11 October 2010

Food Lab 5: Butter Doughs

We're now into our High Holy Days - aka, the NFL season - so we decided to switch over to two day food labs, so we can start Saturday and then have everyone come back to watch the games on Sunday.  This weekend marked our first two day lab, taking place October 9 and 10.

The thing about butter-based doughs is that, in most cases, you don't HAVE to rest them over night.  But they definitely benefit from it.  We had decided on brioche and croissants.

For labbing brioche, we picked two recipes: I made the one from Julia's The Way To Cook (which is basically the Mastering recipe, only she found religion on using food processors to start a variety of bread doughs since Mastering) and Mad Kitchen Scientist focused on the poolish-based brioche from Bread Alone.

Mad Kitchen Scientist had given me an excellent sealed brick of live yeast a while back, and I was waiting for a special time to open it up.  This was it.

We both used regular King Arthur unbleached white all-purpose flour, which is pretty much the perfect baking flour, although Mad Kitchen Scientist supplemented with some King Arthur wheat pastry flour.  He swears by it for pie crust.

The two recipes were fairly similar, other than the fact that Julia calls for more butter, and Bread Alone uses more eggs.

Now, the thing about brioche is that it can be almost more of a batter than a dough.  And actually, that's the problem I had the last time I tried to make it (using the Joy recipe) - too dense (so not batter-y enough).  Anyway, I think my "large" eggs might not be quite what Julia was thinking of when she said "large" eggs, since I had to throw in at least an extra half cup of flour (maybe more) to even render the dough workable.  But I got to use my new pastry scraper, and after that, it went like a dream.  After the first two rises, I rested it overnight.  Sunday morning, I brought it to cool room temperature before forming a small loaf and some small and large a tetes, going through one more rise, and baking.

Mad Kitchen Scientist followed pretty much the same pattern, although he started his dough in the mixer rather than a food processor.

We discovered that you want the dough to be just this side of too wet to work.  More butter is definitely preferable (surprise, surprise).  The wheat pastry dough didn't add anything, and in fact, detracted from the pretty pale yellow color you get in a good brioche.  I didn't think the poolish really added anything, either.  Mad Kitchen Scientist said he might've enriched the Julia recipe with one more egg yolk, although that obviously would've required even again a bit more flour.

We also cooked it at too high a temperature.  Julia, oddly, didn't specify.  Bread Alone advised 400 F, but the edges were browning too fast.  In retrospect, I think I would've gone with 400 for the first few minutes, then turned it down to 350 or lower for the remainder of the cooking time.

We also ran into some problems with shape formation.  Our tetes all looked  somewhat to fairly drunken.  Considering that we'd gone wine tasting before starting on Saturday, and then started off Sunday morning with bourbon milk punch, though, that's probably apropos. 

With the croissants, we didn't lab them - we just wanted to see if we could make them successfully. We used the classic Mastering recipe, and did it all by hand.  You start with a smallish amount of fairly wet dough that you knead just a little - that pastry scraper will come in handy - and then it's a LONG first rise (3 hours). The second rise is the point at which you can refrigerate it (which we did), which gives you a long, cold rise - or you let it rise for 90 minutes and then chill it thoroughly before proceeding.

Sunday morning was all about banging in the butter.  You roll your dough out into a rectangle, beat your butter into a thick rectangular paste, and fold it in.  The first round, you do two folds, then you rest and chill for another 90 minutes.   Two more rolls and folds leaves you with 55 layers (according to Julia) of dough separated by 54 layers of butter.  After the final roll and fold, you chill for another 2 hours.  This is another place where you could refrigerate overnight.

Or you move on to forming the croissants.  We discovered that, although you don't want to over-flour the dough, if it gets sticky at any point in any of this, you're done.  We also discovered that the smaller the triangles you cut to roll, the better.

Then it's one final 90 minute rise (before or after which you can freeze them, which if you want them for breakfast, I recommend), an egg wash, and 12-15 minutes in a hot oven (about 400 F, although Julia once again didn't specify - maybe she thinks we'll all just *know*?).  After that?  Buttery, flaky, warm delicious heaven.

Seriously, though, were they worth 12 hours of effort?  Are they that much better than store-bought?

Yes.  No contest.

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