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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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.

Brioche Feuilletée

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I first ate brioche feuilletée in Philippe Conticini’s Pâtisserie des Rêves. His loaves and muffin-size buns are definitely worth a special trip…..I took it and was not disappointed! This is in fact one of his recipes. I guess the best way to describe what you’ll end up with is a cross between a rich brioche and a croissant. The dough requires some effort – it only takes a day to make, prove and bake, but since he recommends chilling the raw dough in the freezer you’ll need some muscles when it comes to rolling. You’ll never achieve the same result as a professional baker, but remember…..they usually use machines to do the hard work for them. What you will achieve is a sense of pride when tucking in to the finished loaf. So here goes…..

510g flour
1 lightly heaped teaspoon of salt
40g caster sugar
150ml semi-skimmed milk (at room temperature)
20g fresh yeast
3 eggs (roughly 150g – slightly beaten)
50g butter (unsalted and slightly soft)
1 whole egg (for the egg wash)
300g butter (the best quality, for the ‘tourage’ – from ‘tourer’, meaning to roll, fold and turn dough)

1. Mix the milk with the yeast.
2. Add all the dry ingredients (flour, salt and sugar) to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.
3. Mix the dry ingredients well before adding the milk and yeast. Next add the eggs and the 50g butter.
4. Mix at low speed for 3 minutes, then at medium for 8. Stop the machine when the dough is smooth and homogenous.
5. Place the ball of dough into a clean bowl and cover tightly. Leave at ambient temperature for 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
6. Remove the dough and lightly knock down. Place onto a tray lined with silicone paper, wrap and place in the freezer for another 30 minutes (to delay the fermentation).
7. Beat the 300g butter between two sheets of paper until pliable (a rolling pin works well). Roll into a rectangle 20cm x 25cm x 1cm-thick, then leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
8. Roll the chilled dough into a rectangle 45cm x 25cm. Wrap again and rest in the freezer for 30 minutes. Philippe notes at this point that the dough should be much colder than the butter when it comes to rolling them together (this is pretty much the opposite to what I was taught, but I decided to trust him). In actual fact we want the layers of butter to remain clearly separated in the final dough.
9. Place the softened butter in the centre of the rectangle of dough. Fold each edge towards the middle of the butter (do not overlap at any point). Roll the dough into a band of approximately 70cm in length (see photos below).
10. Letter-fold the dough, rotate, then roll again to 70cm.
11. Repeat step 10…..
12. Wrap the folded dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
13. Repeat step 10 once more, then rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
14. Roll the dough into a band of 20cm x 50cm x 5mm-thick. Cut the band in half lengthways.
15. Fold each band of dough over four times (onto itself) then brush the edges with beaten egg to bind the layers.
16. Place the two folded pastries into buttered cake tins (with the folded edges facing up). Cover lightly with cling film and leave to rise for 2.5-3 hours (at room temperature and definitely not anywhere too warm, otherwise the butter will start to seep out of your dough).
17. Gently brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg, then cook at 170°C for 25-30 minutes until golden.

I turned my loaves out of the tins straight away and left them to cool on a wire rack. They seemed a little greasy at first, but I resisted the temptation to dive in straight away and left them to cool completely before cutting. They were perfect afterwards, although next time I’ll be adding a little more either salt or sugar. Or perhaps I’ll brush the finished loaves with sugar syrup then scatter over a handful of pink praline pieces or nibbed sugar (the sort you’d expect to see on a chouquette).

If you can’t get to Paris and fancy trying some more of Philippe Conticini’s pastries at home instead, his book’s called ‘Sensations’, and it’s full of recipes for dough ‘feuilletée’, including ideas for the muffin-sized brioche buns I mentioned earlier.

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