Mmm, Brioche. I love fresh-baked bread, so I am all about this one. Plus, I’ve been reading this awesome book called “The Science Of Good Food” (TSOGF), and I am learning all kinds of fun, sciencey things. I love cooking and I love science, so why not? I’ll pass some factoids along as I do this.
I started by making the sponge, like our source recipe told me to. I overheated my milk, annoyingly, and I didn’t want to kill my yeast by making my liquid too hot so I had to wait for it to cool. Once my sponge was assembled, I started to worry; it didn’t seem to make much “sponge” at all, and the extra cup of flour that I sifted on top of it was thick around the sides, as opposed to “sprinkled”…I mean, does this look right to you?:
Anyway, trust in the process, right? I let it sit and rise for 30 minutes, and while I did so, I read about yeast bread-making. For example, I was reminded that yeasty beasties are happiest at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (call back to my sophomore genetics class, right?), so that is the temperature at which doughs rise most rapidly. I know from making challah bread that if you let it rise in the fridge, rising takes longer but bread will be tastier, but I didn’t know exactly why until I read TSOGF: “A fast-rising dough can develop unpleasant yeasty aromas and an abundance of unwanted by-products of yeast metabolism, like alcohols. Lowering the temperature extends the rise, diminishes off-flavors, and encourages more desirable flavors.” NEAT. By the time I was done learning about our lovely friends Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it was time to attend to my sponge. And, lo and behold, the flour on top had cracked, so I guess I did something right.
So, I incorporated all of my other ingredients in as directed, and mixed and mixed. Once my dough was cohesive, I decided to start kneading (instead of “mixing” with a machine, like the source recipe says) to get that gluten goin’! Gluten is is the largest composite protein molecule in the world! It’s made out of the two wheat proteins gliadin and glutenin, which get suspended in water (and thus sticky). When they get mushed around, gluten forms big sheets and strands which is what makes bread (and cake and muffin etc) texture. HOWEVER, I am honestly a little skeptical about how much our source recipe wanted me to knead this dough, because it’s my understanding that brioche shouldn’t be as chewy as, say, whole-wheat bread. It’s cake-like, right? I didn’t want my bread to be too tough, so I didn’t knead it for the full 15 minutes.
I don’t have a bread hook or a stand mixer, so I mixed mostly by hand. I knew that kneading bread had to do with forming gluten strands from the flour, but I’d never thought about air incorporation. According to TSOGF, “The more you knead, the more [incorporated air] is dispersed throughout the dough. For an even finished texture, you want a fine network of tiny air bubbles.” Neat-o. After I mixed in the other ingredients, I mixed in my butter. I was pretty mystified about why I was supposed to mush it all up, so I just kind of worked it over with a fork. I beat it in with my mixer, and then went back to using my hands.
Once I was satisfied, I put it in my oiled bowl, covered it, and went to the gym. Gotta pre-work off this french toast. Sweet dreams, yeasty beasties. Do work:
Before rise 1:
After rise 1:
I punched it down, covered it, and put it in the fridge for four hours. Blah blah. It rose, and I punched it down again etc, then got it into some loaf pans! Mine actually didn’t make that much dough; it looked like I only had enough for two loaves (the humanity!), so I split it in half and got it in there. By this point, it was about 10:00 on a Saturday night, and we were about to go out, so I figured I’d let them rise overnight in the fridge to lower the odds of yeasty byproducts. I covered the pans, put them in the fridge, and tried to forget about them until the next morning.
My alarm went off at 7 the next morning, and I awoke to a slight headache that was easily compensated for by excitement for brioche. I got my pans out of the fridge, and they looked beautiful!
A quick egg wash, and into the oven they went. I stayed up for the half-hour they baked, got them onto cooling racks, and went back to bed. Lazy Sundays ftw! Here they are, cooling their wee jets.
The bread turned out delicious, (if a little dense, to be honest). It makes BOSS toast…but, most importantly, my brioche french toast was ungodly good. (Yes, that is a mimosa in the background.)
If I hadn’t been making french toast out of these, though, I think I would have shaped my dough like this. Aren’t those cool?