Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Brioche Tests, pt. 2

Still life with Brioche, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin

Often in life we're put in the position of having to relearn that age-old lesson about judging a book by its cover. We all learned this piece of advice at an early age, but we still manage to fall into the trap over and over again. Looks are by definition superficial. It's what's inside that counts, right?

Well, over the years, I've learned this is doubly true for dough. Maybe your dough looks awful and you think to yourself, "why bother baking it," but then you throw it in the oven anyway just to see what'll happen, and out comes the most beautiful thing you've ever seen, perfect in all kinds of unexpected ways. Other times, your dough looks lovely, you strut around the kitchen a bit, displaying a bit of hubris, and when the timer goes off, some god-awful bread-like thing has replaced the loaf you thought you'd made. These are, of course, the most extreme of scenarios. There are infinite variations in between. And then, every once in a while, the stars fall into line and things are exactly as they seem--a beautiful-looking batch of dough results in a beautiful-looking, beautiful-tasting loaf.

I was really happy with the taste and texture of the first bricohe test, but the method was a bit too drawn out, and the butter was difficult to soften without a microwave. I searched for another way and came across one in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Rather than making a sponge the day before, their instructions were to let it sit for 45 min. and then continue with the rest of the dough. As for the butter, they leave it cold, but beat it with a rolling pin until it's pliable. I ventured forth.

I mixed my dough, I pounded my butter, and starting adding it to the dough by the spoonful. What happened next was magic. Never in my life have I seen such a beautiful dough. I looked around as if to say, "Do you see this?" but aside from the cats there was no one home to admire my work. The butter incorporated itself immediately, unlike the first test, and made the dough super shiny and elastic. It glistened happily in the mixer as I fed it its last bite of butter, and then let it rise.

Its rise was glorious. Such a perfect surface, what a colour. I was in love with this dough. I had fantasies of making a massive batch, curling up and taking a nap on it. Had I had a larger mixer, I might have even tried it. I left it in the fridge overnight and awoke with great anticipation the next morning. I formed two lovely loaves and let them do their final rise. I baked them. I cooled them. I couldn't wait for Anthony to come home to try them so I...gasp...cut into one by myself (this is the bread equivalent to not making eye contact during a wine toast, I think, right up there with in the bad luck league with snapping a baguette in two to make it easier to transport). But the taste was... Not bad. Not at all bad. Very good, in fact. Better than your average brioche. But not really all that exciting, certainly not as interesting as the last one. Yes, it was actually a bit boring. The butter was present, but not at all show-stoppingly. The texture was good, but not flaky enough. The taste was flat, lacking in pizzazz, well-intentioned but lackluster.

As far as I'm concerned, boring is just about the worst insult for a homemade loaf of bread. I tried not to show my disappointment to those poor loaves as they looked back at me from the counter. They seemed to say, "You thought we were beautiful once, and now you cast us aside like a tired fad." I felt guilty. We quietly finished the loaves over the following two days and spoke no more about Brioche Test #2.

If anyone is interested in the recipe, I'd be happy to include it here, but since I haven't exactly done the best job in selling it, I can understand if you don't want to spend 2 days and a half a pound of butter making a boring old loaf of brioche. Such beautiful dough, though.

You know that beautiful-looking brioche in the painting by Chardin above? Well, apparently it tasted a little boring, too.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post Michelle.

Hey, I haven't yet met a bread I didn't like and when I need a fix I visit this site
Oh those Swiss bakers!
Alexis in Ottawa