Thursday, January 19, 2012

Oh bread? Yeah. I make that.

I’m having a bad hair day (Future Hanna’s note: yesterday). I attempted a “no-fuss curls” application from pinterest that went horribly awry and has produced a frizzy mad-scientist situation on my head that puts Doc Brown to shame. Very fitting for this failed experiment. For some reason I think that explains my decision today to stop talking about making bread and start actually making bread. I’m ready to walk the talk, as it were, to experiment productively.

Tonight (FHN: last night) I’m making Dorie Greenspan’s bubble-top brioche. Yeah, I am. I’m doing it. I’m not the greatest baker, and yeast makes me super uncomfortable, but my head looks like a birds’ nest and I miraculously have all the ingredients in my house, so let’s do this.

During my lunchtime mental rehearsal of the recipe, I discovered that we won’t actually be eating any brioche until tomorrow (FHN: which is today). Nervous, disheveled Hanna attempts a long, potentially disastrous culinary process for the first time. Um, what is “perfect opportunity for a second live blog,” Alex?

I solemnly swear to follow the directions exactly and not panic at all.
Day 1.
4:47 pm. Just got home. Re-reading the directions: everything needs to be at room temperature. I’ve set eggs and butter on counter and will make dinner. Man am I excited to use my dough hook!

5:01 pm. …I’ve made my first deviation from the recipe: We don’t have whole milk, only heavy cream and 2 percent. This is a French bread, so I’m going with the cream, obviously.

5:40 pm. Dinner is done and the eggs and butter are good to go. Time to confront the yeast. YEAST!

5:45 pm. Yeast is now in the warm water/cream mixture in the bowl of the stand mixer. It smells like walking through a half-lit Edinburgh, when the scent of brewing beer fills the street.

5:53 pm. Eight minutes have passed and the yeast is not frothy. No, the recipe doesn’t call for frothing, only dissolving, but from what I know about yeast, it should froth. Should I start again? I’m not going to panic. I’m going to google.

5:56 pm. Google seems to agree about the frothing. I’m starting over.

6:02 pm. Reflection on photographic evidence suggests that I can’t read the thermometer. Perhaps my liquid wasn’t hot enough the first time round.

6:12  pm. Yeast is better dissolved this time, still not frothy. Oh well. I’ve got Alcatraz queued up in the other room, so I’d like to get this moving.
6:30-something pm.  My dough is resting in a buttered, cling-wrapped bowl on my warm oven, and I bet it is doubling as I type, so let me tell you how it happened: Flour and salt went into the yeasty milk. (Reading the recipe, I can only assume “shaggy lumps” is some sort of British slang.) Then sugar and three eggs, one at a time. That’s when I started having some trouble with the dough hook. I know, I know, the recipe clearly states to start with a paddle attachment. But it also says that when the dough is done it’s going to climb the hook. Which is it Dorie?! When the dough hook began to struggle with the eggs, I switched to the paddle to beat in the butter, then back to the hook (which the dough did indeed climb) for the finale. Finale might be too strong a word.
7:47 pm. Touching warm dough is fantastic. I like the sound it makes pulling away from the sides of the bowl—squerch! It’s going to live in the fridge for a while—demanding my attention every half hour for two hours. Like a puppy.
8:17 pm. 1 check-up down, 3 to go! I’m surprised to see the dough is still rising in the fridge!

8:47 pm. The dough is starting to look a little like an old wrinkly ball sack. (Sorry, Mom.)

9:17 pm. Doesn’t look like the dough is rising anymore, I’ll check it once more before bed.

9:47 pm. The end of day one comes unceremoniously to a close.

Day 2.
7:01 am. Dough still in fridge. I saw it when I went to get the milk. It looked blurry... that may be me.
9:40 am. I'm at work, but I can't stop thinking about my brioche. I want to go home and touch it. Unfortunately, in the poignant words of Taylor Swift, “But we got bills to pay!” and I need to stay here and make more lucrative dough.
4:55 pm. Got home and went straight to shaping my little brioche loaves so they have time to rise and we can eat at a reasonable hour. I had some trouble dividing the dough into twelfths (also, a lot of trouble spelling “twelfth”), and then thirds for making balls. Looks like we’ve come full circle on the balls.  I’ve got to go meet Alex in the park. He’s not just there for kicks, he’s with the dog.
5:41 pm. Alex’s face is rising better than my dough. Just returned from a ch-ch-ch-chilly walk to find the brioche balls have not puffed as expected and filled their muffin tins with yeasty expansion. However, Alex’s face has puffed up nicely due to the extreme cold. He won’t let me take a picture. I’ve put the dough in the oven, which, even when off, stays warm. I’m hoping it just needs more heat.
6:00 pm. Hour rise has not shown results. Setting the timer for 30 more minutes of oven warming. See how much I’ve grown? Not panicking at all… yet.
6:21 pm. Much more pleased with this rise. Let’s preheat the oven and glaze these puppies!

6:31 pm. Brioche in oven!        

6:42 pm. I can smell ’em!
6:51 pm. BRIOCHE! And how shapely!
7:00 pm. We’ve eaten two. Crunchier crust than expected, maybe because I didn’t let the brioche (brioches? Who reading took French?) cool for 10 minutes? I’ll eat another to be sure.
7:01 pm. Golly these are delicious! Knightley is manic. A crumb dropped between the narrow coffee table/couch gap that he doesn’t like to breach and he dove for it. I’m glad he’s excited, I feel a little silly: Turns out bread’s not that hard to make. It took over a day, but I didn’t really do much.
I feel almost as accomplished as Bizkit the sleepwalking dog.


  1. I LOVE live blogs! Those look so delicious. And that picture with Knightley is just precious.

    Also, my French is rusty, but if brioche is like all other nouns, you'd add an s but pronounce it the same way.

    1. Oh the French! Knightley was being a real creep--but I understand why, can you believe I baked something so real?

  2. This was DELIGHTFUL. Knightley is a star, but so are you for staying so calm. You didn't even call me about it! Photos are fantastic too. Even Sham asked me what I was reading!

  3. Did Knightley get a taste? If not, should I be a mensch and save a bite of my second brioche to take home to him? It will be a sacrifice. Loved the half-lit Edinburgh smell description: worked for me like madeleines for Proust.

    1. He got a few tastes... we spoil him so.