The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

S'ils n'ont plus de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche

JMonkey's picture

S'ils n'ont plus de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche

Helas, that appeared to be the situation Saturday afternoon.

I'd thought I'd learned something about properly dusting a very wet loaf before proofing. And, in fact, I did learn something. Unfortunately, I subsequently learned something else: how to shape a wet loaf properly, thanks to MountainDog.

But we'll get to that in a minute. First, let me show you these beautiful and delectable Spelt and Flaxseed Blueberry Muffins. MountainDog, you are a genius. My daughter gobbled hers up in record time. My wife said, "Honey, you can make these again anytime you like."

Highly recommended. Sweet, but not too sweet, with a crunchy top, nutty texture and delicious spelty flavor. More about spelt to come.

Anyway, back to how MountainDog ruined my Desem through good teaching. Thanks to MountainDog, my boule of Desem rose higher than it had ever risen before, and all in just 2 hours instead of the usual 2.5. As a result, the undusted bottom of the loaf rose up and stretched to touch the sides of the top of the brotform (or banneton or proofing basket, whatever you will). The top of the loaf was ready to slide out just fine, but the bottom edge stuck to the sides - the whole loaf just tore itself in half. The moral is that I need to dust the loaf again after I place it in the banneton.

It was very dispiriting, especially since I'd aimed to bring that loaf to dinner with some friends we'd not seen in some time. Luckily, I had a loaf of whole wheat sourdough sandwich bread in the freezer, which served just as well for dinner bread.

But, as Marie Antoinette said (or more likely, never said but later had political enemies ascribe to her anyway), upon her coronation in the midst of a terrible bread shortage: "If they no longer have any bread, then let them eat brioche." So I made some brioche - specifically, the "Rich Man's Brioche" from the BBA. In baker's percentages, the butter is 87% and there's 5 large eggs in the recipe -- heck, I figured, if I'm abandoning whole grains, why not just go all the way. My wife loves lemon curd, and nothing goes better with lemon curd than brioche, so the Saturday before Mother's Day, I made up the dough. Stretch-and-fold is a great technique, but I couldn't figure out how to make it work with brioche. After all, we're talking about plowing a full pound of butter, that's FOUR FREAKING STICKS of pure, unadulterated, totally saturated fat into about 18.25 ounces of white flour.

It's not easy.

But I love my wife (even if I'm not showing much love for her heart, arteries or vascular system in general), so I soldiered on. After I got it incorporated, I put that slab of dough on greased parchment, covered it with transparent petroleum product and put it into the fridge.

For the following morning, I had a plan. I was all jazzed about spelt, so I decided to make my usual whole wheat sourdough sandwich bread, but with a spelt starter and 1/2 spelt flour.

Over two feedings, I built up enough spelt starter from about 10 grams of my whole wheat starter and measured out everything the night before. Then, Sunday morning when I woke up (as usual) at 6am, I could just mix everything together on autopilot, which would help me get warmed up to make good old fashioned buttermilk (whole wheat - what else did you expect from me?) waffles. No sourdough waffles this time; I got in pretty late Saturday night, and didn't feel like messing around with buttermilk at 11:00 P.M.

My plan actually worked! I mixed up the sourdough around 6:30 a.m., took out the brioche dough and shaped it, and then placed the brioches in my makeshift proofbox - we'd left the windows open overnight, so it was a chilly 61 degrees in the kitchen. I had to have everything done by 11am to be at church (my wife was singing a duet), So I couldn't let it proof on the counter.

Now, the BBA says that the brioche recipe makes 3 lbs of dough, but I only got 2 lb 12 ounces. So I decided to make two loaves and a 6-muffin tin full of mini-brioches. It was a great idea, but unfortunately, they wouldn't all fit in my beer-cooler-turned-proof box. At least, not flat on the bottom. A couple of tall plastic cups later, and I had a two-tiered system, which worked great until I tripped over the proofbox, uttered swear words, and sent the muffin tin careening into one of my half risen loaves, deflating it mightily right in the middle. So, I took the muffin pan out of the proof box and tried another trick. I boiled a cup of water in the microwave, open the door and quickly shoved the muffin tin inside. Presto, instant proof box.

It worked! I pulled the last loaves of brioche out of the oven at 10:52 a.m. which gave Iris and I the 5 minutes we needed to bike to church. The deflated loaf, unsurprisingly, looks deflated, but the braided pan loaf looks OK. And they taste ... very, very buttery.

As for the Whole-Wheat and Whole Spelt Sourdough Sandwich Bread? The stretch and fold, no-knead approach was a winner! The shaped loaves rose in the proofbox while I was at church and were ready to go into the oven when we got home. I took the stone out of the oven, and tried the cold start approach. Again, it was a winner! This bread's a little less light than my 100% sourdough sandwich loaves usually are, but not by much, and the flavor is sweeter with a nutty overtone. It's nice, especially with peanut butter.

Next week, I'll beat this sticky Desem beast, even if I do learn something useful yet again from MountainDog. Which is altogether likely.


mountaindog's picture

Wow, JMonkey - that's quite the Mother's Day bake! I'm glad your family enjoyed the muffins, they are a big hit here as well. When I have hoardes of extended family visiting over Thanksgiving and need to provide breakfast, those are a staple.

You give me far too much credit, however...the shaping tips all come from a combo of this site, the BBA, and Glezer probably - I just happened to be the last person to repeat it to you. I should have mentioned that after I place the dough in the basket, I dust the top and down into the sides with some AP flour in anticipation of that big high rise...sorry I forgot to point that out and your loaf tore! You'll just have to get back in that kitchen and try it again :-)

Your brioche looks very tasty. It does require a long knead to incorporate all that butter - that is where I find my KitchenAid mixer comes in handy. My husband brought me some lovely large fluted brioche pans back from his last visit to France and I've yet to try them as I try to avoid dairy as much as possible - but seeing yours makes me want to make some again...if I really limit how much I eat I may be OK allergy-wise. As far as the fat, certainly the French are known to eat anything in moderation, moderation being the key (plus they tend to walk a lot more than Americans) - from that perspective the French paradox doesn't seem to be such a paradox. I can attest that my French husband and his family all eat lots of bread and rich cheese and butter, and are all very slim...I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb when I visit France - I have more of a germanic build myself...I think Dave Barry once wrote that Americans visiting Paris tend to look like beef cattle in sneakers - I can relate to that ;-)


JMonkey's picture

Yes, moderation, unfortunately, is not my strong suit when it comes to foods. We gave one of the loaves away to our landlords (they live upstairs -- a wonderful retired couple) in part because we just don't need two buttery loaves around.

And take the credit! Just because you didn't invent the technique, you were the person who finally explained it to me in a way that stuck. That's quite a feat in itself .... :-)

redivyfarm's picture

That is very attractive! Did you braid and place in the loaf pan for final proof? Singing, baking and biking- what a happy Mother's Day!

JMonkey's picture

Yes, I did a 3-strand braid and then put it in the pan. It's a nice look for sweet breads or brioches baked in a pan, I think.

And it was a fine day. After the bread was baked, we biked to Harvard Square and took the T (that's our name for the subway) to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain for the lilac festival. It's a lovely place, and often overlooked by visitors to Boston.

ehanner's picture

You are going to miss Boston. I know I did.

mountaindog's picture

Boston is a great town, but I am also jealous of JMonkey's move to Oregon, I love the Pacific NW. Interestingly, I have two different sets of friends moving to Portland this year from here (upstate NY). If I didn't have all my family here in the East I'd be tempted to pull up stakes myself and head West. Besides, look at all the great bread and bakers out there! (Floyd, Pane D'AMore, and I'm sure many others...) Pack your starters well and good Luck with the move, JMonkey!