Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 4/43: brioche

I would like to say that this past week was about brioche. While nominally correct -- as the fourth recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge was, indeed, brioche -- what the week was really about was butter.

This week was also about needing to start a focused running program, now more than ever.

You see, in The Bread Baker's Apprentice Peter Reinhart presents three versions of brioche, a tender enriched bread replete with, you guessed it, butter. He gives us "rich man's brioche," which incorporates an entire pound (that's four sticks) of butter into the dough. Then there's "middle-class brioche," with two sticks. Then, naturally, "poor man's brioche," with a mere one and one-half sticks of butter. Now, I am not really one to require extra butter. It would not be any sort of tragedy if I went down a few sizes. But I had never made brioche before and I am staunchly of the opinion that if you're going to do something, do something. And so it was that I lifted four sticks of butter out of the refrigerator and left them to assume room temperature on the kitchen counter. I would be going rich man's.

So on Husband's recommendation I plan to follow the beginner's running program in The Runner's Handbook, as it -- unlike several "couch to 5K" programs that have appeared in "Runner's World" magazine that assume you can already run for 20 minutes -- is truly designed for beginning runners. Meaning, runners that currently do not run. At all. Except when being chased. And maybe sometimes not even then.

I made my brioche over the course of two days. The first day I mixed the dough -- which includes yeast, the aforementioned butter as well as five eggs -- and spread it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet for its overnight rest in the refrigerator. When I took it out the next day to shape the loaves, what I found was a "bread dough" that looked an awful lot like a "big cold slab of buttercream." There is no way on earth this is going to rise, I thought to myself. How is it possible that a big stick of butter can rise? I mean, really. But I soldiered on. I shaped the dough into 14 petites brioches à tête and placed them into my cute teeny brioche molds, which really are too precious for words. I also shaped a loaf to fit my larger brioche mold, as well as a sandwich loaf. I left everything at room temperature, loosely covered in plastic wrap, to rise, keeping my fingers crossed that somehow the valiant yeast would still be able to do its business ensconced in a mass of butter.

(Please rise.)

(They rose!)

The Runner's Handbook outlines a specific schedule designed to build up the beginning runner's stamina and endurance to the point of running comfortably for 20 minutes before moving onto the next program. I realize this goal of running for 20 minutes is somewhat laughable, considering that Husband ran a whole lot longer than 20 minutes when he finished the Cleveland Marathon a few weeks ago. But Husband will be the first to tell you that you have to start somewhere, and as long as you're moving, you're well on your way.

You know what? Always trust Peter Reinhart. The brioche rose magnificently, and baked to a golden, buttery shade of yellow. As I popped them out of their molds I felt like I was in a bakery, like a for-real, quality bakery. This challenge came along at the perfect time for me; I had vowed to make all our bread from scratch anyway, and working my way through Reinhart's book could not provide a better education in the art and science of bread-baking. Each week I am stunned by what comes out of the oven -- chalk it up to Peter's superb instruction and richly informative narrative.

It starts out simply enough: run a minute, walk a minute. Then the next day, run two minutes, walk a minute. And so on. Keep your heart rate up for 30 minutes. Perspire, but don't push yourself so hard that you can't maintain a light conversation with your running buddy. Most important of all: run five days a week. Make it part of your day. When it's put like that, who wouldn't want to start a running program?

Mom took several of the petites brioches à tête home with her and ended up serving a few of them, cut into chunks, over scoops of vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries and blueberries. I ate a few of them plain -- they are so buttery they don't need any topping (though I wouldn't turn up my nose at a spoonful of blackberry jam). The next day I filled a few with turkey, homegrown arugula and a little bit of mayo for a perfect lunch. I used the larger molded loaf to make French toast for Sunday breakfast, dunking the brioche slices into a cinnamony batter and serving it with pure maple syrup and a few links of turkey sausage. I carefully wrapped and re-wrapped the brioche sandwich loaf and froze it. It shall live to see another buttery day.

So as I said, I have been meaning to start this running program for several weeks now. In fact, it was May 18 (the day after the Cleveland Marathon, newly inspired by Husband's feat) that I vowed to myself that I would do it this time. It is now June 7, and I have baked a pound of butter into a few loaves of brioche. If I didn't have a good excuse before (and oh, how I did), I really do now.


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share specific recipes. If, however, you have not yet started your running program and wish to bake one last rich treat (or if you are a runner and can maybe afford some extra calories from brioche), go ahead and turn your copy to page 123. Start bringing your butter to room temperature, and enjoy.


Laurie Ashton Farook said...

"Meaning, runners that currently do not run. At all. Except when being chased. And maybe sometimes not even then." :)

Very nice looking brioche!

Anonymous said...

Great step by step photos of your brioche! They turned out beautifully. Several of mine had crooked heads. :) Good luck with the running - I need to follow your lead after all this buttery bread.

Chickpea said...

Perhaps Husband has told you that I just started running recently? Not that you need additional assurance (Husband is proof enough), but, really, if you can make it past the first week it gets better. (Also, I've been going every other day-ish, if that's maybe easier to fathom than a full, five-day regimen.)

Cindy said...

Your writing style is beautiful. I so enjoyed reading your post. Your brioche were adorable. And really, how many calories could one of those little ones contain anyways?

Good luck with the running. it sounds like you're getting good advice from that book. Don't expect to run for 20 minutes straight right away. Run for 30 seconds, walk for 5 minutes, repeat, and build it up from there. Be consistent with the running. Even if you don't feel like it, go anyways. You will be so proud of yourself.

Janice said...

That might qualify as the funniest food blog post I've ever read. And that's saying a lot. Thanks for the laughs.

By the way, that way of getting into running really worked for me. I got so I could run around Town Lake in Austin (when we lived there) - a 3 or so mile run - and I hadn't run since high school. (Stop laughing, I know 3 miles isn't much, but you and your husband are young and I'm not!)

As a matter of fact, since I got my brioche post up, I'm heading out the door to run right now!

misterrios said...

Four sticks of butter! That's why I had to make the middle-class one. But some awesome browning on the brioche.

I used to run but then hurt my knee, so make sure you have good shoes!

Susie said...

Your photos are so nice. They draw you right in to want to eat, eat, eat.
Great job.
Nice baking along with you,

Jeff said...

I am glad that I am not the only one who felt guilty after using that much butter in a dish. Unfortunately me and running have a bad history so I stick with my racquetball or lifting.

I am also jealous you got yours to rise. My dough hated me :-(

Dianne said...

Laurie, thank you!

Haley, I definitely need a little practice shaping the heads! I found that the ones I shaped using the poke-a-hole method kept their heads much better than the others. Live and learn!

Chickpea, I did know you were running. Congratulations! And thanks for the encouragement -- getting started is definitely the hardest part. Thanks for reading!

Cindy, thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement. You're right - one teeny petite brioche a tete can't be that bad, right? The trick is to keep from eating the whole batch. :)

Janice, thanks for the compliment! So glad I made you laugh. Thanks also for the running encouragement -- I can't believe how many of you out there are runners! I am impressed. (And for the record, 3 miles is a lot!)

Misterrios, thanks! I am certain that the middle-class brioche would have been much more reasonable. And I have invested in a good pair of shoes! It was step one.

Susie, thanks! I am always working on my photography, always trying to improve.

Jeff, I am sorry your dough hated you. I'm sure it was nothing personal.

Laura said...

Brioche is one I have not conquered yet. I adore Reinhart so I suppose what you are saying is that I have no excuse and must do it. And I agree, if you do it, DO IT. I would have put all the butter in too.

Dianne said...

Laura, you really must. You will be very happy with the result!

Maris said...

I feel like I need to go run 5 miles after just LOOKING at those sticks of butter :)