There comes a time when a young lady needs to graduate from cakes and cookies and move on to more exciting endeavors, like pastries and breads (or a convenient combination of the two, as this post demonstrates). I’ve always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Babka recipe, but jumping right into one of the most complicated (and expensive!) yeast cakes just didn’t fit my rational personality. The solution- a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook. This recipe is in no way quick. I started it on a Friday and didn’t totally finish the dealings until the following Sunday– as in, over a week later. The entire experience brought immense joy and satisfaction into my kitchen, and according to this blog’s owner, the brioche aux chocolate that came out of the big mess was “the best thing [she] ever tasted.” This blog post is meant to offer some beginner warnings for those of you thinking of trying this out. I have absolutely no natural baking skills- so every success of mine is a true wonder and thanks to a detailed recipe. Hopefully, other amateurs can learn from my mistakes.
To avoid copyright infringement and honor the woman who has provided me with a full week of baking joy, I’m not going to include the Brioche recipe in this post. I will say, however, that the FLOUR cookbook is available for under ten dollars used on a certain popular stuffs website, and if you are ready to move past the toll house, you should probably buy this book. I also recently made her olive oil and rosemary Foccacia, and, again, according to this blog’s owner, “it looks like real Focaccia.” Well, duh. It tastes like real bread, too! (And it’s amazing with sautéed mushrooms and onions plus a slice of melty Muenster cheese). The chocolate hazelnut cookies also got raving reviews from multiple parties. Seriously, get this book.
Whenever you graduate to a “higher level” of baking goodness, you must read the recipe all the way through multiple times before even thinking about assembling your ingredients. The steps are foreign and the descriptions of what your dough is supposed to look like are just plain odd. This recipe uses helpful hints like shaggy, questionable, slap-slap-slap, play-doh, water balloon, pillowy, and smooshed. We’re really getting down to a science here, people.
Brioche has a lot of eggs, a lot of butter, a lot of flour (bread and all-purpose), and of course some yeast and a touch of sugar. I learned that you can keep yeast in a very cold part of your fridge for a few months even after the package is opened. I wish I could bestow that knowledge upon others, but it seems so simple that I have to assume I was the last one to learn that waste-not detail.
Even though Brioche is a very pastry-like dough, it does require a massive amount of kneading. And, because it’s so heavy and dense with fat and eggs, it puts a huge strain on a standard mixer. My 5-quart Kitchenaid was literally dancing toward the edge of the countertop as it worked through my dough. The top of the mixer also got pretty warm, but not too hot to handle (which the instruction manual says is still perfectly normal for big jobs- so don’t worry about burning out your motor). You really have to knead the dough for a long time, like- until it looks silky smooth and stretches without sticking to your hands. And then you should do it a little more. My mixer was getting such a work-out that I felt bad and may have under-kneaded it, resulting in a brioche that was perhaps a bit dense, though I don’t know enough about bread to truly diagnose the problem. At one point in my kneading fiasco, the dough began to spin up and around the top of the mixer’s dough hook, causing some dough to mix with the oil from the mechanism all up in there. You can see it in the picture. Luckily, I caught it before the nasty machine oil got kneaded into my dough, but it was scary and disgusting nonetheless. If you’re trying to make this bread with an entry-level mixer like I was, be on heavy alert for dancing and oil integration the entire time. You may even want to nix the mixer halfway through and just knead the heck out of it by hand on a floured work surface.
Another warning- this dough takes days to make. It requires hours upon hours upon hours of rising in both warm and cool environments, and the final proof is 4 to 5 hours in a bread pan. Then it bakes for 35-45 minutes, then it has to cool, and only then can you transform it into French toast. Despite all that, some of us absolutely love baked goods that really eat up your whole day. There is nothing more satisfying than spending a day learning new skills and creating, basically, a really delicious science experiment. Even if the process is a bit of a failure, the end product is still basically a sugar/butter/egg dish that can’t really be bad. For example, even after an entire cake layer fell off a cooling rack and into my bike basket, which sits on the opposite side of my kitchen’s pass-through, the cake was still delicious (I glued the broken bits and pieces together with frosting, so there’s that for ya).
I also recommend using a silicone mat or parchment paper when making this recipe. My first brioche dough-half became Brioche aux Chocolate. You have to spread pastry cream over the rolled out dough, then sprinkle with chocolate, then fold it in half. Since my dough stuck a bit to the counter, the dough didn’t really fold very well. I ended up not getting chocolate the whole way through the dough. It was still delicious (see above review), but definitely not as beautiful or perfect as it could have been had I used a nonstick surface (or a spatula), as you can see in the photos.
The Brioche aux chocolate kept wonderfully in the fridge as well as the freezer. I even liked it cold, but I’m sure that’d make the recipe’s author cringe. With regard to the second half of the dough, I simply baked it into a loaf, to be used for French toast and nibbling. As with other recipes from this cookbook, the cooking time seemed way too long. Either the author’s machinery is out of whack (unlikely) or I need to buy an oven thermometer and check out what’s going on. The loaf came out a bit dark and crispy, but not burnt, since I was too scared to take it out early (bacteria’s been all over the news lately). I may update this post with results from making French toast. Until then, happy tinkering!