Peter Reinhart offers three different variations on brioche to choose from: rich man’s, middle-class, and poor man’s. Rich man’s contains double the butter of middle-class, which contains double the butter in poor man’s. I was wavering between making rich man’s brioche and middle-class brioche. On the one hand, I thought, this was probably going to be the only time I would make brioche in my life. This was also the reason why I didn’t order brioche molds, even though I usually jump at the opportunity to buy new kitchen supplies. On the other hand, I would like to be able to eat a piece of the bread I bake without immediately exceeding the recommended calorie allowance for an adult human.
The second consideration won out, and I prepared to make middle-class brioche. I took two sticks of butter out of my freezer to come to room temperature and I waited.
When they were ready, I started to make the rest of the recipe. Except I turned to the directions for rich man’s brioche, because the middle-class brioche recipe says to follow the same instructions. And…I followed the amounts for the rich man’s brioche, too, which are slightly different in other respects besides the butter question. More yeast, more flour, more sugar, and more salt. By the time I realized my mistake, everything was blended together and just waiting to be combined with the sponge. So I quick-defrosted two more sticks of butter (yes, you have counted correctly; ONE POUND TOTAL) in the microwave, even though that’s not the recommended way to do it. And I proceeded with my new plan: rich man’s brioche.
Here’s the sponge:
The eggs and sponge getting mixed:
The next twenty minutes of my life I recall in hindsight as an epic battle between me and the brioche dough. I didn’t like this dough and it didn’t like me. The dough started by sticking in its entirety to the Kitchen Aid paddle.
Gradually, as I added butter (a quarter stick at a time), the dough started sticking to the bowl as well as the paddle.
Every time I stopped to add more butter, I had to push it out from my paddle and scrape it off the sides of the bowl. By the end of the mixing, there was no way I was going to take this dough out to knead it, so I kept it in the Kitchen Aid for six minutes of kneading.
The dough did not resemble any dough I had ever worked with. It looked more like a very thick frosting, with strands of gluten.
I piled it on my baking sheet to spread out and put in the fridge.
Reinhart says to spread it into a rectangle 6 inches by 8 inches. This is more like 8 inches by 12 inches, because I have no sense of distance.
I put it in the refrigerator. Periodically I looked in on it. It looked exactly the same. Was it supposed to be rising in there? I don’t know. I do know this. When I pulled it out this afternoon to bake, it didn’t look much different than when I had put it in the day before.
The dough was so cold that I had to use my bench knife like an ice chipper to break it apart. It broke off into shard-like pieces as I tried to weigh it. Here is about where I started thinking this challenge was going to be my first dismal BBA failure.
I had to work the dough a little to get it warm enough to shape without breaking. I had already decided to make three simple one pound loaves, since I wasn’t going to buy the molds. I wrestled the dough into vaguely sandwich-shaped loaves, and put them in their pans to rise.
It took them three hours to look like this:
I washed them with the egg wash, let them rise another thirty minutes, and then put them in my oven.
I started to think maybe the brioche wouldn’t be so bad after they had been in the oven for ten minutes and were starting to smell delicious. I turned them halfway through, and then took them out after forty minutes, when they passed the thermometer test. They aren’t super-spectacular to look at.
This third one had a tragic accident. While I was taking it out of the pan to cool, I accidentally dropped the pan on it and crushed it. That’s the one we cut into.
Mike and I each ate a slice. Then we each had another. “This is really good,” he said. “It tastes like a croissant.” I agreed. The bread is soft and buttery and flaky. It tasted lovely. My annoyance at the brioche dough disappeared.
I’m going to give it a 4.5 out of 5, since I liked the end product so much. But I’m not sure I will make it again. I might try a middle-class or poor man’s brioche, since Reinhart says these doughs are easier to handle. And I might be able to eat more than one slice of it a day.