Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The great miracle of yeast.

Working with yeast makes me feel like a miracle worker. Seriously, it is as close as I get to achieving what a farmer achieves in a growing season. You start from seed with the dry yeast, plant the crop by incorporating the yeast into a dough, cultivate the yeast with careful tending over a period of time as it rises, deflates, and re-rises , monitor the crop's susceptibility to environmental disaster by keeping it in a warm, moist area, and finally you harvest the final, bountiful crop from a warm oven. Of course, unlike a farmer, my crop offers more immediate gratification. Sure, my Thanksgiving brioche took a good 16 hours from start to finish, but it was significantly faster than the summer growing season.

I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer for this decadent roll, following the instructions of Dorie Greenspan from a Fall Bon Appetit issue. Ms. Greenspan wrote about the dough with such affection, and combined with her no-nonsense, "You can do it" attitude, I could not resist.

Sam and I developed a bit of an ego as we baked. It was as though the rolls rose in proportion to our pride. With every step of home baked bread recipe, we felt increasingly proud of our efforts. And of course, with every step of the creation, the yeasty rolls just rose and rose, as though our own self confidence and ego were propelling the rise rather than the yeast. After all, how often does anyone home bake bread these days? Not often. But we did!

The best bites were straight out of the oven, almost too hot to touch, and steaming. They rolls lost luster with age, so please do not restrain yourself around a fresh baked batch. No matter that we were on our way to Thanksgiving dinner right after they baked, I still wish I had eaten two. By the time they hit the table they could have stood for a bit of butter or jam, and on the second day the rolls were in the dry phase, primed and ready for french toast or bread pudding. I never could bring myself to slather them in butter, even the day-old dry leftovers, given the lavish stick and a half in the recipe. But maybe I should have. After all, a bit of brioche is a shame to waste on anything less than perfection.

Bubble-Top Brioches
from Bon App├ętit, October 2009 by Dorie Greenspan

1/4 cup warm water (110°F to 115°F)
1/4 cup warm whole milk (110°F to 115°F)
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (measured from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Combine 1/4 cup warm water and warm milk in bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Sprinkle yeast over and stir to moisten evenly. Let stand until yeast dissolves, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.

Add flour and salt to yeast mixture. Blend at medium-low speed until shaggy lumps form, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in sugar. Increase mixer speed to medium; beat until dough is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to low. Add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until blended after each addition, about 4 minutes (dough will be soft and silky). Increase speed to medium-high and beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and climbs paddle, 8 to 9 minutes.

Lightly butter large bowl. Scrape dough into bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.

Gently deflate dough by lifting around edges, then letting dough fall back into bowl, turning bowl and repeating as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and chill, deflating dough in same way every 30 minutes until dough stops rising, about 2 hours. Chill overnight. (At this point, use the dough to make 12 brioches, or 6 brioches and 1 tart, or 2 tarts.)

Butter 12 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces; cut each piece into thirds. Roll each small piece between palms into ball. Place 3 balls in each prepared cup (dough will fill cup). Place muffin pan in warm draft-free area; lay sheet of waxed paper over. Let dough rise until light and almost doubled (dough will rise 1/2 inch to 1 inch above top rim of muffin cups), 50 to 60 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Place muffin pan on rimmed baking sheet. Gently brush egg glaze over risen dough, being careful that glaze does not drip between dough and pan (which can prevent full expansion in oven). Bake brioches until golden brown, covering with foil if browning too quickly, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to rack. Cool 10 minutes. Remove brioches from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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