Week #4 Brioche:A Tale of Genetic Mutation

Wow, we’re closing in on a month of bread baking already.  In  week # 4 of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge  we made Brioche.  I have to say there was a lot of talk and questions leading up to this challenge amongst my fellow challengers.   Peter Reinhart presents three options for this bread.  Rich Man’s brioche, uses one pound of butter in the dough (quadruple bypass), the Middle-Class version uses half a pound of butter (double bypass)and the Poor Man’s variation uses only a quarter of a pound of butter (single bypass).

It was like being back in high school when all the girl’s would call each other before the dance to see who was wearing what.  Only here we were all posting on our Google discussion page asking each other which version we were planning on making.  Some like Phyl, of Cabbages and King Cakes, made all three.  Most of the people who made the rich man’s version said the dough was really hard to work with, not to mention the calorie count. And yes, there was even a discussion thread going about how many calories hand kneading burns – although that was related to the bagel dough from last week.   The poor man’s version didn’t seem quite decadent enough for all the effort that goes into this bread.  So, I opted for the middle-class version.

I wanted to fall in love with this bread.  So much so that I was prepared to add an extra 30 minutes of cardio to my already full one hour workout.  I already had the brioche molds, or what I thought were brioche molds. They had been sitting on my basement storage room shelf forever.  Can’t remeber why or what I bought them for.  I soon realized that they are not proper brioche molds after I saw my fellow challenger’s photos of their proper molds.  If anyone knows what these actually are, let me know.

the right pan

Day one begins with making a sponge from warm milk, instant yeast and bread flour.  It sits on the counter to get all active and bubbly for 2 hours.  Then the fun begins.  Time to mix the dough.  I was going Kitchen Aid all the way with this dough, no hand kneading.   I had been warned by my new “Bread Freak” friends (that’s what my son calls the BBA Challenge group) that it is a sticky soft mess.  Boy they weren’t kidding.

Sticky Elastic dough

I should also mention that there was a Bake-a thon going on in my kitchen that day.  My 17 year old daughter had just decided to bake six different kinds of cookies as a year end gift for a favourite teacher.  She invited three friends over to help her bake.  One of the friends actually knew how to bake.  The other two were there for moral support or comic relief, I’m not sure which.  I have to say I was so proud of her.  She really did most of it by herself with very little help from me.  And the results were spectacular.  Here is a photo of the dulce de leche biscotti cooling on the counter  after their first baking.

Dulce de Leche Biscotti after first baking

After mixing the dough I put it on a baking sheet, stuck it in the fridge for an overnight rest and hightailed it out of the kitchen.

Dough ready for rest


The next day I divided the dough into three equal parts and shaped my brioche.  I used the boule method and using the back of my hand, I divided the ball into a large and small ball, rolling down but not going all the way through.  Then very gently, I used my fingertips to round out the little ball on top. They looked like three identical little triplets going into their molds.

Ready for final proofing

I carefully sprayed the tops of my brioche with spray oil and loosely covered them with plastic wrap.  I left them to do their work on the kitchen sounter while I did my time on the treadmill and eliptical trainer.  I had a shower after my workout and at the 2 hour mark they had risen but the dough had not quite reached the top of the molds yet.  I brushed them with beaten egg and covered them up again.  I checked back in an hour and discovered that the genetic mutation had begun it’s damage.

After 3 hours of proofing

Although I had weighed the dough, divided it exactly into three and formed each one the same way, they were no longer identical in appearance.  The one in the middle had completely lost it’s little tete.  I was tempted to reform the little balls on top but decided I might do more damage than good, so into the oven they went.  After 15 minutes I had great lift-off.

Great oven spring


In 25 minutes they were ready to come out with an internal temperature of 195 degrees F.  They were golden brown and quite lovely, even if they didn’t bear any resemblance to either each other or the photos in the book.  I was immediately taken back to my days in Culinary School.  In my baking course, after we finished the assignment of the day, we had to take our finished product up to the professor for grading.  I always lost marks for non-uniformity.  The teacher said that all items should be exactly the same size and shape.  My response was, “If they all looked exactly the same then they look like they came from a factory.  This way, they look like they were made with love.”  He was not amused.

It got so bad that I had taken to cheating.  I attended culinary school with my sister-in-law.  She would hand in her work, get graded, and then we would wait for a few more students to have their turn.  Then I’d take my sister-in-law’s items up for grading, presenting them as mine.  Almost every time, I’d get 85 % and she’d get 80 %.  We figured out pretty quickly that the teacher had a crush on me!

Here are my genetically mutated brioche.  They were made with love.

Out of the oven - not identical triplets

 I was fully prepared to love this bread.  But I was disappointed.  I thought that with half a pound of butter and 5 eggs it would be dense and flaky but to be honest I found it kind of light and airy.  It felt like I was eating a sponge.  Maybe I overproofed it or baked it for too long but it just didn’t taste like I was expecting.  Part of me was relieved that I was not tempted to have more than one piece.  My husband agreed with my assesment but my kids loved it.  The three brioche were gone in 2 days.

Inside of Brioche

 That night for dinner I served it with corn chowder. (Click for recipe)

Corn Chowder and Brioche for dinner

Tune in next week when we’re baking Casatiello, an Italian version of brioche, filled with salami and cheese.  My daughter is a vegetarian so I’m still working on what to use instead of salami.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.

7 thoughts on “Week #4 Brioche:A Tale of Genetic Mutation

    1. saltandserenity

      Thanks for doing the research Jen. I guess it is a square brioche mold. I think if I’m going to eat butter I want it in a cookie. Just not a brioche fan. Have a great weekend.

  1. Appoggiatura

    I really enjoyed reading your post – written with such humor!

    I think you could easily substitute some sauteed wild mushrooms for the meat in the casatiello. Maybe cremini or even reconstituted chopped porcini.

  2. Susie

    Your Brioche looks wonderful. I didn’t like mine just to eat as bread but loved it toasted.
    Great baking along with you,

  3. Oggi

    I love brioche toasted or warmed in the oven, and with a little fruit preserves. It’s also good for bread and apple pudding.

    Your genetically mutant loaves look great though.:)


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