Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BBA CHALLENGE: Brioche (Rich Man & Poor Man)

Brioche! The very name is exciting, making me think of trips to France I have not taken, boulangeries I have not yet visited, and breakfasts of les petites brioches with strawberry conserve and chocolat chaud that I have not yet eaten. Ah, it's a full, full world inside my head, a veritable vacation paradise, which is why I can't remember where my car keys are.

As far as the BBA Challenge goes, I've been kind of a drop in, drop out sort of baker. I really regret that, but it took me FOREVER to get my hands on a the book (The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart) and so I was behind from the beginning, a curious place to be. I baked the Anadama bread (page 108), which I reviewed here at InsomniMom -- you can click on the BBA Challenge link over to your left to read about that -- but I skipped the Artos and also the bagels. That was very naughty of me because while I was not baking those breads, I was baking others, most notably the corn bread (page 151) and the lavash (page 178, also reviewed here at the site).

So that brings me to these two brioche recipes, both of which I baked in June, which I am just now posting. What my damage has been, I do not know, but now I have not only the brioche to review, I also have the Casatiello. Whew.

First of all, brioche is a rich bread made from whole milk, butter and eggs. The difference between Rich Man's Brioche and Poor Man's Brioche, Peter tells us, is in the amount of butter used: Rich Man's Brioche called for two cups of butter, while Poor Man's requires only half a cup. And that kind of makes you laugh, doesn't it, only half a cup? My word, you can practically feel your arteries slamming shut like the door of the Bastille just thinking about it.


I made the Rich Man's Brioche first. I don't want to sound like a baby, but I was put off this recipe when reading Peter's commentary. He wrote: "When we examine the formular for rich man's brioche, one thing becomes evident: it has almost the same flour to fat to sugar ratio as pie dough." And I know this probably sounds stupid, but I don't want to eat pie dough, or more to the point, a big slice of pie crust. I prefer pie crust to be rolled very then and crimped at the edge, with some sort of filling in it, preferably cherry or chocolate cream. But mine is not to question why and all that, so I proceeded, albeit with some ill feeling towards this bread.

I have to say, it went together very easily. I had to allow the sponge to ferment about twenty minutes longer than the twenty minutes Peter called for, and I think that's probably because it was an almighty hot day that day, according to my notes, and we had the central air conditioning on, rendering the house both cool and dry. I could be wrong about that because I don't really understand the science of bread baking yet and frankly, it seems kind of math-and-chemistry oriented and I suck at both of those things.

My major problem is that I do not own a large stand mixer. CousinFest occurred about four days after I made the brioche, and when I went into Susie's kitchen, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of her enormous professional grade Kitchen Aid stand mixer there on the counter. It is about the size of the lunar module and looks as if it could knead your bread and kick your lazy butt straight into next week with no problemo. Awed! I was awed! Particularly because my beloved food processor almost gave up the ghost when brioche dough sneakily ran down the middle part and clogged up the mechanism.

It took me more time to clean up and comfort my trembling, hyperventilating food processor than it did to bake the bread, but that's another story. Let's just say that the food processor debacle was the point where I had my second indication that Rich Man's Brioche and I were not going to become les meilleurs amis.

I ended up having to knead the brioche by hand, which is exactly what I did not want to do: That's why I love my bread machine so much. But with my food processor not possessing a capacity that could deal with that amount of dough, I was at a loss as to how else I was going to get all the ingredients incorporated into a mass that could be baked. I sure wasn't going to throw it away, with all that expensive butter cozied up in there!

So I kneaded, with all the grace that Marie Antoinette showed when she said, according to Peter and several other sources I've found, "The peasants can't eat Rich Man's Brioche? Why, then, let them eat Poor Man's Brioche!" Not cake. Brioche.

And then I kneaded some more.

And more.

My resentment rose along with the dough, and when I finally pulled two goldy-brown loaves out of the oven (one way smaller than the other because of my inability to form two equally-sized lumps of dough), I was hardly glad to see them.

Peter is firm in his command to let the bread cool completely before cutting -- it's actually Step 11 in his twelve-step bread baking program. I think he would just know that I'd cut the bread after only ten minutes post-oven and send a higher power to my kitchen to smite me. So I waited, and when the bread was cool, the girls and I had a slice.

It was...okay. It looked fabulous, if I do say so myself, and it practically melted on the tongue. I felt that it cried out for Nutella, but we don't keep it in the house, for reasons you can probably discern. Other than that, meh. I gave one loaf to our neighbors, identical twin brothers in their fifties who are bakers extraordinaire, and we kept the other one here, where we halfheartedly ate a slice here and there until it got stale a couple of days later. I fed the rest to the dogs.

That was when I realized that my favorite kind of bread is peasanty, preferably with a whole grain. Maybe with a couple of different kind of seeds scattered on top.


I read the recipe for Poor Man's Brioche with a strange feeling of déjà vu. I knew this recipe. But how? I read it again and light dawned -- I use the same recipe in my bread machine for a recipe that was named, prosaically, "Egg Bread." The only difference is that there's slightly less butter in my bread machine recipe.

Just for the fun of it, I made both breads on the same day, one by hand, one in the machine. I had a much better attitude, because I already knew that all of us like the Egg Bread recipe. I kneaded the dough by hand again, since my food processor threatened to have a nervous breakdown if I tried to put bread stuff in it again. Once again, I found that it isn't all that fun incorporating butter into the flour, milk, eggs, sugar, salt and yeast, but at least I had less to work with this time.

Here's my thing: I love bread. I love the way it makes the house smell. I love putting the ingredients together. I love it that my family loves it. BUT I HATE KNEADING. I just hate it. Call me the anti-artisan, but throwing and punching and pushing and pulling a lump of bread dough around on my counter is just too earthy for me and please keep in mind that I had my first baby with no drugs. I don't want to do that much work. As it turns out, I didn't want to do that much work in childbirth either, so I had an epidural the second time around, but anyway, kneading bread is a major pain.

When it was finally kneaded and risen and punched down and risen and proofed, I slid the loaf pans into the oven with a heavy sigh and an adoring look at my bread machine, which was sitting there on the counter, industriously going about its business of giving me a funny-looking but yummy loaf of bread and causing me no grief whatsoever. Peter Reinhart says that he kneads all his bread by hand and I can only wonder if his mother had a bad experience with a yeast packet when she was carrying him.

Anyway, as it turns out, Poor Man's Brioche is delightful no matter how you bake it. Bread machine, oven, it comes out with a lovely golden yellow hue and is so extremely good for sandwiches or breakfast toast. It is a most delicious bread and you should make it.

In your bread machine.

1 comment:

Kayte said...

It was a lot of fun to read your comparisons of the breads. And, you are NOT behind...she opened it up again and new people are joining and everyone is all over the place with bread...everyone is going in order, but their own pace, so you are just fine and ahead of some! The Slow & Steady group is just getting ready for Challah this week to post on Sunday. I'm probably making it again as my first attempt was a WILD THING. I cannot braid. At. All. I liked the Poor Man's best, too.