35 minutes. Unfortunately, any unpreserved bread will last about three days in my kitchen before growing mold, so I have to freeze it, and that implies slicing it (so I can thaw individual servings). Even more unfortunately, I can’t slice worth beans, even with the help of my wooden slicing guide, so I have a bunch of really oddly-shaped slices — many of them too thin even for sandwiches, never mind pain perdu.
A single loaf, after baking, weighs about 530 g, and makes twelve ¾″ slices — 40–45 g each, or about an ounce and a half. I obviously got more than twelve slices, because I was (believe it or not) trying to make thinner slices, but I don’t think this was a success — for a bread this soft and rich, much better to pay the price and stick with the thicker slices.
Perhaps it’s a bit silly to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on a rich, soft bread like brioche, but I figured, why not? But at lunchtime I discovered why not: this bread is so soft that it practically vanishes in one’s mouth — not a good thing when each slice has so many calories — so in the future I’ll toast the brioche before making a sandwich out of it. (This will be even more clearly necessary when I make a tuna salad or chicken salad sandwich. It’s worth noting that at Flour, the sandwiches are made on focaccia, not brioche, which is a much sturdier bread.)
|Serving size: 1 slices|
|Servings per container: about 24|
|Amount per serving|
|Calories 221||Calories from fat 100|
|% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 11g||17%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||35%|
|Monounsaturated Fat 0g|||
|Trans Fat 0g|||
|Total Carbohydrate 24g||8%|
|Dietary fiber 0.5g||2%|