Some changes have taken place in this household recently. To be exact, a turning point has happened in Ned’s life and it’s nothing but excitement. After years of baking in the comfort of our tiny kitchen at home, she would finally spend most of her days in an actual kitchen doing what she loves best. Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to a properly real (I’m stealing Moffat’s lines) Junior Pastry Chef.
As Ned embarks in this new chapter in life with anticipation and slight trepidation, we can’t help but look back at how much we have grown from when we started. Well, I should give most of the credit to Ned, who actually did 90% of the baking and cooking (I only did the eating). It’s always scary to foray into something foreign. Although she might have been baking for some time, going into the industry is a whole different level altogether. The speed, precision and consistency required is beyond the comforts of one’s home kitchen. But we are anal freaks already, so compromising on quality is a big no-no.
I don’t exactly remember when this sister of mine started baking. We were never really allowed in the kitchen so any real cooking was done during home economics in school. There were the few peanut cookies during the holidays when all four of us kids would sit on the floor rolling the dough. (Things were fun-ner when done on the ground.) Then, I made my first Victoria Sponge cake (which failed miserably – my late grandmother lovingly ate it anyway). My memory’s a little fuzzy now, but perhaps Ned did make a couple rounds of cornflake cookies, cupcakes and the odd jelly.
The only thing I oddly remember of Ned baking was her first tray of macarons. This was before macarons were fashionable and so readily available in this island. Go ahead, roll your eyes – instead of sticking to the idiot-proof cupcakes and biscuits, she went straight to the technically-challenging macarons. Well, she had plenty of beginner’s luck and it probably kickstarted her passion into the life of a baker.
After which, activity in the kitchen risen. No longer was it the domain of our grandmother, Ned was making her imprint felt. Slowly but surely, you’ll find the cupboards filled with baking trays and mixing bowls, boxes filled with different types of flour and sugars, and a fridge filled with goodies. Suddenly, it was a norm to see her in the kitchen every weekend. And yet, it never occurred to any of us (Ned included, I suspect) that one day she would actually turn this into a career. It took a lot of time to convince not only the parents, but ourselves that it was the route Ned was prepared to plunge into.
The brioche was one of the very first breads Ned baked. I think I’ve said this before, pastry was Ned’s first love and wife but bread will forever be her mistress. Bread-making can be very seductive (and so happens the brioche look like part of the female anatomy). Though, we can consider the brioche to be part-pastry with its addition of eggs, butter and sugar. Usually served for breakfast or as a dessert, it has a very rich and crumbly texture. I’d love to dip them into sweet chilli crab sauce for a snack.
How apt then, that Ned starts her new job with a fresh loaf of brioche. So, a toast (literally) to new beginnings and crazy futures! It’s going to be a wild ride.
Adapted from Richard Bertinet
Makes 1 loaf and 10 buns
500g strong white flour
50g caster sugar
5g instant yeast / 15g fresh yeast
350g egg (shelled weight) / 6 large eggs
250g unsalted cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt 1 hour before it is needed, to make an egg wash
Put the flour, sugar, yeast and salt into your mixing bowl. Then add the eggs and combine really well with the help of your scraper. When everything starts to come together into a dough, use your scraper to help you turn it out onto your work surface (don’t flour it first).
Work the dough by sliding your fingers under the dough, then with your thumbs parallel to your index fingertips, lift it lightly, swing it upwards, and then slap it back down, away from you, onto your work surface. Stretch the front of the dough towards you, then flip it back over itself like a wave, stretching the dough forwards and sideways and tucking it in around the edges.
Keep repeating this sequence (initially after every 10 – 15 flips, using your plastic scraper to help you lift the dough from the work surface). As you continue to work the dough it will expand as the air bubbles get trapped inside and feel silky, smooth and firm, yet at the same time lively and a little wobbly. It should come away from your work surface cleanly.
If after you have been working the dough for 10-15 minutes and it is still a bit sticky, don’t panic. You’ve still done enough to get plenty of air through it. Just finish by forming a ball and next time try to handle it a little more lightly and stretch it a bit more as you work it.
When the dough starts to come away from your work surface and fingers easily, scatter the butter over the surface of the dough, then continue to work it until it is smooth, silky and elastic.
Lightly dust your work surface with flour, and form the dough into a ball. Put the dough back to your lightly floured bowl, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for 1 to 2 hours.
Lightly dust your work surface, turn the dough out with the help of your scraper so that the smooth, rounded side that was uppermost in the bowl is now underneath. Flatten it down a little with your fingertips, then fold the outside edges in on themselves a few times, pressing down gently each time and rotating the dough as if forming a ball. Form into a ball again, then put back into your lightly floured bowl.
If you want to keep your hands off the dough, mix the flour, sugar, yeast, salt and eggs at low speed until the dough forms a cohesive unit and none of the dough is sticking to the sides of the mixer. Increase the mixing speed to medium and slowly start to add the butter to the dough in stages. Remember to wait between additions until the sticky slapping noise in the mixer has subsided.
Mix until all the butter has been incorporated into the dough and the dough is well developed with a nice gluten structure – you should be able to stretch a nice thin membrane without tearing.
Remove dough from mixer, form into a ball then put back into your lightly floured bowl.
Leave it to rest for a further 12-14 hours in a cool place (10-12C).
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Remove the dough from its cool place and allow it to come back to room temperature for an hour. Lightly flour your work surface and divide the dough into 15 x 70g. Form each piece into a ball.
To make brioche loaves, grease one or two 400g loaf tins with butter. Place 7 balls together into the greased tins where they will expand as they proof to form large bobbly loaves. Cover with baking cloths and leave it to proof for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
Brush with egg wash and bake the loaves for 10 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 180C, and bake for a further 25-30 minutes until dark golden. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.
To make brioche à tête, grease brioche trays or individual ones with butter. Take each roll, lightly flour the side of your hand, then press into the roll about two thirds of the way across and ‘saw’ across it a couple of time to create a little ‘head’. Lift each roll by its head to stretch it a little, then set it down and press all around the head with your fingertips. Place in your brioche mould.
If this sounds too tricky, simple slice off the head of your ball of dough, roll it into a ball and stick it back onto the base of your bun (you will need to make a little dent in the base first). Cover with baking cloths and leave it to proof for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
Brush with egg wash and bake the buns for 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from moulds and cool on a wire rack.
Do not place the salt and yeast together as the salt will render the yeast useless. Place it on opposite ends in the mixing bowl.