Our ABC challenge for June was "Brioche Bread" - we bake our merry way through Abby Dodge's wonderful book: "The Weekend Baker". I was quite pleased with Hanaâ's choice (she is the instigator of this challenge), because I like brioches.
My last memory of this buttery pleasure was my daughter's graduation from the New England Culinary Institute. I swear there was never a graduation with better food than at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont.
I had made brioches twice before, one from a German baking book - hard work, kneading the butter into the dough (my hands hurt!) but great taste. The second one an easier recipe from Peter Reinhart, less rich, but, unfortunately, also less satisfying.
Following Abby's do-ahead suggestion, I mixed the dough in the evening, before putting it to sleep in the fridge.
Due to my inexperience with this particular kind of dough - my two earlier bakes were a long time ago - I was a bit leery about over-mixing. When, after the required kneading time, the dough did not pull away from the bottom of the bowl, I gave it a few more minutes, and then started feeding it with butter, no matter what.
Even though I had already cut the butter in 16 (instead of 8) pieces, I found that it took quite long for them to be absorbed into the dough. The dough got warmer and warmer - and I got cold feet!
When the temperature reached over 90ºF, visions of dying yeast cells caused me to rip the bowl from under the dough hook, taking it to a safe, cooler place. It was smooth, but still sticky, so I applied two stretches and folds, with a 10 minute break, before placing it in the refrigerator.
Overnight the dough had risen mightily, and would have busted the lid, if that had been less tight. After giving it an hour to warm up a bit, I started with the shaping process. But this dough didn't play by the recipe's rules, it clung to every surface it could reach.
With oiled hands and bench, I forced it finally into submission, rolling it into shaggy strands (where was the promised smoothness?), braiding it into a halfway decent plait, and sprinkling it with chopped hazelnuts to give it a bit of crunch.
As if nothing had happened, my loaf rose nicely, and looked quite pretty, when it came out of the oven.The crust had a nice, nutty crunchiness, and the crumb was soft and rich.
And the taste? Maybe I'm spoiled by my memories, and the subtle orange blossom flavor of the Mexican "Pan de Muerto" I just made.
Abby's "Brioche Bread" is a nice loaf, mild, neither too rich, nor too sweet - but will not make it into my most memorable Bread Hall of Fame.