Despite all the gluten-bashing and the recent glamorization of gluten intolerance, bread is still a big part of my life. I understand, of course, that all bodies are different and that not every food is good for every body. But because I have never found myself crumpled in a corner, stomach in knots, distended and gassy after eating a biscuit or a slice of toast, I obviously don’t have any plans of cutting bread out of my diet. On the contrary, I find myself adding to the list even more delicious reasons not to give up gluten: like this brioche.
This recipe comes from Chad Robertson’s Tartine, the one book that revolutionized the way I bake, eat, and think about bread. Three years ago when I purchased the book, I did not expect that the recipes and the techniques within it would plant the seed of one day opening my own bakery. The preparations were by no means simple or at all quickly executed. In fact, they required I begin the night before, mixing up the starter just before bed, so that I could rise early to mix the dough. But the results were always forgiving: on my worst days, I would still open up the oven to find something chewy and warm that could be served alongside just about anything. My hope is that, in my frankness about just how difficult and time-consuming this is, you might still find the courage inside yourself to set aside some Saturday soon. Other than a few eggs, butter, milk, sugar, and flour, (all of which will cost you no more than about $5) what have you got to lose?
To make this brioche, you’re gonna need bread ‘starter’. Before you could every buy a jar of active yeast, there was starter: an equal mix of water and a 50/50 white-wheat flour blend. As the flour and water sit at room temperature, the fermentation process begins. Here’s how to cultivate your own starter:
wheat flour,50 grams
white flour, 50 grams
lukewarm water, 100 grams
Mix together the flour and water in a small bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. After 2 to 3 days, check to see if any bubbles have formed around the sides of the bowl. The mixture may have formed a dark crust and it might smell highly acidic. These are all signs that fermentation has begun. You’re now ready to feed your starter.
To feed your starter, discard about 80 percent of it. Replace this with equal amounts of water and the 50/50 flour blend and mix well. To keep your starter active and alive, feed it every 24 hours, always remembering to discard 80 percent and replenish with the flour blend and water.
Brioche Buns (Recipe from Tartine), Makes 4 to 6 Brioche loaves, or a ton of buns
200 g, ap flour
200 g, water (75 degrees)
3 g, active dry yeast
1 tbsp, mature starter
220 g, ap flour
220 g, water (80 degrees)
Bread Flour, 1,000 g
Salt, 25 g
Sugar, 120 g
Active Dry Yeast, 10 g
Large Eggs, 500 g
Whole Milk, 240 g
Leaven, 300 g
Poolish, 400 g
Unsalted Butter, 450
To make the poolish, in a bowl, mix the flour, water, and yeast. Let stand overnight in the refrigerator. To make the leaven, place the mature starter in a bowl. Feed with the flour and water, cover with a dish towel, and let sit overnight.
The poolish and the leaven are ready when they pass the float test. Drop a small amount of the poolish and the leaven into water. If either sinks, it is not ready to use and needs more time to ferment.
About 30 minutes before you’re ready to mix the brioche dough, remove the butter from the refrigerator and let soften at room temperature until it is pliable but still cool. TO mix the brioche dough, attach the dough hook to a stand mixer. Place the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the mixing bowl. Add the eggs, milk, leaven, and poolish and mix on low speed until combined 3 to 5 minutes; stop the mixer halfway through and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 15 to 20 minutes.
After the dough has rested, mix it on medium to high speed until it releases from the sides of the bowl, 6 to 8 minutes. This indicates that the dough is sufficiently developed to begin incorporating the butter. Make sure the butter is soft and pliable but still cool and not melted.
Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces. With the mixer on medium speed, add the pieces of butter one at a time to the middle of the bowl where the dough hook meets the dough. Though Tartine doesn’t mention it, you might have some trouble placing the cubes of dough in the center of the bowl as the dough hook spins vigorously. Many of the cubes might be thrown toward the outside of the bowl, by way of the wonders of physics. If this is the case, no worries. Simply turn off the machine and place the cubes of butter where the dough meets the hook. Continue until the butter is incorporated. The dough will be silky smooth and homogenous, with not visible bits of butter.
Transfer the dough to a bowl and set in a cool place (around 70 degrees) for 2 hours for the bulk fermentation. During the first hour, give the dough two turns. In the last hour, give it one turn. To turn the dough, pull one quarter of the dough upward and fold this quarter onto the rest of the dough. Complete by doing the same with the three remaining quarters.
When you’re ready to shape the dough, use a dough spatula to cut it into pieces about the size of a medicine ball. The dough will be incredibly sticky, but do your best to form it into something mildly spherical. Place the formed dough onto a few parchment-lined sheet pans, making sure to space them at least 3 inches apart. You will likely have more dough than what would ever fit on the sheet pans. Here, you have a choice. You can freeze the dough and use it when you’re ready. Or, you could place it into a couple loaf pans, heavily greased with melted butter or olive oil (to prevent sticking) and bake it up for a friend (or just eat all of it on your own). Once shaped, let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
To make the egg wash, in a small bowl, stir together two egg yolks and a teaspoon of heavy cream or milk. Brush the top of the buns with the egg wash. Bake the buns for 15 minutes. Bake the loaves for 30 minutes.