Brioche


When I first started researching recipes on brioche on the internet, it became immediately apparent that there are not many bakers any more who have the cojones (or ovarios) to make this bread by hand.

What is so special about this bread that it makes eunuchs of all these bakers? Well, most people who have tried to make this bread talked about how difficult it is to knead butter into the dough. The butter seeps out of the dough and makes an oily mess all over the work surface. This, apparently, doesn’t happen with bread machines. But just when all hope was lost, I came across this youtube video:

Brioche by hand. The emasculation of bakers everywhere averted by an Asian man with the voice, mannerisms, and body shape of Julia Child.

This video is great because unlike many other bakers on the internet, he is willing to actually show his kneading process in detail and for a fair length of time, which is absolutely crucial for a video designed to teach people how to make and develop their bread dough properly.

So without further ado, this blog is about how to make brioche by hand, using the recipe adapted from the youtube video above.

Ingredients

Brioche, for when you must have rich, buttery bread. Side effects include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a slight increase in overall unattractiveness to the opposite sex. Batteries not included, utensils sold separately.

Prep & Wait time: ~12 hours (mostly waiting)

3 cups all-purpose flour[1]
2 tbsp milk
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tbsp yeast
1 cup (2 sticks) butter[2]
5 eggs, + 1 more for eggwash

Tools that you will need: A rolling pin or rolling pin-like object, a dough scraper, or otherwise small rectangular sheet of plastic/metal that can scrape sticky dough off a work surface, some parchment paper.

[1] Bread flour might work, but haven’t tried it. Brioche is so rich it’s practically half cake so all-purpose flour should be fine. You will also need a tablespoon or two more for dusting your work surface.
[2] Non-negotiable. You can kick and scream about it being unhealthy, but if you’ve ever bought cake or brioche or whatever from a bakery they’re pretty much using as much if not more butter.

Baking

The most important thing to get right when making good bread is to get the dough right. And to get dough right while working by hand, you must practice making bread many times. But do not worry! Even if your dough does not come out perfect, you can still bake it, and the end product will still be tasty.

Dough or dough not, there is no try. Well you’re WRONG, Yoda. You have to keep trying until you can dough it right.

Begin with a large bowl and a smaller container. Crack all five eggs into the smaller container and measure out two tablespoons of milk into it. You do not need to beat the eggs. In the larger bowl, measure out all your dry ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Keep your butter in the refrigerator for now. Use a spatula to mix together the dry ingredients until homogenous.

Dump your eggs and milk into the dry ingredients. Mix with your spatula until you get a sort of shaggy looking mass.

OK great! You’ve made it this far! Ramping up the difficulty in 3… 2… 1…

Lightly flour your work surface and dump your dough onto the surface. Knead the dough for a while (check out the youtube video if you need some assistance on how to knead. You are essentially pushing the dough out a little bit with the heel of your hand, folding the dough back in on itself, and rotating the dough to repeat the process). The dough should be fairly easy to work with right now. It might stick to your hands a bit. Refrain from adding any more flour, just go with the flow and keep kneading until the dough is somewhat smooth and elastic, about 5-6 minutes. Bring out your butter now.

Why have bread and butter when you can just have bread, with an ass-ton of butter already mixed in.

Roll out, with a rolling pin or your hands, your dough until it is an oval roughly 5 inches by 8 inches, or ~13 cm x 20 cm. Unwrap your cold butter and beat it to flatten and soften it with a rolling pin or some other blunt object.

What happened to your butter? It…. it fell.

Place the pieces of butter on top of your flat dough. Fold the dough in half around the butter, encasing the butter completely around the dough, and start kneading. Push the dough out (about half an inch to an inch or so at first, so as not to tear the dough), fold the dough back on itself, rotate, fold again, push dough out, and so on. Now is the time to bring out your dough scraper. It is [i]extremely[/i] useful at this point in time, so if you do not have a dough scraper, look for a flat piece of plastic or metal that you can use as a substitute.

As you are kneading, bits of butter will inevitably seep out of your dough, start melting, get sticky, etc. Do not worry about it. Keep kneading, occasionally bringing bits of butter back into your dough as you go along. As time goes on, the butter will melt more and more, and goop up around your work surface. That’s fine, keep kneading. Now is the time to use the scraper to scrap the goopy butter back into your dough as you knead.

After about 5-10 minutes, the butter will have been completely incorporated into your dough. You should have a very sticky, un-dough-like mass. Well done! You are exactly where you should be! Now continue to knead to the best of your ability, scraping often to gather the muck that has stuck to your work surface. Do not use any flour, do not add water or oil. Simply keep kneading and scraping. After 10-15 minutes, the dough will start becoming more coherent, and no longer stick to your work surface or your hands as much (but it will always be a bit sticky).

The dough will also become increasingly elastic, so you can pull it out about 3-5 inches before having to fold it back on itself. When you get to this point, the dough is pretty much done. The test that many bakers like to use for the dough is to stretch a bit of it out. If you can stretch a bit of dough out so that part if it looks translucent (partially lets light in from the other side) and not tear the dough, your dough is done. Fold it in on itself and shape the dough into a nice soft ball.

He’s got big balls, and she’s got big balls, but we’ve got the biggest balls of them all.

Lightly oil a large pot and deposit your ball of dough into the pot. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least eight hours. The most difficult part of making brioche is done!

Eight hours later, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Fold the dough on itself a couple of times, then divide it equally into at least three pieces. You will notice that the cold dough is considerably less sticky and easier to work with,

Don’t dread the kneading. Have a sip of mead, get relaxed instead, tread lightly but don’t stop making bread until you’re dead.

Fold the pieces in on themselves a bit- this increases the surface tension and improves the quality of the crust. Then, shape your pieces into balls. This will allow you to create large ball-shaped loaves of brioche bread, which can be consumed either as-is or be used as parts of other recipes (future blog nudge nudge wink wink? maybe).

Shape each piece of dough into a ball and place them, evenly spaced, onto a piece of parchment paper. Leave them in a warm place for 2-3 hours to rise.

So you see, the dough has doubled in size. And you can double in size too, from eating this bread.

Now you are almost ready to bake. Pre-heat the oven to 350F (175C) Beat an egg in a small bowl, and brush the egg wash over each ball. If you do not have a brush, just use a paper towel. Crumple it up into a rod-like shape and use one end to soak up the egg wash. Brush the loaves once, wait for the layer to dry, then brush them a second time. Cut a cross shape on the top of the loaf. You should make your cross shape larger than I made mine, since mine did not prevent the loaf from splitting elsewhere due to expansion during the baking process.

You should also space the loaves further apart than I did to avoid making Siamese brioche twins.

Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes, depending on your oven, rotating the pan once during the baking process. Start checking in as early as 20 minutes to make sure you do not burn the egg wash.

I love the smell of brioche at 1 AM in the morning. It smells like… victory.

Wait at least five minutes to cool before consuming.

The Result

I heard that bread always lands butter side down, so I dropped a slice of brioche. It couldn’t decide which side had more butter so it just spun around in mid-air.

You can probably see that I need to work on getting a better oven and probably finding a more attractive way to shape my loaves. But I was very satisfied with the way the brioche turned out. First, the smell of fresh baked bread, of eggs and butter, permeated the entire house. Second, the crust had a gentle crunch to it, while the inside was fluffy and soft, somewhere between a bread and a cake. Brioche is great eaten as is (or as part of a sandwich), but it can also be used as a component in various other dishes both sweet and savory.

Conclusion

Bread, despite being a staple food, is surprisingly time consuming and complicated to make. Good bread is tricky. It requires thorough understanding of how the ingredients work in relation to each other. It requires repeated failures to build up experience on how to handle and knead dough.

But god damn is it satisfying to make. Every time you make bread you learn something new, and you unravel more of the secrets of bread making. And even if it does not come out absolutely perfect, it still tastes pretty damned good. If you enjoy learning new things with ample rewards during the learning process, bread making is for you.

Oh, and fuck bread machines.

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