Y’all, bread is hard to make. Making bread has been an up and down experience for me. The first bread I ever made was in a crockpot, and although it was tasty, it could definitely only be loosely described as “bread”. Perhaps you could sell it in a grocery store as a “wheat food product” like those cheeses that come in a can, or giant tubs of vanilla “frozen dessert”. (Delicious, by the way.) Who knows why I thought it would be easier to make my first bread in a crockpot rather than just…baking it, but this was in college and it was my first crockpot so I was goin’ wild with it. (Can you tell that I didn’t party in college?)
My crockpot bread was followed up by a successful pretzel making experience, as well as a small loaf that I made for me and my friends when we had a cooking night. This boosted my confidence, and when I came home for the summer I ventured into other yeasted products such as pizza dough and cinnamon rolls. I felt like a true Yeast Queen. I was on top, ready for my next conquest. I wanted to do a Big Loaf. I selected a basic white loaf recipe from my big cookbook that’s just called “BAKING” (published by DK, it’s great) and it turned out……poor. I mean it tasted fine, but I forgot to make slits in the top of the dough before putting it in the oven, so it didn’t really rise very much and well….
Yeah. Not so great. I tried the recipe one more time, with slits in the top but the results weren’t much better. My confidence waned slightly, but the flame was rekindled when I got my stand mixer. Now I could venture into territory previously unexplored, and that meant Brioche (insert extravagant and very bad French accent).
If you didn’t know, brioche is a bread made from enriched dough, which means that eggs, milk, sugar, butter, etc. are added to basic yeast dough to make it….enriched. With flavor, or texture, or something. It’s very very delicious but very very pain in the assy to make if you don’t have a stand mixer because you have to add in little chunks of softened butter one at a time while kneading the dough, which is very soft and sticky from the milk, sugar, and eggs. But now I was equipped and I was ready to go. After doing my usual recipe scour I settled on this one from French Food and Crafts (a blog de maman, if you will.)
Bringing the dough together was a breeze, the butter incorporated well, the dough rose properly, and the overnight cold prove in the fridge made the dough nice and soft and airy. Then it was baking time and things went downhill from there. Most of these mistakes are my fault, but I’m going to allow myself to be a little petty and partially blame the recipe as well. Mistakes:
- Most brioche is rolled into separate smaller pieces and then stuck back together in the pan, or is braided together in some fancy way. I just kind of rolled all of my dough into a log and plopped it in with some slits in the top, so maybe the whole chunk was too big overall.
- Here’s the one that I blame on the recipe: The instructions said to preheat the oven to 350 F. After cross referencing several other brioche recipes, I discovered that most call for heating the oven to around 400 F, much hotter and therefore able to cook the bread all the way through in the 30-35 minute bake time most recipes suggest while getting that dark brown shiny crust. So I think that this recipe had the oven too low, and therefore the top of the bread browned while the middle remained uncooked.
- I was an impatient fuck and not only took the bread out of the oven too soon, but took the baked bread out of the pan too soon. You’re supposed to leave the bread in the pan for about 15 minutes so it can continue to set up. I took it out way before then so I could get those PICS.
Here’s how my first brioche looked:
If you’re a baker who actually knows what they’re doing then you can tell just by looking at this that it is severely underbaked. Pay particular attention to that bulge coming out of the left side of the bread. After about 15 minutes that bulge started seeping raw dough and my loaf slowly but surely began to collapse into itself. A SENSIBLE and RATIONAL person might have just tossed the whole thing, but this is me, so I chucked that baby back into the pan and shoved it in the oven for another good 20 minutes, desperately hoping that it would save my precious loaf. I made the additional mistake of picking at the goeey center of the bread to check if it was done, causing the center to collapse even more. Eventually I called it quits and sliced the bitch. The end pieces weren’t so bad and the flavor was actually amazing, but there’s no getting around the fact that the center was completely raw. Butthurt and stubborn, I ate the thing anyway, picking out the most doughy bits and pan frying the rest of each slice (“it WORKS” I whispered to myself as I ate undercooked bread) I vowed that day to have my revenge.
We just went through a pretty bad heatwave here in California, which means that I haven’t done much baking since nobody wants that when it’s 104 out. But it has finally cooled down and yesterday I decided to make some jam from blueberries I got from the farmers market (homemade jam is the SHIT y’all.) What good is jam without bread, and what better bread to go with jam than sweet, buttery brioche. I was determined to not repeat my past mistakes and to reclaim my former title as Yeast Queen. Rather than using the same recipe and just cranking up the heat (still recovering from my blind baking hubris) I decided to pick a different recipe, settling on this one from Aline Made.
The recipe is pretty similar to the first one I used, albeit with smaller proportions (come to think of it maybe the original recipe was supposed to be two loaves, but we already know I’m Boo Boo the Fool so let’s just move on) The dough-making process didn’t go quite as smoothly, the recipe called for cold butter but since EVERY OTHER BRIOCHE RECIPE I LOOKED AT called for very soft butter I went with that, but I overshot and softened my butter a little too much in the microwave, leading to a weird back and forth between my stand mixer and a plate with a stick of butter on it in my freezer. Also, how long is too long for a stand mixer to be continuously running? The recipe said to mix for 15 minutes on speed 2 and not that there was some smoke, but.
The dough rose like it was supposed to so I stuck it in the fridge for its overnight rise, then woke at SIX-THIRTY AM to roll the dough into little balls and then rise again in the pan at room temp. Okay, so I didn’t have to get up at 6:30, but I wanted brioche for breakfast, goddamn it. Finally after another hour and 45 minutes I stuck the bread in to bake, worrying, of course, about whether it had risen enough and if I was making a mistake by putting the oven at 400 even though the recipe said 395 and aahhhh. But y’all. This bread baked up BEAUTIFULLY. I’m talking gorgeous shiny dark brown crust, soft flaky crumb, the smell of butter wafting through my whole house. And with the blueberry jam???? Fucking come on.
Yeast Queen is back on her throne. Until I fuck up some dinner rolls or something. What I’ve learned from my brioche-making experience is:
- Have PATIENCE
- Sometimes it does pay to look at a bunch of recipes to see what the typical process is, and if the recipe you want to use seems different from that maybe go with your gut (and what people who know more than you are saying)
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to shove more bread in my face. And also never buy jam from the store again because GODDAMN.