brioche: the champion of bread

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Wet country loaf and Karmic Cockpunch notwithstanding, I still bow down at the altar (fuck you, AutoCorrect; I spelled it right the first time) of bread built by Chad Robertson. I didn’t understand bread as a fundamental science until I read Tartine Bread. Sure, Alton Brown has an entire chapter devoted to bread in I’m Just Here For More Food, and he gives a good book knowledge of the process. With Chad, though, you are given an awareness of your environment, your ingredients and your cooking appliance that will have far more influence on the edibility of your bread than the recipe you start from. Actual talk about brioche after the jump.

Chad broke out his stand mixer for his brioche, which is both awesome and a cop-out. Not only is it possible to make brioche without a mixer, it was the only way brioche was made for half a century. I’ve made brioche using Bruno Albouze’s recipe once; if you have a favorite 30-minute sitcom, take your butter out of the fridge, put your other brioche ingredients into a bowl, sit down and watch it as you knead your dough enough to incorporate the butter. By the end of the show, your butter and your dough will be ready.

It will also keep you from snacking, answering your phone or interacting with anything by touch except the pre-butter dough, unless you like chipping cement off of things that you forgot you touched until a few hours later. In that case, cheers!

The Tartine brioche begins with both leaven and poolish. It’s been awhile since I had made that brioche, so I had forgotten about the poolish part. Oops. Today’s brioche, then, will have the constituents of the Tartine Bread, including the poolish without actually making poolish. This will make one gargantuan or two regular loaves:

100g leaven
50g all-purpose flour
50g water
3g active dry yeast
30g sugar
2 extra-large eggs (112g; if using large eggs, 2 is also fine; if using medium eggs, use 3)
60g milk
6g salt
250g bread flour

Take a stick (115g) of butter out of the fridge and cut it into chunks. Everything except the butter goes into the mixer at low speed for 5 minutes, until the ingredients are fully incorporated; scrape the bowl down midway. Let it sit for 20 minutes, then turn the mixer on medium or medium-high (6 or 8 on my Kitchen Aid) until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You’ll think it’ll never happen, then *BAM*, it happens.

At that point, turn the mixer down to medium (6 on my Kitchen Aid) and start feeding the dough chunks of butter, waiting as each chunk is consumed. And that’s what it looks like, too; it’s like an animal slowly gnawing on the butter. Once all the butter chunks are incorporated, you can do one of two things:

If your house is warm (above 70 degrees), cover your mixing bowl and put it in the fridge, taking it out at 30, 60 and 90 minutes to give it a turn.

If you live in an ice palace, like The Hubbs tries to turn our home into when it gets a tad warm outside, cover the bowl and leave it on your counter, giving it the same 30-minute turns.

Yes, this is a Tartine loaf; even when you use a mixer, you will still turn that bitch during the bulk fermentation.

While you are doing your turns, grease your loaf pan(s). I have one pan (8″ x 4″) and I make two loaves, so we’ll deal with that. You can get artful when panning a loaf: one method I’ve seen involves creating four dough balls to tuck side-by-side in the pan, which is cute. I’ve seen braided rope, too, which I may try with my second loaf.

After two hours of bulk fermentation, if you are baking two loaves, turn the dough out onto an unfloured surface, then divide and pan your loaves. If you stubbornly refuse to buy a second loaf pan like I do, plop the other loaf lump back into the mixing bowl, cover it and let it sit in the freezer for 30 minutes, then transfer to the fridge until you’re ready to pan it. If you are baking the second loaf another day, you can put the second dough in a freezer container and freeze it (I’ve gone up to two weeks) until the night before the bake, then transfer it to the fridge until it’s time for panning.

Your panned dough will proof for 90-120 minutes; brush with egg wash (or what I call dark wash – egg yolk and a bit of heavy cream) and bake at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Because my Diva Oven commits arson on baked goods, I cheat it out of its fun by placing my loaf pan within a preheated, 8-QT Dutch oven, lid on, and baking it that way to the halfway point. I will not be denied brioche by my own oven, oh nosiree.

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