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Buttery Brioche

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Up there with basic sourdough and the bread from The Herring Choker in Cape Breton (they not only make the best bread on the island, but the best lobster sandwiches, too), brioche is one of my most favourite breads of all time.

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The lobster sandwich at The Herring Choker in Baddeck, Cape Breton Island

I first learned how to make brioche (surprise, surprise) in culinary school. Brioche was one of the classes in my introductory pastry course. Our chef was a small, no-nonsense German-Canadian woman who enjoyed using harsh language and making fun of her students. I loved her.

She was incredibly blunt. During our class on brioche, we, as always, watched her do the demo before attempting a loaf ourselves. She threw the measured ingredients into the stand mixer and sent the hook attachment flying.

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I remember asking her how to make brioche without a stand mixer, since I was a poor student at the time and had to make everything by hand.

“You don’t”, she bluntly replied.

I was taken aback. I then asked how they did it before stand mixers existed.

“As far as you’re concerned, they didn’t”, she said.

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So I, stupidly, never attempted brioche at home until I received my Kitchenaid stand mixer as a wedding gift last summer. Now that I make it regularly, I can see how it would be slightly more complicated if one were to make it by hand. That said, it isn’t impossible, as I was always led to believe. It’s just sticky. If you don’t have a stand mixer and still want to make brioche, there’s an excellent recipe here, via La Tartine Gourmande.

I think, if you’re a beginner bread maker, it’s always best to make your loaves by hand at first. It gives you a much better understanding of bread in general. You can literally feel the gluten in the flour transform from lumpy and sticky to smooth and tactile. And it’s fun to knead dough by hand! I still like to do it for most types of bread.

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Brioche

Ingredients:

4 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 packages dry active yeast (about 1 Tbsp)

2 tsp salt

4 large eggs at room temperature

1/2 cup whole milk (full fat) at room temperature

1 cup unsalted butter, cubed, slightly cooler than room temperature (soft but not oozing)

Directions:

  • Using the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, slightly mix the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Add the eggs and milk and mix with the paddle for about 1 minute.
  • Remove the paddle attachment and add the dough hook. Mix the dough with the hook for 2 minutes on medium-low. Scrape the bowl, then mix for 2 more minutes, again on medium-low. The dough should be firm and slightly elastic at this stage (if it isn’t, don’t worry, there’s lots of mixing yet to come).
  • With the hook again on medium-low speed, add the cubed butter one cube at a time until half the butter has been incorporated into the dough. Turn off the mixer, scrape the bowl, and knead by hand a bit to help incorporate the butter. Turn the mixer back on and add the rest of the butter.
  • When all the butter has been incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and mix for ten minutes, scraping the bowl when needed. The dough will look sticky and will slap against the sides of the bowl when ready.
  • Take it out of the bowl and briefly knead by hand. Shape into a ball. Cover and let rise in a warm, dry place for one hour.
  • After an hour, punch down the dough, reshape into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  • The next morning, bring the dough to room temperature. Punch and knead the dough briefly before portioning (this will make two regular sized loaves or about 16 rolls). Once portioned, butter your loaf or roll pans and place the portions in the pans to proof. I proof my room temperature dough for about 1 hour, but this could take more or less time. When the portions have doubled in size, they’re ready for baking. *Proof in the oven with the light on for best results.
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (190 degrees Celsius, no fan) and bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the top of the bread is golden brown.
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