The Wonders of Brioche is the title of the BBGA-sponsored class I recently took at Macrina Bakery in Seattle, Washington. It was taught by Leslie Mackie, founder of the bakery and author of the popular Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook.
Before I took the class, I thought of a brioche as a soft and buttery little bread with a funny hat like the ones I grew up seeing in every Parisian bakery and that pretty much summed up all I knew or wished to know on the subject. Butter and sugar are two ingredients I try to avoid in my baking, mostly for health reasons, so I never gave brioche much thought.
But the class flyer described brioche as "one of the most versatile doughs", one which could be used to make roasted vegetables savory bread pudding, sandwich bialys and kugelhopfs, to name a few possibilities, and that new take on an age-old dough piqued my interest. Plus I had wanted to meet Leslie and discover Macrina ever since Bon Appétit ranked it among the 10 best bakeries in the US. More importantly still, I couldn't pass up a BBGA baking event in my own backyard (we are in the process of moving to the Seattle area). So I took the class.
I didn't regret it. Not only is Leslie a skilled and gracious instructor but I met passionate bread people from all over: Debbie who recently opened a bakery in North Carolina with her two daughters; Tom, a retired computer consultant who moved to the West Coast of Mexico after 30 years in New York and plans to open a little bakery there; Nieva who would like to retire one day to her native Philippines and open her own bakery in her hometown; Bob, a serious homebaker who built himself a wood-fire oven on his patio on nearby Bainbridge Island; Diane, a community developer who lives on a farm near Victoria, B.C., raises goats, makes her own cheese and bakes up a storm every week; Marina, an inspired young head baker from Minnesota who is looking to expand her product line; Julie, who lives in Southern Washington and with whom I took a weekend tart baking class at SFBI last year, among many others.
We made two doughs, one sweet and one savory or rather, Leslie demoed the mixing of the savory dough and we mixed the other one. I was surprised to see her add sugar to the savory dough (which we were going to use to make bialys and bread pudding). When I asked her about it, she said it just wouldn't be brioche without it, so while she reduced the amount of sugar, she still put some in.
I then asked about possibly reducing the amount of butter or substituting some wholegrain flour for a percentage of the white flour and got the same answer. It just wouldn't be brioche. See? There is no Santa Claus after all... But Leslie encouraged me to go ahead and try anyway and see if what I like what I get. Maybe I would find the trade-off worthwhile. So sooner or later I will indeed give it a shot.
Leslie's baking style reflects her lifelong interest in flavor-building, a devotion she attributes partly to her mom whose idea of spring break was to take her daughters to San Francisco (the family lived in Portland, Oregon) on whirlwind gourmet-eating expeditions.
After graduating from the California Culinary Academy, Leslie lived in Los Angeles at the time when Nancy Silverton was experimenting with bread. As she puts it, "it lit a fire." She went to baking school in France at Aurillac, toured artisan bakeries in Italy where she ate her way through more than a hundred loaves, soaking up traditional flavors and techniques, and by the time she was done, the fire had taken hold of her for good. She came back resolved to open her own bakery one day. She trained for a month in Seattle with Tomas Solis at Grand Central Bakery where she was then hired as a head baker and where she worked for four years before finally realizing her dream. Everything else she knows, she says she learned through trial and error and through her association with BBGA.
A firm believer in the value of the intuitive process, she loves to experiment and now that she has brought in partners into the business she started 17 years ago, she can spend most of her days thinking up new recipes or experimenting with innovative takes on older ones.
But of all the things we made during the class, the kugelhopf was my favorite. Now I am not an expert on kugelhopf and I am sure excellent ones are to be found elsewhere. But to be frank, on a scale of 1 to 10, I am usually sorely tempted to give a score of 3 or 4 to the ones offered for sale in French bakeries, particularly in the Alsace where they lurk in every shopwindow. They are all too often dry with a sandy crumb. Before I took the class, the only attraction they held for me was the beautiful molds they are traditionally baked in.
However Leslie doesn't bake her kugelhopf in a traditional mold. She uses a Bundt pan. Also, she doesn't just put the dough in the pan. She first laminates it with extra butter, then she rolls it up in a tube, somehow attaches the two ends together to form a ring and transfers the whole thing to the pan where it is allowed to rise seam-side up in a voluptuous pillowy circle.
Her kugelhopfs are light and delicious. They taste like no other kugelhopf I have ever had but hey, that's the whole point... They are fantastic. Because of their high butter/high sugar content, they won't become a staple in our house but I suspect they'll appear on our holiday tables from now on. They are just too good to pass up...
Leslie doesn't use baker percentages and she doesn't do grams (her book uses cups and tablespoons, probably because it mostly targets homebakers). At the bakery she works with pounds and fractions of pounds. But she took pity on us and gave us the formula for her brioche dough.
Macrina Sweet Brioche Dough
(please note that this dough is best mixed in a mixer)
All-purpose flour, unbleached 100 %
Milk, at room temperature 51.85 %
Eggs 22.22 %
Sugar 13.85 %
Butter, at room temperature 22.22 %
Salt 1.41 %
Instant Yeast 0.67 %
Vanilla Extract 2.59 %
Total 214.81 %
- Mix milk and yeast and let rest a few minutes
- Pour flour, salt, vanilla and eggs in mixer
- Mix 4 to 5 minutes on 1st speed, adding butter in small pieces while the mixer is running and after flour and milk have been incorporated
- Switch to 3rd speed and mix for 5 minutes, gently shaking in the sugar
- Continue mixing another 5 minutes on 3rd speed (desired dough temperature after mixing: 78°F/26°C)
- Transfer to covered oiled container and set aside for 2 hours (fermentation)
Ingredients (for 3 kugelhopfs)
- 500 g brown sugar
- 170 g chopped walnuts
- 10 g cinnamon
- 10 g cocoa powder
- 140 g unsalted butter, melted
- 10 g vanilla
- 1.88 kg sweet brioche dough
- 330 g unsalted butter
- Mix all ingredients together, set aside
- Flatten/degass the dough
- Spread the softened butter over 2/3 of the dough
- Do a triple fold and roll out the dough
- Let is rest for 30 minutes, covered with plastic in a walk-in cooler or in the refrigerator
- Roll out the dough to 1/2 inch-thick, spread filling over the dough
- Roll up like a cinnamon roll. Divide into 3 equal pieces
- Place in buttered bundt pan baking molds, seam-side up
- Let proof at room temperature for 1 hour, then put in the walk-in or in the refrigerator overnight
- The day after, bring out to room temperature for 2-3 hours or until nicely proofed.
- Preheat oven at 300°F/150°C for one hour
- Let cool. Invert and brush with butter
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Be sinful and enjoy!