Sundays with Dorie: Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

You’ve probably realized that the name of my blog is a not-terribly-subtle and not-at-all-clever take on Marie Antoinette’s famous line, „Let them eat cake!”. Except that’s not what she said. (Actually, there’s absolutely no evidence that she said anything remotely resembling this quote, but for fable’s sake we’ll continue to believe that she did.) When told that there was no bread for the peasants, what Marie Antoinette really said was, „Let them eat brioche”.

Ah, brioche. Buttery, fattening, impossibly rich brioche. Something I’d never dreamed of making myself, until Dorie laid out the recipe before me and made it seem, well, easy.

Here I should point out that you really do need a stand mixer to make brioche. There is seriously heavy mixing involved; a regular electric hand mixer may not be up to the job and I wouldn’t even want to try it by hand. The thought alone is exhausting.

The basic principles of making brioche dough are the same as for other breads, though the process does vary slightly. Once you’ve beaten… and beaten… and beaten your dough into shape, you let it rise so it doubles in volume and then you punch it down. At this point, you place the dough in the fridge and you visit it every 30 minutes or so, punching it down each time until it stops rising. This apparently takes about two hours, after which you leave it in the fridge overnight before baking in the morning.

Brioche

Unfortunately by this stage it was past my bedtime and I get very cranky if I don’t get enough sleep, so I dispensed with the punching after 90 minutes and left it. In the morning I was met with a hard, lumpen mass. The dough had no give at all. Fearing that something had gone terribly wrong, I decided to pull the dough out of the fridge for several hours before baking to see if this would bring a little life to it. Well, it did. It was a hot day – when I returned to the dough a few hours later the butter had started to separate into a greasy mess and instead of its previously smooth texture the dough had become holey and bumpy again, and altogether too soft. Greeeaaat. At that point I just decided to bake it and see what would happen.

I’m happy to report that despite my messing around, the loaves tasted and felt wonderful in the mouth – buttery and silky rich. I definitely affected the prettiness of the product (see bumpy, textured loaf above) but taste is what matters, right? Of course, who knows what they would have tasted like if I hadn’t gotten all creative with my rising times. I’ll have to try this recipe again to find out.

The moral of this story? Don’t try to get clever – just follow the recipe. (Though more author notes about what to expect from batters and doughs would certainly help!)

Golden Brioche Loaves
From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 2 loaves

1/3 cup water, just warm to the touch
1/3 cup milk, just warm to the touch
2 envelopes instant/fast acting dry yeast
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
3 large eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks / 12 oz / 340 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature

Glaze: 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Add the warm water, warm milk, yeast, flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or the paddle attachment if you don’t have a hook).

Mix on medium-low speed until just moistened, about 1 to 2 minutes. At this point you will have a dry, messy dough. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, set the mixer to low speed and beat in the eggs and the sugar. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough comes together and forms a ball, about 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to low and add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. The dough will be very soft, more like a batter than a dough. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a large, clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down to deflate it, then cover it again and place it in the refrigerator. About every 30 minutes punch the dough down, until it stops rising (this will take about 2 hours in total). Leave the dough to chill in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator – it will be smooth and quite hard.* Butter and flour 2 large loaf pans (8.5 x 4.5 inches). Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, and cut each dough half into 4 logs. Arrange 4 logs crosswise in the bottom of each pan. Cover the pans with plastic wrap, wax paper or a damp tea towel and leave them to rise for another 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400F / 205C. Brush the loaves gently with the egg wash and bake in the centre of the oven until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Let the loaves cool about 15 minutes on a rack before turning them out of the pans; let them cool to room temperature before slicing.

*Brioche should be eaten the day it is made. If you don’t want to make two loaves, at this point you can wrap one half of the dough in plastic wrap and then foil and place in the freezer. When ready to use, remove the dough from the freezer and allow it to completely thaw in the refrigerator before continuing with the recipe from this point.