I'm not much of baker but I've always been fascinated by the fine art of baking. Crusty loaves, tender chewy centers and the smell - oh the smell !!! I still haven't mustered the nerve to try making pastry (I baked a pie from scratch once - it was terrible) but a couple of weeks ago I picked up the April/May issue of Fine Cooking magazine and lo and behold - a step by step outline showing how to make authentic French brioche (bree-awsh or bree-oash - kind of like the whole ta-may-toe / ta-mah-toe thing!!).
Fine Cooking magazine complete with crusted flour and butter stains...
True French brioche is a rich buttery bread enriched with eggs, that once baked, has a deep-golden shiny crust. Fine Cooking magazine describes it as a 'rare and wonderful thing' so, once I read through the steps I thought it would be fun to give it a try (just a note here that I followed the recipe EXACTLY - no variation).
I've made bread by hand in the past but every recipe I've used requires yeast to be mixed with some sort of liquid to activate the yeast. With this recipe you just throw the dry ingredients together, spin them around the mixer and add the eggs and milk until you have a loose dough. This was my first time using my Kitchenaid to make bread dough and after a couple of minutes of the dough hook spinning, I became slightly nervous because I could smell a burning motor smell (Sean just laughed at me - 'Honey, it's a powerhouse of a machine and you've never used it for anything like this - it's just warming up!!). Turns out he was right - the smell disappeared and my Kitchenaid just kept on truckin'.
Everything seemed fine until I added the butter. The recipe says to add half of the butter, let it mix for 2 minutes, then stop the mixer and finish kneading in the butter by hand (once the butter is incorporated you start the mixer again) only problem was, the dough was so slippery with butter that the hook wouldn't grab it. I had to finish kneading by hand which was tricky because the dough is quite loose and wet. After what seemed like an eternity spent kneading, I was hoping to see a perfect smooth ball of elastic-y dough like the picture in the magazine - yeah, no - my dough looked like a lumpy beige-y mass with no hope in hell of turning into a picturesque loaf of golden brioche.
The big thing about making brioche is time - the dough has to rise twice, so really, you spend most of your time waiting for that to happen (I recommend a pot of great coffee, a couple of shots of Baileys and a few good magazines to keep you company). For the first rise, I placed my lumpy dough into a bowl covered in a tea towel and waited - my dough didn't rise as much as I was expecting. Second rise - I covered the bowl tightly with Saran. It did rise, but still looked nothing like the photos in the magazine. At the end of the second rise I could still see flecks of undissolved yeast all throughout the dough and when I turned it out onto my floured surface, there was a pool of melted butter in the bottom of the bowl. Hmmm... these factors did not seem to bode well for my first attempt at making one of France's most beloved baked goods however, all in all I gotta say - the scent of baking brioche wafting through the air in our house was exquisite (I wish there was a way to catch the smell and hold it close). And after it came out of the oven? Well, see for yourself:
Authentic Brioche recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine:
4 Cups all-purpose flour
1/3 Cup sugar
1/2 oz. active dry yeast (I used Fleischman's Traditional Yeast)
2 tsp salt + a pinch
4 oz whole milk
4 large eggs (room temperature)
2 large eggs + 1 large yolk for egg wash
1 Cup unsalted butter - slightly soft - cut into 16 pieces
(You can find the whole recipe here.)