B is for Brioche

Buttery, warm, melt in the mouth brioche. There are two places I know to get really good brioche. One is at a bakery around the corner from the bed & breakfast I stayed at just outside of Paris. The other is if I am lucky enough to be in the pastry kitchen at Cin Cin Ristorante in Vancouver when Thierry Busset is baking his brioche(yes, a true Frenchman in an Italian kitchen !) Note: Thierry will be opening his own atelier style pastry and chocolate shop called simply "Thierry" on Alberni Street in Vancouver soon . . very soon.

Brioche is a highly enriched French bread, whose high egg and butter content give it a rich and tender crumb. It has a dark, golden, and flaky crust from an egg wash applied after proofing (rising). Brioche à tête is perhaps the most classically recognized form. This style of brioche is formed and baked in a fluted round, flared tin; a large ball of dough is placed on the bottom, topped with a smaller ball of dough to form the head (tête).

Brioche dough contains flour, eggs, butter, milk, yeast, salt, and sometimes some sugar. Usual recipes have a flour:butter ratio of about 2:1; when the flour:butter ratio is closer to 5:4, it may be called La Pâte à brioche mousseline or Brioche Mousseline or Rich Man's Brioche because the higher butter ratio results in a richer brioche.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his autobiography Confessions (completed in 1769 but published after his death in 1782), relates that "a great princess" is said to have advised with regard to peasants who had no bread, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche". This saying is commonly (and inaccurately) translated as "Let them eat cake" and attributed to Queen Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI.

Brioche à Tête
(from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques, 2001)
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1 pkg. dry active yeast
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, water, and yeast. Let stand undisturbed for 5 minutes to froth and double in size.

In a large bowl, cream butter with salt. Add eggs. Stir in flour Place the remaining ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, start mixing on low, adding the yeast mixture slowly. When all the ingredients hold together, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix at medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be well blended, and elastic, velvety, and hold into a lump around the beater.

Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and place the dough in a large greased bowl. Cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size(about 2 hours).

Gently punch down dough. Generously butter large brioche mold or several smaller individual molds (which I enjoy making, they are so pretty piled in a basket on the breakfast table). For the large mold, separate a piece of the dough about the size of an orange. Place the remaining dough in the mold so that no seams are showing and you have a nice smooth surface. Using your fist, make an indentation in the center of the dough. Shape reserved dough into a smoothball and place in the indentation to form the “tête”. Press down gently to secure pieces of dough together. For smaller molds, divide dough into portions equal to number of pans, remembering to also form smaller balls to make the top knobs or “tête”.

Let the brioches rise in a warm, draft-free place for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 400 F, and brush tops of brioches with an egg wash (1 egg, beaten). Bake for approximately 25 minutes for a large, single brioche and adjust the baking time to less for the smaller portions. They should be golden brown on the outside. Allow to cool ten minutes before removing from molds.

These are best the day of, when still warm. They are already very buttery, so a little jam or marmalade is all that is needed. They will also keep in an air-tight container for 3-4 days.

Mmmm, so buttery, melt-in-your-mouth good, and comforting on a cold October day like today.

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