Ahhhhh la brioche! Any cookbook with a brioche recipe has a guaranteed spot on my shelf. I cannot adequately express the depth of my love affair with this buttery cake-like bread, how I spent so many days and nights fantasizing about its airy texture and indulgently rich crumb, mentally walking through each step of Damien Pignolet’s formula, before finally making my first attempt 3 years ago. Armed with a wooden spoon and tons of elbow grease, I finally mustered the courage to bake my very own brioche. The resulting loaf left me wondering why it took me ages to ever try the recipe, and like any crush, left me craving for more. Yes, more. More of that continuous mixing motion to combine a crazy amount of butter into flour, more of that patient, gentle coaxing to shape the lumpy, stubborn mess into a glistening smooth dough, more of the whole rising and resting cycles (no less than 3), more of heating up the kitchen to an insane temperature in Singapore’s 98F, sauna-like environment. After that first bite, I wanted to do it all again.
Since moving away from the sauna and into California’s dry climate, I couldn’t wait to revisit the brioche recipe with our gas transplant from the ’50s. But it was not meant to be. After 3 dismal tries (there’s something about this number I tell you….) with the dough petulantly refusing to rise each time, I gave up. I blamed the oven, the house, the climate, everything, for banishing brioche (and bread)-making from my kitchen forever.
So it was with no small amount of trepidation (and excitement) that I decided to take on the BBA Challenge. As my experience with Anadama bread showed, the real problem behind my disastrous bread-making attempts were not the oven, but the type of yeast we had. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to revisit my beloved brioche with that discovery.
Reinhart gives us 3 brioche recipes in his book – Rich Man’s Brioche, Middle-Class Brioche and Poor Man’s Brioche – each differentiated by the varying amounts of butter used, with Rich Man’s Brioche calling for the largest amount (16 ounces) and Poor Man’s Brioche having the least (4 ounces). The choice was clear: Rich Man’s Brioche of course! If you’re going to make a calorific dish – go the whole hog, that’s my philosophy.
The vital step in brioche-making is in mixing in the butter with the flour/egg combination. It’s extremely important to ensure that the butter is folded in properly to produce a smooth dough, instead of a lumpy one with pockets of butter scattered throughout. If you’re planning to take the manual mixing route, all you need is a wooden spoon, mixing bowl and huge dollops of patience and energy to work 16 ounces of butter into the flour. Leaving your butter out overnight to soften (as Suzanne did) would definitely help. I opted for the Kitchen Aid this time, seeing as it was the height of summer.
Although Reinhart recommends using the paddle attachment to mix the sponge (yeast, flour, milk) with the rest of the ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, salt) and the butter, I found that the dough hook was the far superior attachment to do the job. Trying to get all the ingredients into a nicely shaped ball with the paddle attachment was like watching a car stuck in the mud. With the dough hook however, the butter melded into the flour/sugar/eggs/sponge mixture in no time, producing an oily, stretchy, pliable dough the color of gold. Once ready, I moulded the soft, gelatinous mass into a flat rectangle and stuck it in the refrigerator to prevent overfermenting. Right out of the mixer, its texture reminded me of a soft belly…probably a sign of what I can expect around my waist if I make this too often!
After 4 hours, I shaped the dough into brioches à tête, comfortably filling 4 medium brioche flute pans, which proceeded to rise beautifully both before, and during baking.
Having had these wonderfully indulgent breads now, I’m not sure I’ll be attempting their less-buttery versions any time soon. It would be like settling for canned pâté after tasting pan-seared foie gras, know what I mean?
If the copious amounts of butter aren’t enough to convince you to try this recipe, check out this post from Bea at La Tartine Gourmande who tries to explain some brioche love and shares a recipe from her mother. Don’t forget to check out these other BBA bakers for their brioche stories too!