As things start to get more settled around the house, I've been breaking in the lovely wedding gifts that I received. Amongst these are some terrific kitchen essentials from my aunt, uncle and cousins--thanks guys!--including two Williams Sonoma Goldtouch Loaf Pans. And there's only one bread recipe that I would trust to inaugurate these beautiful, commercial-quality baking pans: Brioche from The Silver Palate Cookbook.
This is my no-fail bread recipe, the one that tastes heavenly with jam for breakfast and sublime with ham and carottes amandine on Easter. The dough is such a pleasure to work with, supple and never sticky. It bakes up to a golden brown for an impressive presentation, and as gorgeous as it looks, it tastes a million times better. A perfect balance of rich, buttery goodness and light, tender puff. (Can puff have a taste? Not sure...make this recipe and tell me...).
And all things considered, it's quite an easy recipe to make. Sure it's not an uber-authentic brioche like this one, but it also doesn't take a full day's work to prepare. Over the years I've developed my own little techniques for making it, which I'll try to convey here. But the main thing is not to stress. Homemade bread has a reputation for being really difficult, but its so pleasureable and surprisingly simple once you get the hang of it. So just dive in and have fun! Oh, and the new loaf pans are brilliant.
(courtesy of The Silver Palate Cookbook)
2 cups milk
1/2 pound (2 sticks) sweet butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
4 teaspoons salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
8 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk and butter until butter is completely melted. Be sure to stir pretty regularly or the milk will burn. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, then let the mixture cool until it is barely warm to the touch.
2. Add yeast to milk mixture and let it sit 'til bubbly and foamy, about 10 minutes.
3. Pour milk into a big 'ol bowl and whisk in eggs and salt. You'll have a thick, syrupy concoction, a little thinner than a crepe batter.
4. Here's the key bit. Begin to add the flour, one cup at a time. Stir thoroughly after each addition of flour. You'll notice with each addition that the dough starts to form sticky, whorly sheets of gluten. I really believe that this firm stirring before you begin to knead is the key to producing this recipe's airy texture.
5. By around the sixth cup of flour, the dough will be too thick to stir by hand. Measure and dump one cup of flour onto your kneading surface and turn the dough out of the bowl and into the flour. Begin to knead, gingerly at first but more firmly as the dough begins to absorb the flour on your surface. Measure the last cup of flour onto the dough and incorporate it completely with more kneading. Now you can knead in earnest for about 7-10 minutes. You'll know it's ready when it's really smooth on the surface and springs back when you press on it when the heel of your hand.
6. Coat the dough ball and the inside of your bowl with the oil, then return the dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, and let it rise until tripled in size---about an hour to 90 minutes.
7. Punch it down and shape it into whatever shapes you're going to bake it in. You can use loaf bans or bake freeform on a baking sheet. I've even baked little balls of dough in muffin pans for personal-size rolls. Let the dough rise a second time for as long as you can stand it---an hour is ideal, but last night I did 30 minutes. The bread will be a little denser if you cut this second rising short, but will still taste yummy.
8. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees. Depending on the size of each loaf, this could range from 20 minutes for muffin-sized rolls to 30-35 minutes for large loaves. You'll know they're done when they turn a glowing, golden brown, and if they sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and let cool (flip them from the loaf pans as soon as they've cooled a touch). Be sure to rip of a little piece to eat while it's still hot---you know, just in case it's poisonous :)