Sometimes I think I might be crazy. Other times I think maybe I’m just not too smart. For years I have harbored a ridiculous fear of brioche. I don’t mean I cower if I happen to meet one on the street, but I’ve been timid about the idea of making it. I’m not really sure why, since I’ve taken on other breads fearlessly and been successful with them. Maybe it's that name: brioche. It just sounds so fancy. Or maybe it’s that funny pan it’s supposed to be cooked in. I have one, but I’ve never used it. That round fluted shape makes me think of a crown. Perhaps I’m intimidated by brioche’s lineage.
This weekend we were having family over to celebrate the twins’ third birthday (which is actually today). It was brunch, so I wanted something that could wear both hats, if you know what I mean. We were having a salad luncheon: chicken salad, fruit salad, green salad, baked eggs (which, OK, aren’t a salad), and cupcakes for dessert. I wanted a bread that would be breakfasty but lunchy at the same time. Sweet bread wouldn’t work with the chicken salad, and something like baguette or rosemary bread would leave the fruit salad and eggs as the only breakfast components.
In flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, The Crabtree & Evelyn Cookbook (now sadly out of print, but which is probably responsible in part for the start of my food obsession) I came across three recipes in the index that all had possibilities. One was a Sally Lunn bread, one was Whole Wheat and Potato Cloverleaf Rolls, and the last was Brioche.
The description of the Brioche was so comforting. It says that this recipe is “An ideal introduction to brioche making…” because it doesn’t use the fluted pan. It uses a simple rectangular bread pan. The words fairly stroke your hand and murmur, “There, there, you can do this.” And so I did.
Aside from not using the proper brioche pan, this recipe also lets you whip everything up in a food processor. The dough actually comes out looking more like batter, which rather worried me, and as in other instances where I’ve used rapid-rise yeast, it looked the same after I let it rise for an hour as it did when I scraped it out of the food processor into the bowl. I was a bit apprehensive, but I’d come too far now to back down. Into the oven it went, while I crossed my fingers, swallowed a green m&m whole, threw salt over my right shoulder, rubbed my rabbit’s foot, and tried to remember where I’d put that four leaf clover.
Forty minutes later, what a roaring success. Although it comes out of the oven looking crusty, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s light and airy, faintly yellow from all those egg yolks, and soft as a peony blossom. I sliced it into pieces and laid them out on a platter and was agog at how easy it was. Magnificent.
I served it with butter and jam for those wanting to emphasize its more breakfastlike traits. It also went beautifully with the chicken salad, its buttery goodness a nice foil for the creamy salad.
They say the best way to conquer your fears is to face them. Now, where is that brioche pan?
from the Crabtree & Evelyn Cookbook
makes one really friendly loaf
2 ½ to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ -ounce package quick-rising yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add 2 cups of flour, yeast, sugar, and salt and pulse to mix. In a small saucepan, heat butter with ¼ cup water until butter is melted and mixture is hot to the touch (125 to 130 degrees F). Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, and process a few seconds, or until the dough begins to form a ball. Add eggs and process for about 45 seconds, or until dough becomes smooth and sticky and begins to pull away from the sides of the work bowl. If dough is too wet, add some of the remaining ½ cup flour and process for a few seconds more. (N.B. in my experience the dough never pulled away from the sides of the work bowl, and I added about another ¼ cup of the flour; at that point I said, “The hell with it” and set it to rise.) Scrape dough into a buttered mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. (Ha!)
Punch down dough, and place in a buttered 8 ½ inch x 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk again, about 30 minutes. (You know what? I just realized I didn’t do this; seems this step is optional, folks!)
Place brioche in the center of the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is deep golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped lightly on the bottom. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before slicing.