Brioche--memories of Paris and fear of failure, well mixed. But no longer. I lucked into a copy of Ciril Hitz's book Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads, watched the included DVD, and now I have no more fear of failure. With brioche, that is.
as modified from Ciril Hitz, Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads
530g all-purpose or bread flour
50g granulated sugar
14g active dry or instant yeast
8g kosher salt
zest of ½ lemon
200g half-and-half (or whole milk)
200g unsalted butter, cold
50g whole eggs
50g egg yolks
egg wash as needed
cinnamon sugar as needed (optional)
This is a two-day bread, with proofing and baking on the second day. The second day could be tomorrow, or any time within two months. By the way, if you don't have a scale, or want weights in ounces, Hitz provides weights in grams and ounces, plus provides volume measurements and Baker's Percentage. I'm just not that thorough.
Begin by weighing the ingredients. The eggs might be a bit of a problem. A whole large egg weighs more than 50 grams--the one I used weighed 62. I actually ended up using 1 whole egg and 3 yolks even though Hitz says 1 egg and 2 yolks will work. Save the whites by freezing them for future baking.
Stir together all the dry ingredients in the work bowl of your stand mixer. Mix together the liquid ingredients in a large measuring cup. Then, using the dough hook on low speed, add the liquid ingredients and lemon zest. While the dough is mixing, remove your butter from the refrigerator. Pound it with a rolling pin until it is flattened and pliable.
When the dough begins to pull away from the side of the work bowl, increase the speed to medium. Break off a small piece of butter and add it to the dough. Wait until it is fully incorporated (the slapping noise will subside), then add more. Continue until all the butter is fully incorporated.
While kneading the dough, you might need to stop and scrape it off the hook. Continue kneading for several minutes, stopping now and then to check the gluten development. You check by stretching the dough to form a membrane--this is called the window pane test. Notice how the dough in the photo to the right is tearing. It isn't ready yet. Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for several more minutes.
I can't give you an estimate of the amount of time necessary to develop the gluten. The time will vary because of several factors, including the age of the flour, the ambient temperature, the temperature of the dough, and the humidity of your kitchen. All bread bakers have to deal with these variables every day, and the more bread you make, the easier it becomes.
Finally, the dough is nearly ready. The slight tear means the gluten isn't fully trained, but being able to stretch the dough thin enough to see through means it's very close. At this point I turned the dough out onto the work surface and kneaded it by hand for another minute. It isn't necessary to flour the work surface, and actually will cause problems if you do because that would add flour to the dough.
Form the dough into a ball. The most important thing to do when forming a bread dough into a ball is to increase the surface tension. Start by tucking the dough into itself. To get a good picture of what you need to do, look down at your hands with the palms facing each other, then curl your fingers upward into fists and continue curling. That's what you want to do to the dough. Then place it on the work surface and continue by pushing at the bottom with your thumbs, then pulling it back toward you with your fingers at the bottom.
When you have a nice looking ball of dough, flatten it with your hands. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and put into the freezer. It needs to be there at least six hours, and can remain up to two months. Transfer from the freezer to the refrigerator 12 hours before baking and proofing.
On baking day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it rest for about 20 minutes to come to room temperature. Using a scale and pastry scraper, cut the dough into ten pieces each weighing 50 grams. You may have a bit left over. The more precise you are about the weight the more even your loaf will be. Roll each piece into a ball. Again, the more perfectly formed the balls of dough, the better looking the loaf. As you can see, I got a bit sloppy about the rolling.
Prepare two loaf pans by spraying with nonstick cooking spray (I use Bak-klene). Place two rows of five balls in each loaf pan, cover the pans with plastic wrap or dry towels. Let proof at room temperature until the dough doubles in size, about 1-2 hours. About half an hour before the dough is ready, preheat your convection oven to 330°F. I haven't tried this in a regular oven, but 350°F and extra baking time should work fine.
Prepare an egg wash to brush the bread. I used one whole egg, one egg yolk, and two tablespoons of water. Lightly brush egg wash over the top of the dough, then dust with cinnamon sugar. I like my cinnamon sugar strong, so I use one tablespoon of cinnamon for ¼ cup of granulated sugar. Hitz suggests two teaspoons of cinnamon to 1 cup of sugar.
Baking turned out to be interesting. Hitz says to bake 30-35 minutes, until the tops have a nice brown color. I could smell that the bread was done at 23 minutes, so pulled it then. All I can suggest is that you start with 15 minutes of baking time, then check every five minutes. Remember also that the cinnamon sugar makes the tops look darker.
You can see the result of not being really fussy about making perfect little balls of dough. The tops of my loaves are uneven. Next time I'll be more of a perfectionist. I'll also add some raisins (about a cup) because this is the perfect raisin bread.
There you have it. Brioche is worth the effort. Pulling that loaf apart released a wonderful smell that reminded my of a boulangerie in Paris in the early morning.
Next time I'll make some scones. They don't take near the effort or equipment, and taste great with a cup of tea!