Sometimes on a cold day baking bread feels like the perfect thing to do.
It seems like a long process the first time, but the end result will make you very proud of yourself and delighted with the result.
When I lived in Erie Pennsylvania, I had a neighbor who was a fantastic cook and baker. It all seemed so natural to her, and she was patient enough to give me a few lessons. Erie had very long sunless, cold winters so this was a little therapy at the time. I confess that I still am not comfortable with yeast, so this recipe is not even a once-a-year project. However, when I do produce a great brioche, I think of my friend and the work is all worthwhile. She did not call this brioche but that is basically what it is.
3 ¼ CUPS BREAD FLOUR
1 ½ TSP SALT
2 ¼ TSP INSTANT YEAST – can use Rapid-rise
7 EGGS – lightly beaten
½ CUP WATER – slightly warm
½ CUP SUGAR
2 STICKS (16 TBS) BUTTER – unsalted,
Melted and slightly cooled
Whisk flour yeast, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk 6 eggs, room temperature water and sugar in a medium bowl until sugar has dissolved. Whisk in melted butter until smooth. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it all looks combined, and no flour remains to be seen. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 10 minutes.
This might sound complicated but do this once and you will realize how easy!
Holding the edge of the dough with your fingers, fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough towards the middle.Turn bowl 45 degrees, fold again. Do this 6 more times for a total of 8 folds. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding and rising every 30 minutes for 3 more times. After you have completed four sets of folds, cover bowl again and refrigerate for at least 16 hours or overnight.
Transfer dough to a well-floured surface and divide into 4 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, pat dough into a 4-inch disc. Working around circumference of dough fold edges of dough toward center until the dough forms a ball. With a lightly floured hand, roll ball around until it forms into a smooth round ball. Do this with remaining pieces, cover all with plastic and let rest for 5 minutes.
Grease two 8 ½ X 4-inch loaf pans now. After 5 minutes flip each dough ball so seam side is facing up. And gently pat into a 4-inch disc and repeat rounding step. Place 2 rounds seam side down and side by side in each of the prepared pans and press gently into the corners. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size. Dough should rise to just below the top edge of the pan in about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Well before baking, adjust oven racks to middle position and place a baking stone on the rack and heat oven to 350º.
Remove plastic wrap and brush loaves gently with remaining egg which you have beaten lightly. Set loaf pans on stone and bake until golden brown, rotating the pans half way through the baking process, and they test out to 190º.
Remove loaves from oven and let loaves cool in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Remove loaves from pan and continue to let cool completely on wire rack for about 2 hours before slicing.
NOTE: I use King Arthur bread flour to make this recipe. But we didn’t back then. I realize it is a lot of folding and resting but the folding is an important step and it eliminates all the kneading that bread usually requires. And the kneading helps you get rid of unnecessary frustration! There are lots of things you can do between folding and rising!
So….. the “Cliff Notes” (remember those from high school) version is this:
The day before – make the dough, let rest for 10 minutes, fold every 30 minutes for 2 hours and refrigerate overnight. The next morning – shape, let rise for up to 2 hours and then bake for 35 to 45 minutes to test out at 190º. Let cool for 2 hours. Then enjoy your own homemade delicious loaf of brioche. If I want to serve at breakfast, especially for the delicious French toast it will make, I start the whole process 2 days before, cover the cooled loaves lightly until I slice them for breakfast on Sunday.
If for no other reason at all, this is a great project for a rainy day!