Sometimes, little boys who learn to braid hair on the playground grow up to be hairdressers, but not me. I quickly became a master of the traditional 3-braid ponytail and all the girls knew who to reach out to when their hair needed to be pulled back. I braided hair on the bus. I braided hair at lunch. However, recess remained my busiest time of the day.
My technique hasn’t changed much over the years but instead of applying my skills to hair, I opt to braid bread instead. When the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge recently started, I feared joining. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to commit to every bread, every week. It seemed daunting.
I reluctantly succumbed this week, brioche week, because I just can’t resist such a buttery bread. And, most importantly, I knew I could break out my braiding skills once again.
The baking challenge, founded by Nicole of Pinch My Salt, is a casual group of people baking their way through each recipe in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I purchased the book last year after making the most chewy and delicious bagels from a recipe a fellow blogger posted from the book.
Of course, I’ve only occasionally paged through the book and daydreamed about what I’d make someday. I hadn’t made a recipe from the book until now. While I wanted to try a traditional brioche, I also wanted to experiment and use the dough in a sweet bread. The recipe makes two loaves, so one I made as a traditional brioche and the other I added a sweetened almond filling.
The book provides 3 recipes, each one with varying amounts of butter. The ‘Rich Brioche’ having 2 cups butter, the ‘Middle Class Brioche’ (which I made) having 1 cup butter, and ‘Poor Man’s Brioche’ having only 1/2 cup. The middle class brioche recipe is easy to follow, the dough consistency like a thick and chewy frosting. I refrigerated it overnight then shaped and proofed the following day.
I decided to add an almond filling to the bread and used a filling recipe found at Joe Pastry. Unlike most recipes calling for almond paste, this filling utilizes ground almonds, sugar and egg white. The filling flavor is more subtle than one’s using almond paste, but it worked in a pinch as I didn’t have any almond paste available.
To shape the bread, I weighed out three pieces of dough each weighing 6 ounces. I then rolled each one into an evenly shaped log about 12″ in length. I used my fingers to push down firmly in the middle of each log, the entire length in order to make a trough for the filling. I then filled the trough with filling and used my fingers to pinch the edges together. The result is a log with the almond filling running throughout its length. I then braided the log as outlined in the book.
I followed the rest of the instructions as normal, proofing for 1 1/2 hours. After brushing with egg wash, I sprinkled with 1/4 cup sliced almonds. I baked at 350F (175C) for nearly 45 minutes. After cooling for about 15 minutes, I sprinkled with powdered sugar.
The end result? A buttery, sugary, almondy bread. Tender and rich. Although the almond swirl wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to turn out (it ended up closer to the edges and not in the center), it tastes delicious.
Joe returned from a bike ride to find the finished bread cooling on the counter. After eating a couple slices, he deemed it the best afternoon snack ever.
Others BBA brioche experiences:
Rich and Buttery Brioche – Pinch My Salt
A Tale of Two (Make that Three) Brioches – Of Cabbages & King Cakes
If I were a rich, um … Flour Girl – Flour Girl
Accidental Rich Man’s Brioche – Goth Panda
Brioche (middle class) – The Other Side of Fifty
Brioche (middle class) – I can do that!
Poor Man’s Brioche – Skinny Jenkins
Let them eat almond filled brioche! – Pete Eatemall
Poor Man’s Brioche with a Dose of Rich Danish – Two Black Dogs