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posted: 1/21/2014 6:06 AM

Baking secrets: Creating new traditions with brioche

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  • Enjoy brioche for dinner with a smear of butter or at brunch in the form of French toast.

      Enjoy brioche for dinner with a smear of butter or at brunch in the form of French toast.
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When I worked at Bread Alone Bakery and Cafe, nestled in upstate New York, we crafted wonderful brioche loaves. Baked dark and flavorful, this bread owes its signature tenderness to the successful partnership of butter and eggs infused into yeast dough.

During a recent holiday brunch my husband casually reminisced about the exquisite texture of brioche French toast. As I learned at the Culinary Institute of America in New York great food memories never fade from the taste buds.

I found myself travelling down memory lane and actually considering baking brioche again. Then I got back to reality. Crafting brioche means much more than baking; it's a production! So much so that back in my pastry chef days I called it "Brioche Wednesday."

The preparation called for various flours, oodles of eggs and copious amounts of softened butter. Handling the dough through chilling and multiple rising stages spanned into Thursdays.

Professional pastry chefs know that exquisite food often requires herculean efforts, but as a home baker I wanted a recipe that didn't cut corners as much as cut the time commitment. Could I create bake shop-worthy brioche for the home kitchen?

Just the hint of this challenge had my husband with the griddle and maple syrup on stand-by. For me, I didn't want the unique nature of brioche getting lost in the quest for kitchen convenience. Success meant relying upon quality ingredients to go beyond the call of culinary duty.

Here unsalted butter offers more than a taste difference. Salt controls yeast production and bakers must know exactly how much is being added to the recipe. Too much salt diminishes yeast production and the dough won't rise as expected.

I settled upon a batter-style recipe and opted out of the time-consuming technique of beating softened butter into kneaded dough. To mimic this step, warming butter and milk just until melted together, then beating it into the dry ingredients along with eggs created a soft and melded dough.

The characteristic that makes brioche so wonderful for French toast also poses challenges for bakers. A firm, yet soft and buttery texture cooks into a bread pudding consistency that stands up to heavy adornments like fruit and maple syrup. Before you even get to French toast, bakers rely upon yeast for remarkable heavy lifting in brioche dough.

While adding flavor and texture, eggs and butter bring significant weight to brioche. Add in the heft and protein from flour you've got a very dense dough. Standard bread recipes call for much lighter dough, allowing for an easy rise from yeast.

At Bread Alone we proofed our yeast, but I wanted to give Red Star Platinum Superior Baking Yeast a try in this heavy dough. My first trial using the batter technique and platinum yeast resulted in a great loaf of brioche. On a whim I tested it with all-purpose flour and the dough baked into wonderful brioche texture with enticing aromas.

At our house we have a new brioche memory. It's called French Toast Sundays.

• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Write to her at food@daiyherald.com.

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