Wednesday 4 December 2013

Breaking Bread: Classic French Brioche

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard
All the Masterchef Australia enthusiasts would be familiar with the episode when, a few weeks back, Samira, one of the contestants in the show got eliminated for not being able to follow Chef Daniel Wilson's recipe for the Brioche Bun, which resulted in her being sent home, crashing her dreams of reaching the Top 10 in the contest. Of course, it is another story that she was lucky enough to get a chance to re-enter the competition in the very next episode in the 'Comeback Week' and today, as I write this post, she has made it to the top 4 finalists and is considered a top contender for the Masterchef Australia title.
That was my first introduction to the Brioche.
My second brush with this fancy sounding bread was on a very recent visit to Olive Bar and Restaurant at Mehrauli. This was a bread I fell in love with. Soft, flaky, rich and buttery, with just a slight hint of caramelized onions and garlic, it felt so light and flavorful on your palate. Served with freshly crushed sun dried tomatoes, garlic and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, the delicious creation totally blew me away – way better than any bread I had tasted.
Caramelized Onions and garlic brioche that I had In Olive Bar & Restaurant
It was so delicious that I wanted to try to recreate the same magic at home. My first thoughts were that this pastry like bread would be difficult  to bake but reading through the various recipes on the net, I was surprised to find how simple the instructions were. 
Two things that amazed me about the dough was firstly, the amount of butter that went inside the dough, which I realized is characteristic of Brioche.Secondly, the long rest it needed in the fridge which was quite a surprise as I had always thought the yeast would get killed if exposed to cold temperatures. But I believe, letting the dough rise overnight in the fridge helps in retarding the dough to help develop the flavor, ensuring a moist loaf, full of flavor, with a fine delicate crumb. Also refrigeration stiffens the dough, which still rises though slowly, making it easier to form
Just make sure to bring it back to room temperature, then let it rise as usual before baking. Warm milk, plenty of butter and a egg yolk glaze would ensure that you have the perfect melt-in-the-mouth classic french brioche with a dark golden crust on your hands.
I also tried my hands at making Brioche a tete or parsienne which is a classic shaped brioche baked into a fluted round tin with a ball of dough placed on top to form the 'head', the 'tete'. 
This is a beautiful dough to work with. Instead of savory, you can also use this dough to make some wonderful sweet treats for yourself like fresh fruit muffins, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, chocolate swirl bread - the possibilities are endless.
The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 days, after that you can freeze the dough. Great isn't it!! 
So what are you waiting for, roll up your sleeves and lose yourself in the soft buttery deliciousness.
Ingredients (Recipe loosely adapted from here)

11/2 tsp dried yeast or 9 gms fresh yeast.
375 gms plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
125 gms unsalted butter, softened
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp milk for glazing

Sprinkle the yeast over 60 ml lukewarm milk in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes until dissolved.
To knead by hand : mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and bring together to form a dough. Knead for about 10 minutes till smooth and shiny.
Or, in a food processor, add all the dough ingredients in the bowl and mix on low speed until combined, and leave to knead for about 10 minutes till smooth and shiny.
Shape into a ball and put into a oiled bowl. Cover  tightly with a cling wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, knead the chilled dough to lightly knock out the air. 
Flour the work surface, roll out the dough and shape them the way you want. Leave the dough somewhere nice and warm to prove for 2-3 hours till almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Brush all over with the glaze.bake for about 10 minutes, then lower the oven setting to 180 C and bake for further 30 minutes or until golden brown. 
Cool on a wire rack.
Serve alongside a hot bowl of soup or enjoy it with a smear of butter.

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