Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pain Brioché (enriched bread or lean brioche)

"You mean you didn't write down what KIND of salt you used?!" said Jason as we bit into my bland Christmas bread. "I thought I meant MY salt, but I guess I copied the measurements from Julia's book and she uses table salt," I said feeling silly. Yes, Jason and I discuss this kind of stuff and when it comes to bread baking, we'll obsess over every quarter teaspoon. It's just that he is really organized about it and keeps a detailed journal and I am my usual self. That's why bread baking is much more of his thing than mine. I try to make my recipes precise, but I usually spend my effort on precision of technique, not precision of ingredients. With bread you need both. Have you noticed that there are no bread recipes on my blog? I avoided writing about this topic for 2 years since it's an unfamiliar territory for me. It's as if I had to write in a foreign language. At first bread baking was so unnatural, I felt like I was in another country. "What do you mean I have to weigh the flour? Aren't cups good enough?" At this point, I feel like someone who speaks in Breadanese with a terrible accent and makes many grammar mistakes, but I can finally communicate (like I can ask for directions, order in a restaurant, and find out where the bathroom is).

The "Waiter, there is something in my... bread" event hosted by Andrew Barrow over at Spittoon Extra inspired me to finally write down my recipe for pain brioché with all the proper details instead of keeping little notes in my e-mail (that's how the salt mistake happened). First let me explain what I mean by "pain brioché" and by "my recipe." You can view pain brioché as either a very rich white bread or a very lean brioche (only 1 stick of butter per pound of flour vs. real brioche's 3 sticks of butter). As all dough recipes, my obsession with it started with the filling. I decided to learn to make real pirozhki (Russian stuffed rolls) without the good old trick of Pillsbury dough that all Russian-Americans use. After experimenting with all kinds of doughs, I found that the closest version to pirozhki I remember from the incredible cafés of Lvov (my Mom's home town in western Ukraine) was Julia Child's recipe for pain brioché. Learning to make it has opened all kinds of tasty doors far beyond pirozhki. I add dried fruit for making Panettone for Christmas, roll it into breakfast buns, and stuff it with sweet and savory fillings.

This recipe is my adaptation of the one from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2. What's different in mine is:
  • the use of SAF-instant yeast (available at William and Sonoma and some Whole Foods, this yeast is much easier to work with than any other)
  • explanation of measurements for people with baking disability like myself
  • Using a KitchenAid mixer to do the kneading
  • How much Diamond Crystal Kosher salt to use (I simply don't have any table salt in the house)
  • A schedule that works well for me. You have to realize that you are embarking on a 10 hour adventure here and it helps to know what to do if you need to leave the house or go to bed.
Pain Brioché

Makes 1 large loaf, 8 buns, or 12-16 small pirozhki

Wet ingredients
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk (low-fat is fine)
1 Tbsp table salt (or 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
2 Tbsp sugar

Dry ingredients
1 Lb unbleached all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 tsp SAF-instant yeast

Enrichment ingredients
4 large eggs at room temperature (for at least 30 minutes)
1 stick chilled unsalted butter

Making of the dough:
  1. Measure all ingredients accurately. The liquids have to be measured in a liquid measuring cup (like Pyrex). Read the volume of a liquid at the bottom of the meniscus (the curve at the surface of the liquid). I give measurements for 2 types of salt here. If you are using a different type (even a different type of Kosher salt), the measurements will be different. Flour has to be weighed. Cups are not accurate enough. You can get a cheap little scale for $15 (no need for digital or anything fancy). And finally, SAF-instant yeast is not the same as active dry yeast. The measurements are different and the process of using it is different. SAF goes straight into the dry ingredients while active dry has to be dissolved in water. I strongly suggest that you don't make any substitutions unless you get Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and learn to do them properly.
  2. Combine all wet ingredients in a Pyrex measuring cup and warm up in the microwave just until tepid (slightly warm when you touch them to your lip or 70-80F).
  3. Put dry ingredients into a bowl of a KitchenAid mixer. Attach a dough hook and mix just to combine. Add the wet ingredients and the eggs to the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until a dough forms, stopping, and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 3 minutes.
  4. Turn the mixer on medium-low speed and knead the dough for 15 minutes. Don't think you can crank up your mixer to 3 times the speed and get it done in 5 minutes. The dough needs a long kneading to develop the texture and flavor. It should stick to the bottom of the bowl, but clear the sides and eventually start making a slapping sound. If after 5 minutes of kneading, the dough still sticks to the sides of the bowl, add a little flour 1 Tbsp at a time. Wait after each addition is completely incorporated before adding more flour. Stop and scrape the bowl once in a while.
  5. Wack the butter right in its wrapper with a rolling pin to soften it a little. Then knead it a little on a plate with a spoon or fork to get it close to consistency of dough, but not so much that it warms up and gets creamy. Add butter to dough 1 Tbsp at a time while continuing to mix. Wait until each addition is completely incorporated before adding more butter. When all the butter is incorporated, stop the mixer and let dough rest for 3 minutes. Restart the mixer and knead another 10 minutes.
First rise (3-4 hours):
Wipe a large (at least 3 quart) bowl with a little oil. You want to use a bowl that has sides pointing up rather than flaring out. Put the dough into the bowl (it will feel VERY sticky), cover with plastic and let it rise to 3 and 1/2 times. Dough's pre-rise volume will be 3 cups and post-rise volume should be around 10 and 1/2 cups. This will take 3-4 hours depending on the temperature of the room. Ideally, it should be not warmer than 75F to prevent the bread from rising too quickly.

Second rise (3-4 hours):
Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly flowered surface. Flour your hands and press the dough into a 10 by 12 inch rectangle. Fold it like a letter. Then press it out again and fold again. Rinse out and dry the bowl. Wipe it with a little oil and put the dough back into it. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise as much as the first time, another 3-4 hours.

This is the part where I usually like to stop and continue the next day. I start the dough rising at room temperature and after 2 hours, put it in the fridge. It will continue to rise for a while, but will eventually chill enough to stop. I let it sit in the fridge until the next day when I am ready to proof and bake. Of course, you can stop action during the first rise as well (just by putting it in the fridge), but that leaves too much work for the day I am actually using the dough. Remember that if you stopped the action by putting the dough in the fridge, the next stage would take longer because the dough would need time to warm up.

Shape the dough as desired. Sorry, I am not giving very good instructions here because they would require pictures that I don't have. Get yourself Julia's or Reinhart's book to learn how to shape loaves. Since I usually stuff it with something, I just roll it out with a pin and figure out where to go from there based on what I am baking. For pirozhki, I cut it into circles with a cookie cutter, stretch each circle to 1/6 inch thick using my fingers, stuff and pinch to seal. Then place on a buttered baking sheet seam side down. For rolled buns, I sprinkle rolled out dough with something (the ones in the picture have melted butter, valrhona unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, and tiny pieces of candied orange peel), and roll them up. Then cut into buns and place on a buttered baking sheet. For tall stuffed buns, I make circles like for pirozhki, but larger and a little thicker, put them into buttered ring molds, sitting on a buttered baking sheet, and add the filling. The ones in the picture are with sweetened farmer's cheese, and black currant preserve. Then I seal the edges on top.

Loosely cover the shaped dough with plastic wrap (making sure to give it room to rise) and let it rise at room temperature until doubled. If you didn't chill the dough during the second rise, it would take about an hour. If you chilled it during the second rise, it would take around 2 hours for buns and around 3 hours for a large loaf.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and brush the top with a little egg wash (1 yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp milk)
  3. Put the dough in the middle of the oven right in the baking sheet that you used for proofing. Bake until internal temperature of the dough reaches 180-190F. How long this will take depends on the shape, so make sure to check with an instant read thermometer. Little buns and pirozhki take about 15 minutes (if the dough is divided into 16 parts), bigger buns take 18-20 minutes (if the dough is divided into 8 parts), and a large loaf around 35 minutes. When checking the temperature of stuffed dough, make sure you stick the thermometer into the dough, not the filling.
  4. Cool until warm -- 10 minutes for little buns, 30 minutes for loaves. Make yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee, pat yourself on the back for making your very own bread, and enjoy.

p.s. I want to say a great big thank you to Jason for teaching me everything I know about bread baking.


Rachel said...

These look beautiful!

Warda said...

Helen, your brioches look so beautiful. Me too, I am not rigid with my cooking. I might follow the recipe the first time but then I focus on perfecting the finishing product and forgot about the ingredients. My husband...completely the opposite. Every time I "create" a recipe, he told me:"you should right the recipe down, otherwise you will forgot it".He is the scientist at home. I am the literary woman.

Andrew said...

A 'ten hour adventure'! I'm all for adventures... thanks for taking part in Waiter

Anonymous said...


Helene said...

Very yummy Helen and these pictures you take, marvellous!!
I´m in for an adventure, so I tag it.