Baking bread is a difficult and time consuming task, where the smallest details can make or break the outcome. It is especially difficult to follow bread recipes in a book that describes what to do, since without proper experience you won’t really know if you’re overworking your dough or if it has proofed (a.k.a. risen) enough before baking. To help improve my bread baking skills and learn from an expert first-hand, I decided to take the Brioche and Croissant class at the Institute for Culinary Education.
The class spanned two days, with the first day dedicated to making the dough, and the second day dedicated to filling and baking our creations. After the first day of mixing ingredients and kneading dough I thought that a bread baker could never be fat. While making bread you are never tempted to pop a piece of yeasty dough in your mouth, and you use every arm muscle you have to mix and roll. After the second day of filling and baking, I quickly changed my mind and realized how a bread baker gets their traditional round shape. Once you see something golden brown and buttery come out of the oven, it takes every bit of will power to stop yourself from eating it all!
I will spare you the cookbook descriptions of how we made the dough and get right to the point of what I learned; dough takes a lot of time and effort to make, but once you have it ready the possibilities are limitless. The 3/4 lb of butter we rolled into the croissant dough resulted in a golden, flaky crust that tastes great with chocolate, fruit, almonds and anything else you can imagine. With the croissant dough I made traditional plain croissants, Pain au Chocolat and my own sweet roll invention with cinnamon, sugar and currents.
The brioche dough is enriched with butter, but not drowned in it like croissants, resulting in a lighter dough perfect for rolls and loaves. With the brioche dough I made a beautiful Brioche au Sucre loaf, where the dough is braided and placed in a loaf pan and topped with pearl sugar, and Brioche en Couronne, where 3/4 cup candied fruit is mixed into dough that is then shaped into a large circle for baking. Everyone in the class made something different with the ingredients we had avialable in the kitchen, and it was amazing to see how two basic doughs could turn into anything one could imagine.
Some tips I learned from the class include:
- Cake yeast (a.k.a. “fresh” yeast) and dry yeast can be used interchangeably, but cake yeast dissolves easier in the warm water. The drawback to using cake yeast is that since it is fresh it will go bad long before dry yeast. If swapping one for another in a recipe, 1 envelope of dry yeast = 2 1/2 teaspoons (or 1/4 oz.) cake yeast.
- When flattening the butter to roll into your croissants, use a rolling pin to work it out, not your hands. The heat from your hands will result in oily butter that will seep through the dough.
- When baking traditional croissants, always turn the tips of the croissant away from the edge of the pan during baking or they will burn.
- The instructor informed us that croissants are traditionally baked to be very dark in color throughout France. By American standards they seem burnt, but a true baker should keep them in the oven until very dark brown in color.
- To keep your sweet rolls moist and shiny, heat apricot jam (a.k.a. nappage) until very thin and almost clear. Use a pastry brush to lightly spread a thin layer of jam on the top of the rolls while they are still warm.
- If you want to freeze your dough for later use, freeze immediately before the final proof (it will look ready to go into the oven, and just need more time to rise before baking.) When ready to use, take the frozen dough out of the freezer and let it complete the final proof, keeping in mind that it will take longer since the dough is cold.
If you’re brave enough to try the bread on your own, here is the brioche dough recipe we used during class.
by Melanie Underwood
Institute of Culinary Education
Yield: Two 8″ loaves
1 1/2 ounces cake yeast OR 2 envelopes dry yeast
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk (about 100ºF, do not exceed 120ºF) and add to flour, mixing thoroughly. Allow to rise in bowl, covered in plastic wrap at room temperature for 45 minutes.
1 1/2 sticks butter (6 oz.)
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
2 1/4 cups flour
1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with sugar and salt. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time (make sure each egg is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next.) On low speed, beat in the flour just until dough is smooth. Add sponge and beat smooth again. Knead dough in bowl, or on a lightly floured board, about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. If you prefer to knead it in the machine, leave the dough in the mixing bowl and switch to the dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed (keep speed constant, don’t go up and down or it will alter the dough’s texture) for about 10-20 minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic and makes a slapping sound as it works its way around the bowl.
2. Turn dough into a buttered bowl and turn dough over. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rise at room temperature until double in bulk – about 2 hours. Deflate dough by punching it down, return to bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough and allow to rest at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Brioche au Sucre Loaf
Divide 1/2 batch brioche dough into 3 pieces and roll each into a rope, approximately the length of the loaf pan to be used. Braid pieces of dough together, making sure that each end is well sealed. Place braid in loaf pan and paint top with egg wash. Allow loaf to proof until double in size. Brush with egg wash once more and sprinkle pearl sugar or crushed sugar on top of the loaf. Bake at 350ºF-375ºF for about 30 minutes (it will be a dark golden brown and sound hallow when tapped on the bottom once removed from pan)
Institute of Culinary Education
Brioche and Croissants
$190 – 2 Sessions
Information and Registration: (212) 847-0770