If I had the chance to bottle up a scent and keep it in my pocket to smell whenever I need a little mood boost, I would hands down pick the smell of freshly baked bread. There would be no hesitation or thinking twice, or internal contemplation; there is nothing better than the smell of a beautiful loaf of bread that’s just been taken out of the oven. The only thing that can possibly come even close to that is the smell of bread as it bakes, but it’s not close enough. I just love opening a hot oven and getting an enormous whiff of that delicious smell all at once. Eating this freshly baked bread while it’s still warm with a slather of butter would have to be my favorite taste. As much as I love cake and cookies, there is no comparison to freshly baked bread. In a nutshell, I’m pretty much obsessed.
What I’ve never been obsessed with, however, is actually making bread myself. The main reason for this, I think, is that there’s no room for spontaneity with bread making. You can’t really just decide to make a loaf a bread right now the way you can with a batch of cookies or a simple cake. Breads take time and careful planning, and sticking to the correct proofing/rising schedule is essential in ensuring that a bread comes out the way it’s supposed to. Rushing through any of the steps could lead to a bread that’s less than it should be, and it’s one of my biggest problems. I’m not the best at planning things to bake in advance, as I typically like to let whatever is in my kitchen and whatever I’m craving at the moment guide me in making my decisions. I hope to change this this year and really learn more about bread.
I chose brioche as my first bread to tackle. Firstly, it’s just plain delicious. Brioche is an enriched bread full of butter and eggs, making it one of the most satisfying breads around. Its tender crust, shiny exterior, and fluffy insides make brioche such a special bread. Second, it’s not so difficult to make, just a little time consuming. I’d made brioche before in the form of hot cross buns using Thomas Keller’s recipe, and I still think those are among the best things I have ever, ever baked. Given the amazing results I had the first time around with Thomas Keller’s guidance, I went with his recipe to make my traditional brioche. This recipe involves a few more steps and a lot more waiting time, but it seemed straight forward enough to make without running into too much trouble.
Flour and yeast are stirred together in a stand mixer (a stand mixer is crucial for making brioche; you’ll see why in a moment) and then sugar, salt, eggs, and whole milk are mixed in…for almost 35 minutes. It sounds like a long time, but that’s just how brioche is made. The dough sticks to the sides of the bowl a bit, but at this point, you begin to add cubes of room temperature butter while the mixer is running, allowing each butter addition to incorporate before adding the next. Once it’s all been added, the dough has to mix for an additional 10 minutes (see why the stand mixer is so important?). The dough will be sticky and soft. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and you’ll do the first of two “stretch and folds.” This step is crucial to the bread making process, as it helps the dough develop flavor and structure. After an overnight rest in the refrigerator, the dough is ready for dividing and shaping, and finally, proofing. Once the loaves are ready for baking, it's slipped into a hot oven on a baking stone (a round pizza stone will work), because they retain much more heat than an oven alone. As the bread bakes, it will rise and turn a beautiful, deep golden brown color and develop a shiny crust. The smell coming from your oven will be intoxicating.
This was my first attempt at baking a nanterre, or traditional loaf form of brioche. I loved the flavor and texture of the bread, but I know that making a perfect loaf will take a lot more practice. I'm determined to get it right though! The bread didn't rise quite as high as I would have liked, but I attribute that to a slightly cool kitchen and the fact that I somehow completely forgot to do the second "stretch and fold" after an hour of rest (even though I read the recipe like ten times!). I didn't remember until I was in bed trying to fall asleep, eyes closed and everything, when I suddenly sat up in bed and realized that I hadn't done the second stretch and fold and my dough was sitting in the fridge lacking important structure. I certainly wasn't about to leave the coziness of my bed to fix the dough (although at that point, I'm not sure what I would have had to do to it anyway), so I crossed my fingers and hoped that the bread would turn out alright anyway...and it did! Not that I recommend skipping the second stretch ad fold- I know that the next time I make brioche I'll make sure to follow all the steps, and I'll keep working on it until my brioche comes out perfectly. My first attempt may not have been perfect, but it was absolutely delicious and a definite step in the right direction.
recipe from Bouchon Bakery
271 grams (1 3/4 cups + 3 tablespoons) all purpose flour
6 grams (1 3/4 teaspoons) yeast
32 grams (2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) granulated sugar
7 grams (1 1/8 teaspoons) salt
136 grams (1/2 cup + 2 1/4 tablespoons) eggs, at room temperature
46 grams (2 tablespoons + 2 1/2 teaspoons) whole milk, at room temperature
122 grams (4.3 oz) butter, at room temperature, cubed
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
Add the flour and yeast to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, and mix for about 15 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly. Add the sugar, salt, eggs, and whole milk, and mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, and then continue to mix on low speed for an additional 30 minutes (the dough will begin to stick to the sides of the bowl, but that's ok). Begin to add the cubes of butter to the dough a few at a time, making sure to incorporate each addition before the next. Once all the butter has been added, continue to mix the dough for an additional 10 minutes.
The dough is now ready for the fermentation stage. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Turn the brioche dough out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured work surface. It’s time for the first of two “stretch and folds.” With lightly floured hands, gently shape the dough into a rectangle, with the long sides facing you. Gently fold the left side of the dough over itself going up about 2/3 of the way, and repeat with the right side, as if you were folding a letter. Turn the dough 90 degrees, pat out into a rectangle, and repeat the stretching and folding, being as gentle as possible. Turn the dough over and place in the prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for one hour. Repeat the stretch and fold process as before, return to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge overnight.
The next day, spray two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper. Gently turn the dough out onto a clean work surface (a bench scraper is helpful here), and gently pat into a rectangle, removing any air bubbles and adding only as much flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface. Divide the dough into 12 even sized pieces (use a kitchen scale, each piece of dough should be around 50 grams). Roll each piece of dough against the work surface with the palm of your hand to form a smooth ball. Divide the balls of dough among the two prepared loaf pans and set aside to rise for 2 1/2 - 3 hours (I set the loaf pans underneath the plastic top of my Wilton cupcake carrier).
When the rise time is finishing up, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven and place a baking stone on it. When the bread is ready to bake, brush the tops with a lightly beaten egg. Slide the pans onto the preheated stone and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until the tops are a deep golden brown and the loaves have baked through (use the toothpick test to make sure). Turn the loaves out immediately, and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Makes 2 loaves