Summertime is cranking up to full tilt here in central Texas. That means days of temperatures that surpass the 100 degree mark on the (Fahrenheit) thermometer. I’m slowly acclimating myself to these long, hot summers. At least I keep telling myself I’m acclimating but I still complain as much as ever so I guess I’m not really fooling myself or anyone else.
Back when we announced our intention to move to Austin, people would often remark that we were going to have to get used to a new kind of heat. It seems dumb in hindsight but I always pooh poohed those comments. By my way of thinking, having grown up in Florida, I was used to the heat and sun. My standard reply was, “It’s a dry heat. It won’t be so bad.”
Universe, I stand corrected. (Now please have mercy on us and give us a mild summer. Pretty please?)
Our first summer in Austin was blistering. I would call up friends and family back in Florida and wail, “I thought I moved to Austin, NOT PHOENIX!”
That dry heat I was so eager to experience after living with Florida’s muggy humidity so many years? There is nothing superior about it. Not at all. Do you know what a dry, windy, 104 degree day feels like? About like sticking your head in a convection oven. Try it some time. Not pleasant.
But I digress. (As usual.) I’m here to tell you about making brioche.
I first made brioche, kneaded by hand, at Le Cordon Bleu while Paris was gripped by a heat wave. I remember it vividly as we were working in a 5th floor walk up kitchen with no air conditioning. Heat rises, you know. The collective heat from four floors of kitchens with ovens baking and burners aflame drifted up to the fifth floor making our kitchen just about unbearable. By the time I finished kneading, I don’t know who was more pummeled, me or that dough. I certainly know we were both a hot, sticky mess.
I’m hoping this helps to explain my musings above. For better or worse, my brain associates the delightful, dense, rich goodness of brioche with sweat rolling down my back while kneading like hell to incorporate the copious amount of butter that makes this dough so delicious.
(Please don’t let that distasteful imagery dissuade you from reading further. This recipe makes a divine loaf of brioche. I promise it’s worth reading on.)
So recently, on the first really hot day of the year, a harbinger of days to come, it seemed like a fine time to make brioche.
Let me be perfectly honest, though. I had the A/C blasting. And there was no hand kneading this time around. I am all about la machine. Thankfully, my trusty Kitchen Aid was more than up to the task.
Basic Briocheadapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe by Joanne Chang
If you have a kitchen scale, use the weights given below to measure out ingredients. I don’t always use a scale but when working with breads, I find you’ll get a better product if you have as accurate as possible ingredient quantities. Note- the below recipe makes 2 loaves. Joanne’s instructions in the Flour cookbook instruct not to halve the recipe because there will not be a sufficient quantity of dough to engage the dough hook on a mixer. Of course, you could make half a recipe if kneading the dough by hand but trust me, it’s worth eating extra brioche to avoid that chore. She further noted that both the dough and the baked loaves freeze well so you can freeze one half of the dough or a loaf, if desired. However, once you taste this bread there will be no need to freeze the other loaf as you’ll hardly be able to restrain yourself from gobbling up both loaves. This rich, yet light brioche is delicious eaten plain by the slice but I couldn’t resist adding a little mascarpone cheese and jam. In fact, I made a small batch of homemade blackberry refrigerator jam just for the occasion.
2 1/4 c (315 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour2 1/4 c (340 grams) bread flour
1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 t) active dry yeast
1/2 c plus 1 T (82 grams) sugar
1 T kosher salt
1/2 c (120 grams) cold water
1 c + 6 T (2 3/4 sticks/310 grams) unsalted, room temp butter, cut into 10-12 pieces
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flours, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all ingredients have come together. Be sure to stop the mixer from time to time to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are incorporated. Once the dough comes together, continue to beat on low for another 3 to 4 minutes until stiff and dry.
2. With the machine still on low speed, add the butter one piece at a time and allow each addition to mix in and disappear into the dough before adding more. When all of the butter has been added, continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Use your hands to break up the dough to help mix if needed to be sure that all of the butter is thoroughly mixed into the dough.
3. When the butter has been incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the dough is sticky and soft and looks slightly shiny, approximately 15 minutes. At this point, turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for another minute. The dough will make a slapping sound when it hits the sides of the bowl. To test the dough, pull it- it should stretch slightly. If the dough is wet and loose, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix in. If pulling the dough causes it to break, continue mixing on medium for a few more minutes and test again. The dough will be ready when you can pick it up in one cohesive piece.
4. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the dough. Allow the dough to proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight. The dough can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
5. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9 x 5” loaf pans well. Divide the dough in half and then further divide each half into three equal pieces. Roll each of the three pieces into a ball shape and place the balls into each pan. Cover the pans with a cloth or lightly layered plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to proof until the loaves have nearly doubled in size, approximately 4 - 5 hours, and have risen to the rim of the pan. The dough is ready for baking it feels pillowy and light when poked with a finger.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack positioned in the center of the oven. Right before you’re ready to place the loaves in the oven, use scissors that have been dampened with water to cut vertically through each of the three proofed, rolled balls of dough in each pan. Make an egg wash with the remaining egg by whisking it in a small bowl and gently brush the tops of the loaves with the beaten egg.
7. Bake the loaves for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tops and sides of the loaves are a deep golden brown. Allow the loaves to cool in pans on wire racks for 30 minutes, then turn the loaves out of the pans and continue to cool on racks. The bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.