Brioche. It sounds so intimidating. A rich, buttery, egg bread with so many possibilities for creativity. I was feeling ready for a challenge and scoured my cookbook collection comparing recipes and looking for ease of preparation. Finally I settled on one from my alma mater, La Varenne. The recipe itself is not difficult although it is a yeast dough so does require some time. After the initial mixing, a nap overnight in the refrigerator will awaken it refreshed and ready to mold into all kinds of shapes. This is the fun part.
In Paris, I learned how to make brioche dough by hand, slapping it on a cold marble surface as I added the butter, piece by piece. This traditional method is an art in itself. This time I let the Kitchen Aid do the work. It huffed and puffed as I added the butter, until I thought it would faint with exhaustion. “Just three more pats of butter,” I whispered with encouragement. The poor thing was warm after the workout and I promised her a long rest in-between the next recipe.
Three different breads were the results of my efforts. Because I am still craving oranges, they all have an orange twist. The first recipe is a take off on monkey bread, one of my favorite childhood breakfast breads. I added candied orange peel (from King Arthur) to the dough, then rolled pieces of dough into small balls, dipped them in melted butter, then into an orange zest and sugar combination. The balls were placed in a deep dish pie pan, left to rise, then baked. Bellissimo!
Next I made a braided loaf and sprinkled the orange sugar on the rolled out dough before I made the braids. Again, delicious and beautiful. While baking, the sugar peeked out from the dough causing a speckled effect. It slices very nicely.
The last recipe, and the simplest, was my favorite. I had some of the orange peel dough leftover and made rolls. Each dough piece was weighed, then rolled into a ball and placed in a well-buttered muffin tin. After they had risen, I egg glazed each roll and sprinkled them with Sparkling White Sugar (again from King Arthur). The texture of this bread is soft and airy, buttery and irresistible.
The best part about this recipe is that you are free to unleash your creative genius in any way you like. Shape a bunny or an Easter egg. Add cinnamon or lavender. Just remember to let the fine texture and flavor of the bread speak for itself so go lightly with the added flavors.
2 Tablespoons luke warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 Tablespoon dry yeast
3 Tablespoons sugar
4 Cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
8 eggs – beaten lightly
12 oz. unsalted butter, ( 3 sticks) softened and cut into 1/2” cubes NOTE: Please use a good quality European style butter like Plugra, President or Kerry Gold. Because this is a butter bread, it really does make a difference! Also there is a lot of water in inexpensive butter and this can change the dynamics of the recipe.
Put water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top. Let set for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. It should look puffy and bubbly. I usually add a little of the sugar to this mixture to feed it, just to make sure my yeast is active.
Combine remaining sugar, flour and salt in a Kitchen Aid mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add risen yeast and eggs to mixer. Beat dough until all ingredients are well combined and the mixture is sticky.
Add pieces of butter (I smash the pieces between my thumb and finger to flatten) one by one, incorporating each piece before the next is added. This is the most time-consuming part of the recipe! Do not leave your Kitchen Aid as mine wanted to jump off the counter near the end because it was working so hard.
When all the butter is incorporated, you will have a beautiful shiny mass. Form a ball and place this in a buttered bowl. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch the dough down, replace with the damp towel and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, your dough is ready to play with!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shape dough as desired, place in well-buttered muffin tins or molds and let rise until doubled. Give each piece a light egg wash and bake. The small rolls (I weighed each at about 1.5 ounces) only took about 12-15 minutes and the braid took about 25 minutes. Watch carefully and look for a beautifully browned crust.
These are best eaten warm but keep very well and even freeze well.
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight…
[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
― M.F.K. Fisher,
Ciao for now,