In Search of a Better Brioche (Thanks, T.K.!)

I take pride in my punctuality. If anything, I am usually 5 minutes early for appointments, and I just can’t understand why some people are always running late. True, sometimes delays are unpreventable, but habitual tardiness is just plain rude.

This post is about 1 1/2 weeks late, and you can imagine how much it has been driving me bonkers. It’s been staring at me from the top of my to-do list, waiting to be crossed off, and I’ve started it three different times, only to be deleted due to my dissatisfaction with the content.

Today is a good day. I am going to finish this post.

Before I go on, I want to congratulate Debbie R. for winning the Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen cookbook giveaway from my last post. Yay, Debbie!! I know that you will really enjoy cooking your way through Sara’s recipes.

A small portion of this delayed post was due to work commitments. It seems that, with my business, when it rains granola, it pours granola. I just received a huge order (woo-hoo!) from a new customer, Central Market in Texas, which I have been working on for about a year, so I have been putting in overtime to get that shipped. At the same time, I have been trying to get ready for the Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington D.C., where Julie Anne’s Granola will have a booth (#5034 if you happen to be there!) This involves making samples, packing up my “set”, preparing paperwork, and getting my highlights done so that I don’t scare away potential customers with my Cruella Deville hair. You know, the usual stuff.

I mentioned above that I started this post three different times.  Why?  Well, in addition to being perpetually punctual, I’m a bit of a Type-A perfectionist.  In other words, I probably annoy lots of people (at least I’m self-aware, right?)  The first idea that I had for this post sounded great in theory.  It looked great when I typed up the recipe.  The finished product even tasted like I anticipated it tasting.  All of that said, it still kind of had that meh, who cares? factor, which didn’t make it very exciting for a blog post, and I didn’t just want to post any old recipe just for the sake of posting.  I still might try to rework it for the future though, so I’m keeping it under wraps for now (the suspense is killing you, I know.)

Then, I was scrolling through my Epicurious recipe box for ideas, and I came across a highly-rated recipe for brioche, for which almost all of the reviewers gave glowing remarks.  Having little past experience with brioche, I thought that I would give it a try.  Let me clarify, I have little past experience baking brioche.  I have plenty of past experience eating brioche, so I know what the finished product should look like and taste like.  This wasn’t it.

Now, I don’t know if I did something wrong, or if I just wasn’t satisfied with the total results.  The brioche tasted fine:  buttery, rich, and slightly yeasty.  Fine, but not “WOW!”  I wanted to be wowed.  The texture of the bread was much too dense, as it didn’t rise as much as it should have during the proofing process.  I also felt like the baking temperature (400F) was too high, as the loaves browned much too quickly, and the recipe could have used a few more eggs.

So I was again left without a post, but I was now determined to find the perfect brioche recipe.

I think that it was fate that I happened to be leafing through one of my newer additions to my cookbook collection, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home (which, by the way, I found at Costco for something like 50% off), later that same evening.   The first recipe featured in the “Breads, Crackers, and Cheese” section is, you guessed it, “Brioche.”  As I read through the ingredients and T.K.’s signature well-explained technique, I noticed many differences from my first batch of brioche.  It’s kind of nerdy how excited I was to try his recipe the next day. Thomas Keller won’t let me down!  Thomas Keller is a genius!  I’d been to his Bouchon bakeries, and I’d tried their brioche, so my hopes were high.

T.K. didn’t disappoint.  The two buttery loves of brioche rose as they should rise, and they baked up golden brown as an enticing aroma filled the kitchen.  This recipe is a keeper, and I encourage you to give it a try.  Just a note:  Brioche needs to rest overnight, so start preparing it one day in advance.  Here are the major differences between the two attempted recipes:

  • T.K. used a combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour.  Epicurious just used all-purpose flour.  The cake flour resulted in a finer crumb texture.
  • T.K. used 6 large eggs, which likely helped with the rising.  Epicurious used 3.
  • T.K. set the baking temperature at 350F, while the Epicurious recipe was set to 400F.  I found the 400F temp to be much to high, resulting in over-browned loaves.
  • The Epicurious recipe also used an egg wash on the loaves prior to baking, which also increased the browning process.

I’m going to go make a slice of the world’s best toast now.  Jealous?

**BONUS RECIPE: Since I found some beautiful ripe peaches at Trader Joe’s (a rarity here in Las Vegas!), I decided to make some spiced peach butter to go with the brioche. This recipe couldn’t be easier when using a slow-cooker: Peel, pit, and chop 4 pounds of ripe peaches. Place the peaches, 1 1/4- 1 1 3/4 cups sugar (depending on how sweet you like your spreads), 1/3 cup orange juice or peach nectar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice in the slow cooker; stir to mix. Loosely cover (wedge a butter knife in the lid to allow for air) and cook on low for 8-10 hours, stirring occasionally, until the peaches are broken down and the mixture has reduced. Puree the mixture with an immersion blender or by placing it in a blender/food processor. Spread on brioche — yum!

Here are my extra tips for making this rich and buttery bread:

  • The brioche not only makes outstanding toast, it can also be turned into croutons or even breadcrumbs. To make the croutons, cube the brioche and toast the cubes at 350F degrees until golden brown, tossing once, about 10 minutes. For the breadcrumbs, allow the loaf of bread to dry overnight unwrapped. Then, cut it into pieces and pulse the pieces in a food processor to get coarse crumbs. Bake the crumbs at 250F degrees for 1 hour, tossing once, until completely dried out.
  • I hate to sound like Ina Garten, but be sure to use “good” butter with this recipe.  It matters.
  • Regarding the rising times, depending on the temperature/humidity conditions in your kitchen, it may take a bit longer for your loaves to rise. Since my kitchen runs a bit cold, I turn the oven on for 1 minute to pre-heat, and then I turn it off. Then I place the dough in the oven to rise in a “warm” place.

(Recipe from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller)

Printable Recipe

Makes two large loaves

1/3 cup very warm water (110F-115F degrees)

One 1/4-ounce package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

2 1/3 cups cake flour

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel or sea salt

6 large eggs, at room temperature

2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature

Combine the water and the yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir until the yeast is completely dissolved. Set aside.

Sift together the flours, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the eggs and beat for 1 minute at low speed, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Slowly add the dissolved yeast and continue beating at low speed for 5 minutes. Stop the machine, scrape any dough off the hook, and beat for another 5 minutes.

Add the butter cubes, about one-quarter of them at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each addition. Once all the butter has been added, beat for 10 minutes more, until the dough is smooth and silky.

Transfer the dough to a large floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 3 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface and gently work out the air bubbles by folding the dough over several times while lightly pressing down on it. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Generously butter two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-3-inch loaf pans. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. With floured hands, divide the dough in half, shape it into 2 rectangles that fit into the loaf pans, and put the dough in the pans. Let the dough rise, uncovered, in a warm place until it is about 1/2 inch from the top of the pans, about 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

Bake the brioche until it is well browned on top and sounds hollowed when tapped on the bottom, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately turn the brioche out onto a cooling rack.

If serving immediately, let the bread cool for 10 minutes, then slice. If serving within a few hours or up to two days, promptly wrap the hot bread in aluminum foil and set aside at room temperature until ready to use. To freeze, wrap the hot bread in foil and promptly freeze. The bread can be frozen for up to 2 months. When ready to use, reheat (without thawing, and still wrapped in the foil) in a 250F degree oven until heated through, 20 to 25 minutes.


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