Sunday, December 30, 2007

brioche a tête

We had a cocktail party last week, and one of our guests, brought a gift of 2 bright red little paper bags. I did not peek inside when I received them, but put them on a counter while I whirled around, talking, cooking and partying. When my friend was leaving, I thanked her for the gift and she whispered, "we brought a little treat for you two, for tomorrow morning". I looked into the bag and there were 2 little golden buns, with currants and little pieces of candied fruit. They looked like brioche! The next morning, after more cleanup from the night before, we made our cafe au laits, and then bought out the little red bags. They were delicious. I don't know if they were real brioche, but they reminded me of brioche and I decided that brioche would need to be made before the holidays were over.

There is a mystique that surrounds brioche. Most of us have not had, nor have ever seen a "real" one. I did see a "real" one in France, a long time ago. The memory and taste memory have long since faded. I think I may have had facsimiles of these glorious little buns over the years, but don't think I have actually made them for a very long time.

Brioche first appeared as a written word in 1404, and has been surrounded in controversy since then. Gourmands have argued the true origin of the bread, and which region of France it came from. Marie Antoinette famous words were actually "let them eat brioche", not cake. The bread is made from an enriched yeast dough containing eggs and butter. Raisin, currants and candied fruit can be added to the dough. It can be made in various shapes, from tall cylindrical brioche mouselline, to the short and fat brioche a tête, which has a little ball on top like a hat. (like the ones I made). A similar dough is also used in other cuisines to encase Salmon Coulibiac and Beef Wellington.

Following is an adapted recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Bakers Apprentice.


1/2 cup unbleached bread flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup milk, warmed to 100 deg F


5 large eggs
3 cups unbleached bread flour
2 tbsp white sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

Optional: Raisins, currants, candied peel.

1 egg, whisked for egg wash

The sponge: stir together the flour and yeast in a mixing bowl. stir in the milk until the flour is hydrated. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 20 minutes, or until the sponge rises and then falls when you tap the bowl.

The Dough: add the eggs to the sponge and beat with the paddle attachment on your mixer until smooth. Stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add this mixture to sponge and egg mixture and stir on low speed for about 2 minutes. Let this mixture rest for 5 minutes so that the gluten can develop. Mix on medium speed with the paddle and mix in the softened butter 1/4 at a time. After all the butter is incorporated, mix for 6 more minutes. Mix in the optional fruit at this time. The dough will be very soft and smooth.

Transfer the dough to a bag and refrigerate overnight or for a minimum of four hours.

Cut the dough into 2 ounce portions and place into greased muffin pans. If you want the "little hat" you can put an indentation in the top of the bun and then place a small nob of dough in the indentation. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and proof until doubled in size (approximately 1 - 2 hours). When proofed, brush on the egg wash and bake at 400 deg F for 15 to 20 minutes.


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