Brioche

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My mum used to buy my brother and I brioche when we were kids because I think we preferred it to bread…..it was only ever the tear and share plastic-wrapped version, but we loved it all the same. I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since, and now that I have a reliable recipe and the technical know-how to pull it off, I probably eat it more often than I should. I’ve tried several different recipes from domestic cookery books, but I don’t think I ever got the method quite right. It’s incredibly frustrating when you follow a recipe by the letter, only to be left with a sticky, greasy mess that you don’t really know what to do with. It wasn’t until I watched it being made, rolled and baked by a professional that I started to understand the process.

407g strong white flour
10g fine salt
49g caster sugar
6g dried yeast or 12g fresh yeast
264g whole egg
20g milk (cold)
244g unsalted butter (cold)

1. Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment – mix on medium speed until combined
2. Lightly whisk together the whole egg and milk – drizzle into the flour and continue to mix until smooth and elastic (about 4-5 minutes on medium speed)
3. Place the block of cold butter between two sheets of baking parchment – using a rolling pin or the base of a clean saucepan, beat the butter until pliable (the butter must be cold but supple when added, otherwise it will not mix well with the dough)
4. Whilst mixing on medium speed as before, start by adding half the butter to the dough – as soon as it is well combined, add the remaining butter – continue mixing until the dough is smooth and shiny, and starts to come away a little from the sides of the bowl
5. Place the dough into a lightly floured bowl, cover tightly with cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight

Once the dough has been very well chilled and rested, divide it up into pieces weighing between 40-50g. Now roll the pieces into balls – press each piece of dough firmly against the work surface with the palm of your hand, then hook your thumb and little finger around it to form a ball. Lightly flour the work surface, but don’t get carried away as too much flour will make the dough dry. Each ball needs to be as tight and as smooth as possible. The dough will start to get very sticky as soon as it gets warm, so roll as quickly as you can. It helps if you can find somewhere relatively cool to work.

Lightly grease your baking tins before placing the balls of dough inside – sit them relatively close together but not touching (imagine that once the dough has risen the pieces will connect forming the loaf). The tins pictured above are small non-stick loaf tins; a slightly larger model would hold four 40g pieces comfortably. Once the balls of dough are safely inside, wrap the tins loosely with cling film and leave at room temperature for at least two hours (CAREFUL…..anywhere too warm and the butter will start to melt!). Brioche dough does take some time to rise, so be patient…..2-3 hours normally does it. Just before baking brush each loaf with beaten egg yolk. Cook the brioche at 180°C for roughly 12 minutes (the baking time obviously depends a lot on the size of your loaf), turning after the first 6, until golden brown. Wait a few minutes before removing from the tin, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

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Whey and Honey Bread

We’ve had a potato and marjoram risotto on our menu for the last few weeks, to which I’ve been adding Brocciu. Originally from Corsica, this soft cheese (a lot like ricotta in texture) is actually a whey cheese produced from sheep’s milk. We’ve been getting a fresh delivery every couple of days, so I’ve been carefully draining each little pot in order to collect enough whey for the following recipe.

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh yeast
300g fresh whey
50g honey
500g strong white flour
1 1/4 teaspoons fine salt
50g softened butter (unsalted)

1. Whisk the yeast with the whey and honey
2. Stir in 250g of the flour and the salt, and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to make a yeast batter
3. Meanwhile, rub the butter into the remaining 250g flour, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
4. Stir in the yeast batter and mix to a soft dough
5. Cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes
6. Knead for 10 seconds on a lightly oiled work surface, then leave to rest for 10 minutes
7. Repeat step 6 two more times, then cover and leave the dough for 30 minutes
8. Shape the dough into a ball and place it smooth-side down into a flour-dusted bowl/proving basket
9. Leave in a cool place for 1 hour to rise and preheat the oven to 220°C
10. Upturn the dough onto a flour-dusted tray, then gently spray the outside with cool water
11. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the loaf is a deep brown colour, then cool on a wire rack

Guinness and Black Treacle Loaf

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So this is for St. Patrick! I’ve tried several of Paul Hollywood’s bread recipes, and this is my favourite so far. It’s rich, dense and sweet, and would be perfect with a nice slab of cheese I reckon.

The following recipe has been taken from Paul Hollywood’s ‘100 Great Breads’…..

350g wholemeal flour, plus extra for dusting
150g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
30g fresh yeast
2 tablespoons treacle
150ml (1/4 pint) Guinness
120ml water

1. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together for a few minutes – tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, then return to the bowl and leave to rest for 1 hour
2. Line a large baking tray with silicone paper – tip the dough out onto the floured surface again and shape into a neat ball
3. Place the dough onto the prepared baking tray, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour
3. Preheat the oven to 200°C – using a small sharp knife cut several slashes across the top of the dough then dust generously with wholemeal flour
4. Bake for 30 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool

Note: I used a bread proving basket to make my loaf, hence the spiral pattern on the surface. They’re easy enough to use – leave the dough to rest in the mixing bowl as normal for the first hour, then place the shaped ball of dough (presentation-side-down) into the floured basket. Leave the dough to rise inside the basket, then carefully tip it out onto a prepared baking tray. Get it into the oven as soon as possible afterwards, as this process tends to knock the dough down a bit. I bought my basket (a round cane banneton) from http://www.bakerybits.co.uk.

Kouign Amann

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…..from the Breton words for cake (“kouign”) and butter (“amann”)

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Kouign amann is probably the naughtiest of all pastries. My life changed when I tried my first. Think croissant, then add more butter…..and a lot more sugar. No two are ever the same – I’ve probably only ever tried kouign amann from seven or eight different bakeries/pâtisseries, but believe me, it’s not the sort of thing you’d want to eat everyday…..unless you actually wanted a trip to the emergency room. I have my previous pastry chef to thank for introducing us – I seem to remember she spent a lot of time on YouTube trying to figure out exactly how to master them. A couple of years later I was fortunate enough to see them being made from start to finish during a stage in a New York bakery. I stole the recipe too, obviously. They’re not especially difficult to make, but it helps to SEE the stages as opposed to just reading about them in a book. I’ll try to be as clear as possible, and I’ll also share a couple of tricks I picked up in NYC. I realised when I became a professional cook that other professionals omit certain detail that they’d prefer to keep close to their chests. A bit naughty really, considering the whole point of publishing a book is to share! But I guess if I could reproduce a perfect Pierre Hermé macaroon at home there would be no point in me spending money in his store…..

For me, the real beauty behind a well-made kouign amann lies in the textures. They’re made using a layered dough of course, so expect the interior to be much like a croissant; flaky, buttery and light. But the outside…..wow, the outside. The butter and sugar work magic in the oven creating a caramelised crust with a real crunch. As I’ve already mentioned, I can’t say I’ve eaten many, but there are two that really stand out in my memory (I should admit at this point that I’ve never been to Breton…..I promise to update this entry in due course!).

If you’re ever in the New York area, head straight to Spring Street in the South Village, where you’ll find Dominique Ansel Bakery; only up and running for just shy of two years, this French-influenced bakery has already got an amazing reputation for the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann). He gets the balance just right…..bite through the deeply caramelised exterior and into the light, buttery centre and you’ll never want to leave Manhattan. Since you’re there, you might as well try the Cannelé and the Paris-New York (a neat spin on the traditional Paris Brest with a chocolate, caramel and peanut butter filling). The Bostock’s ace too – think yesterday’s home-made brioche soaked in syrup, spread with almond paste, tossed with flaked almonds and baked until golden…..damn! Beats pain perdu every time.

The second worth talking about was a gift from my friend and work colleague; a very talented Japanese pastry chef I’ve had the pleasure of working with for the last year. We’d been discussing the ups and downs of the Parisian kouign amann – Ladurée does a pretty good imitation so I’ve heard, although never tasted – but plenty of bad ones exist too. I don’t believe they should be chewy – although Maison Larnicol (you’ll find boutiques on Blvd Saint-Germain and Rue de Rivoli) offers a great flavour selection, (salted caramel, raspberry and rum and raisin to name but a few), their ‘kouignettes’ require far too much effort in the jaw department. A short hop away on Rue de Seine however, you’ll find perfection at Arnaud Larher. Funny story actually…..I’d agreed to meet Kiriko for coffee shortly after our discussion, having already bought two of Larher’s delicious creations…..little did I know she’d been to the same place minutes later with the same plan in mind! What a shame, we had to eat two each. But that’s the beauty of them – they’re unbelievably rich yet perfectly light in the same mouthful.

There are of course plenty of others to be tasted, but these are my picks so far. Next over to my efforts…..recipe courtesy of Philippe Conticini and method from a very special bakery/patisserie in The Big Apple.

400g flour
12g fleur de sel
340g butter
8g fresh yeast
20cl water
200g caster sugar

Prepare the moulds and baking tray (you’ll need butter and sugar IN ADDITION to the recipe for this step)…..
– brush approximately 15 pastry rings and two large baking sheets with softened butter
– coat the buttered pastry rings and baking sheets liberally with caster sugar (this preparation is much like buttering and flouring a cake tin before adding the batter) – this additional butter and sugar will help create an even more caramelised exterior

Prepare the dough…..
– using an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, mix the flour with the salt and 15g of the butter for 2 minutes at medium speed
– mix the yeast with 10ml of the water, then add to the flour
– add the remaining water and continue to mix at medium speed for 5 minutes
– leave to rise for 1.5 hours (or until doubled in volume)
– knock back and form into a neat ball. Place the dough onto a parchment-lined tray and chill in the fridge for 2 hours

Le ‘tourage’…..
– soften the remaining 325g of butter slightly, roll into a rectangle (20 x 25cm, 5mm-thick) between two sheets of parchment paper, then chill for at least 1.5 hours
– roll the rested dough to a rectangle 45 x 25cm and place the chilled butter block in the centre
– fold the edges of the dough to the centre of the butter (do not overlap)
– roll into a 70cm-long band, then letter-fold once
– rotate by 90°, re-roll to a 70cm-long band, then letter-fold again
– place the folded dough back onto the parchment-lined tray, then wrap well and chill for 1.5 hours
– repeat the letter-fold twice more when chilled, remembering to rotate the dough by 90° between the two folds, and this time dust the dough liberally with sugar with each roll and fold
– return the dough to the fridge for another hour

To finish…..
– roll the finished dough to a rectangle 40 x 90cm (dusting well with sugar in the process)
– cut into 10 x 10cm squares
– fold the four corners of each square into the centre
– dust the finished kouign amanns again with sugar, then place into the prepared moulds and onto the buttered and sugared trays
– leave to rise for roughly 1.5 hours
– bake at 170°C for approximately 20 minutes (turning in the oven after 10)

Addresses:

Arnaud Larher
93, Rue de Seine, Paris
Metro line 10, Mabillon or line 4, Odeon

Dominique Ansel Bakery
189 Spring Street (between Sullivan and Thompson), New York
Subway C-E train, Spring Street

Ladurée
75 Champs-Élysées, Paris
Metro Line 1, George V

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…..the pastry selection at Dominique Ansel Bakery, New York…..the kouign amanns are to the left of the photo.