Monday, June 2, 2008

French Laundry at Home Extra: Brioche

Before we get to the brioche, let me just say that as someone who has done PR and media work for as many years as I have, when you get a call or an email from the Wall Street Journal, ya get the chills. Trust me, you just do. It's either gonna be really, really good or really, really bad. In my case, it turned out to be really, really good, and I have technology reporter and Portals columnist Lee Gomes to thank for that.

When Lee got in touch to write about cook-through blogs, I was honored that he wanted to include me in the story. When the piece finally ran, I was so pleased with how well it was written, and delighted to be among such great company. There are some really fun cook-the-book blogs out there, and I hope you'll check them out.

Thanks, Lee.

And thanks to all of you for being the great readers you are, and for all your amazing and awesome comments in the previous post. You guys are the best -- I think I might just have a bigger crush on all of you than I do Mike Bloomberg. Oh, and I was remiss in not mentioning two other key players in this TV expedition of mine -- Carol and Drew -- thanks, guys!

Now, on to the brioche!

It's no secret that when I've needed brioche for any of my previous dishes, I bought a loaf at the local co-op. I figured it was about time that I actually tried to make brioche of my own, and see if I could actually accomplish something positive in the baking arena. Most of you know it's not really my forte.

The recipe for brioche in The French Laundry Cookbook is actually from Jean-Louis Palladin. Jean-Louis was famous for many things, but here in Washington he was perhaps best known for his restaurant at The Watergate. I came to Washington in the mid-1980s to go to college, and my campus was a few blocks away from The Watergate. It's where the closest grocery store was, and I thought I was so cool telling all my friends back home that I did my grocery shopping at The Watergate. I know -- it's totally lame, but back then I thought it was all kinds of awesome.

I remember walking past Jean-Louis' restaurant to get to the supermarket, and wondered if I'd ever be able to eat there in my lifetime. The summer between my sophomore and junior year I turned 20 and decided to take myself to dinner at Jean-Louis at the Watergate (of course, I had no money; I put in on my credit card -- ah, the reckless spending of my youth). I was working three jobs that summer, and one of the lawyers I temped for got me a reservation. I don't remember every course I was served, but I remember that I had duck and it was unlike any duck I'd ever had before. Thankfully, the drinking age was 18 at the time, so I was also able to enjoy some wine with dinner. I wish I'd taken notes that night or had a more clear memory of the evening, but I think I obliterated those brain cells during my final two years at school. Go figure.

Even still, I think it's an honor to be able to make something from Jean-Louis Palladin's repertoire -- even if it is just a loaf of bread. So here we go...

The first step is to combine hot water and a packet of yeast in a small bowl -- after which you let it just sit there for ten minutes, then you stir it to further dissolve it:

Before we go any further, I'd like you to meet Carol Stevens, the founder of the Red Star Yeast Company:
At first, I thought she looked like an air-brushed Bea Arthur, but upon closer inspection, I think SHE'S TOTALLY JUDGING ME AND WAITING FOR ME TO FAIL. I'LL SHOW YOU, CAROL STEVENS!!!!


While the yeast was dissolving in the water, I sifted together the flour, cake flour, salt, and sugar into my mixing bowl:

I added the eggs to the flour mixture, and beat it for one minute at low speed using my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook attachment.

After one minute, I slowly added the dissolved yeast, and continued beating it on low for about five minutes, after which time, I turned off the mixer and pulled the dough from the hook:

I put the mixer back down into the bowl and mixed it again for another five minutes. Then, I added the butter to the dough, a few tablespoons at a time, and clocked a minute in between each addition of butter.

Once all the butter had been added, I kept it on low and let it mix for 12 minutes. During that 12 minutes, I ate these:

Then, I cut these from my garden:

Then, I also cut and arranged these:

Time to take the dough out of the mixing bowl and put it in a floured bowl for 3 hours so it could rest and rise:

Here comes my favorite part: after it had risen, I took it out of the bowl and plopped it onto a floured work surface, where I folded the dough over onto itself a few times to get rid of the air bubbles. It's wild -- you can actually feel thousands of teeny, tiny air bubbles popping under the palm of your hand... kind of like what really cold Sprite feels like going down your throat. That same kind of burble-y sound and feel. It was cool.

I put the bubble-be-gone dough back into the bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight:

The next morning, I split the dough in half and put each half into a buttered loaf pan and let those sit on the countertop for about 3 hours -- enough time for the dough to rise just above the top of the pans:

I put these loaves into a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. The tops were brown and I tapped on the bottom of each pan to make sure it sounded hollow. I took them out of the loaf pans and let them cool for ten minutes on a baking rack. Wanna see the end result?

I immediately wrapped and froze one loaf, and sliced right into the other loaf:

It was eggy and bready and light and airy and fluffy like a floaty, delicious pillow of lovely, cakey goodness. (Again, Culinary Institute of America, I am here for all your technical, textbook-writing needs.)

Seriously, I don't ever make bread. I think I've made zucchini bread 3 or 4 times in my life, but that's more of a sweet treat to me than anything else. I'm just not a baker, and I have never made real bread before. But this? I would make this again, for sure. I cut a few slices for my neighbors, and saved the rest for me. I've had some as toast, and I used some for lunch today:

Yes, I eat peanut butter on toast almost every day. Judge me. I dare you. I think I'll let the remaining bit get a wee bit stale and use it for French toast in the morning, then break out the other loaf from the freezer and find a delicious use for that. It's gonna be a bread-tastic week.

Chances are, most of you probably already have all the ingredients on-hand to make this. I say give it a whirl and let me know how it goes. Especially the punching out all the bubbles part.

Up Next: Fava Bean Agnolotti with Curry Emulsion

King Arthur flour

Pillsbury cake flour

Smith Meadows Farm eggs

David's kosher salt

Domino sugar

Red Star yeast

365 organic unsalted butter

Music to Cook By:
Hall & Oates; The Essential. My friend, Catherine, got to interview Daryl and John at an event recently. Despite John's tragic plastic surgery (WHY DO MEN DO THIS; KNOCK IT OFF!), they still look great and for me, their music is timeless. I mean, what girl didn't want to change her name to Sara when "Sara Smile" came out? And, if you haven't seen the parody that is Yacht Rock, prepare yourselves for even more Hall & Oates fabulosity.

Read My Previous Post: "Head to Toe" -- Part Two (Pig's Head)


Jo said...

I love me some brioche! I used Julia Child's recipe from her huge baking tome. While my husband adored it, he would cringe every time I set up the ingredients. That's a lot of butter and eggs in there! It always meant double time in the gym for him, or maybe that was triple time? Oh, and when I first started making brioche. I had a Kitchenaid Classic, bottom of the line mixer. That motor would be burning hot. After a month of brioche, I decided to make a simple loaf of white bread. My dough hook broke! The CSR was very understanding though amazed that it broke on white dough. They sent me a new hook of course. Now I have a Professional HD model. No hot motor for me, and more gym time for hubby.

Anonymous said...

Hmm okay yours turned out looking way better than mine did - my dough pre first rise was waaaayyy wetter than that, so there must have been something I did with my measurement of flour or something.

Anyway, now your success has egged me on to try it again! :)

teflaime said...

I use Shirley Corriher's recipe from Cookwise to make brioche (the #1 recipe, she has 2). It's really rich.

chrisalward said...

Long time reader, first time poster, Looooooong time bubble popper!

Looks great Carol. And congrats on all the press lately - well deserved.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I'm having culinary school flashbacks! To paraphrase Gene Wilder "I must have made more brioche than Cecil B. DeMille..." we used a standard bakery recipe, and turned out oh, about 45-50 loaves per day of eggy, buttery goodness (for sandwiches, bread pudding, toast points for foie, etc). And you better believe that a loaf would be taken home to be sliced, dried out, and turned into the most amazing french toast! Great job as always...

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the mention in the WSJ article "Miss Smartypants". It is really great to see you get even more recognition for your wonderful site.

Anonymous said...

I love Brioche. LOVE IT. And Brioche French Toast? Shut up!

But, I love curry even more. Definitely looking forward to your take on the "up next" recipe!

And, also, congratulations on the Pig's Head success. That is just too cool. You are great on camera too!

amber said...

making homemade bread -- the normal kind, not the sweet stuff -- is on my list of things to accomplish before i hit 30. thanks for the additional kick in the pants!

Anonymous said...

Three words: Brioche bread pudding.

Your bread looked mighty beautiful for someone who supposedly doesn't bake! :D

french tart said...

dude, make creme brulee french toast. pretend you're making creme brulee, and when the custard part is done (before you would normally put it into ramekins and then into oven), pour that over brioche slices that are in a baking dish. weigh them down with a plate and some cans; put in fridge overnight. next day, bake at 375 for, i dunno, until it's golden and bubbly. carve yourself out a slice, and promptly cover in good maple syrup. or not. even without syrup, it's just great.

sorry i got carried away there.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh, yum. That looks so good.......

Anonymous said...

Carol Stevens looks like Mrs. Wheeler, my evil second grade teacher. Jesus, that was almost as scary as the photo of Joan Van Ark.

Anonymous said...

Nothing better than making bread. Brioche is fun and a bit challenging. Speaking of french recipes, I am totally game to try croissants. Being a second grade special education teacher (NOT an evil one), I am going to make them this summer when I have a bit of time. I love baking bread because you can get rid of all the stress you are feeling in the kneading process-it feels great to whack away at dough and have something tasty at the end.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so I was so scarred by the fauxCarol Stevens, that I scrolled right by the gorgeous flowers (are those dianthus?) and neglected to mention the lust I feel in seeing those loaves of bread. Damn, they look good.

And anon, thanks for being a non-evil second grade teacher. I wish there were more of you.

Anonymous said...

I dream of a policy-wonk job in Washington, eat peanut butter pretty much every day and live in N. California not too far from French Laundry! So much in common. Love the blog :)

ChefCouture said...

Love Yacht Rock!!! Cant stop watching!! hahahhaha

Anonymous said...


I am scarred by an elementary school teacher also, so I know how you feel. Brioche is tasty, but I am used to making it in a round pan with a knot of dough on top. I'll have to try the loaf pans-easier to fit in the freezer. That creme brulee french toast sounds too good to be true.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog!!!

I hope you get a food network show, I'd tune in every week!

queenofsheba said...

You made beautiful brioche AND referenced Yacht Rock. Is it any wonder we love you as much as you love us?

You know, you keep making beautiful pastry stuff and people aren't going to buy your "I am not good at this" argument anymore.

pdxblogmommy said...

After the peanut was born you baked me bread that had hunks of chocolate in it. Oh yes. I remember that. That was baking wasn't it?

Can I have some more please?

Anonymous said...

Looks good, making me hungry at work as usual. Who doesn't like peanut butter sandwiches?? Just because it doesn't contain an oyster or pig's head doesn't mean it can't be tasty.

I'm baking my first loaves of home bread next week...

Hillary said...

Awesome brioche!

I'm not a baker, either. I have done decently with my grandmother's crescent roll recipe, but otherwise, I've had quite the string of disasters. Forgetting to put white sugar in chocolate chip cookies. An attempt at a galette crust that set off the smoke detectors. Astounding debacles that never occur when "just" cooking!

BUT, I did buy a KA Artisan last year so maybe I'll take another stab at dough sometimes...maybe the KA will be my salvation, as long as I don't burn out the motor.

(And let me add my congrats on the press!!)

Unknown said...

Congrats on the press! Love this blog- one of my favorite "cook the book" blogs, definitely.

I'm going to try making this on my day off this week!

Question for anyone who can answer it: can I make this without a mixer? I think I've got the muscles, and helpers (if need be) to do it by hand, but no mixer... What do you think?

Anonymous said...

You might find this article, with comments about T. Keller, interesting:

Jakeymon said...

Oh, brilliant, brilliant. Baking is so much fun. Really. I'm so happy it worked well for you!

Oh, and Hall & Oates? Also brilliant. Saw them on the Voices Tour at Elizabethtown college back in the day and since then, well, it's been over.

Prince of Wines said...

PB on toast? Hold your head up high! But for true enlightenment, you need to sprinkle on some cocoa nibs too. This is part of our standard breakfast.

OK, you are crazy enlightened just because you cook through this book. I love your blog!

Anonymous said...

I have never made this even though I bake bread often. Will give it a try. Oh, love your music choice but they are from my era.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I love your blog, Carol! Reading your blog makes me wish I didn't have crappy dorm food all day. I wonder if any other college students are reading this blog...

Vanessa said...

How can you tease us with news of tragic plastic surgery and not include photos???

del said...

This isn't the first time I see American bloggers post something along the lines of "I never bake with yeast". It's really a shame if yeast baking isn't popular over there, because it's really so simple, and few things can rival the wonderful smell and taste of bread fresh from the oven.

This brioche looks just amazing... I'll have to try making some for breakfast this sunday.

Carol Blymire said...

PDX: You're right. I'd completely forgotten about that bread. The Balthazar chocolate bread. Oh yum.....

Ariel: I would think that you could make bread without a mixer -- after all, people existed for centuries before the KA was invented. I just think it will take a lot of work to do it. If you try it, check in and let me know how it turns out.

Del: I'm with ya. I don't know why I don't make my own bread. After making this, I'm surely going to try to do it more often. It really is easy.

Anonymous said...

Carol, brioche is an art form! I've had great success with Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe, and interpreted by blogger EndlessB\banquet. It takes more elapsed time, but the result is sublime. My culinary students do it over three days, just to show them how to develop depth of flavor in yeast breads by being patient.
Deb in Florida

Jason Rushin said...

I was seriously into this post until the very end where you listed your music as Hall & Oates, then I lost my appetite! ;-)

Bread is my kryptonite, my Everest, my arch nemesis... But I'm going to give this one a try!