The other day the First Reader was looking at something in the bakery section at the grocery. He does this often, and it’s a toss-up whether we buy it, or I say ‘I can make that for you?’ depending on the schedule. So the Brioche/Danish thing he was looking at stayed on the shelf, and I opted to attempt something like it at home. He may not be a chocolate fiend, but baked goods will woo him every time. That, and the level of walking he does for work (miles daily) and I’m not worried about keeping him on a diet. More like feeding him enough, right now.
I’d done Brioche years ago, and only had a vague memory of what it entailed, other than being a really rich dough. Rich, in the context of yeast doughs, generally involves adding milk rather than water, and eggs. In this case, boy, were there eggs. Brioche is also a very strongly worked dough to fully activate the gluten. I use the stand mixer and bread hook – this wouldn’t be an easy recipe without that tool, so if you don’t have one prepare for a workout. Hand mixers are right out- you’ll toast the motor, and once the magic smoke is let out, it’s never the same after.
I looked up a recipe online, and the first sentence warned that you shouldn’t try to alter or substitute in any way. After I stopped laughing…
Ok, confession time. I’ve been baking from scratch, solo, since I was nine. I literally do not remember when I started helping Mom in the kitchen. You know how they say that baking always has to have a recipe? No, it doesn’t. Most of the time, I’m not using one. I do it by feel, by how the dough looks, by memory. Which doesn’t help if I’m working on something I haven’t done in (coff) many years, but still.
I looked at the recipe, shook my head, and did my own thing. The result looked like brioche, tasted like it, and was infinitely better than the last processed bakery brioche I’d had, so I think I was successful. But this recipe is done a bit by feel, so I don’t recommend it unless you are already comfortable with baking. There are a couple of points where you’ll be adding flour and measuring by looks, not mass or volume. Try it. Play with it. Have fun with it. That’s the beauty of baking, it’s an art and a delicious one.
This is not a fast recipe. It is the epitome of slow food. I worked on it during a day at home with the family, and that includes a grocery run during the first rising which took about three hours (longer than planned but it worked well). But the long, slow process is perfect for activating the glorious gluten in the flour, leading to a flaky, chewy, delicate loaf that pairs fantasically well with the sweet rich cream cheese filling. You could do it without that, of course, but I was trying for something like the thing in the bakery, and created something I think is far better.
Oh, and this loaf? Didn’t even make it to all the way cool before it was gone. I’d planned supper for the family, but instead we had this.
2/3 c warm milk
4 tsp yeast
2 c flour
1/3 c sugar
2-3 c flour
6 oz room temperature butter
More flour as needed for rolling out
6 oz cream cheese
1/3 c sugar
Whisk together the milk, yeast, and eggs for the sponge. Mix in the sponge flour, not much, just enough to moisten some of it. Really sloppy here, it won't matter. Cover the bowl with a towel and walk away for at least 30 min, an hour is better.
Move sponge into mixer bowl (or start it there). Using dough hook attachment, start mixing, and slowly add the sugar, eggs, and first 1/2 cup of flour. Beat until smooth, and add 1/2 cup of flour at a time until you have a very stiff dough - mine was stiff enough to be in a ball the hook was slapping around the bowl. Keep the speed at medium high, and let this knead for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it - my mixer wanted to 'walk' at this point.
Add the butter in slowly, an ounce or so at a time. You may need to turn the speed down a notch or two to prevent it from slinging the butter pats back out at you. It will take some time to fully incorporate all the butter, but eventually you'll have a rather soft, sticky, but smooth dough again. Add a small amount of flour to get it to ball up and once it releases from the bowl walls, immediately remove it to a very large, well-greased bowl. Cover, and allow to rise for 2-3 hours.
in the (cleaned!) mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until creamy, then add in the egg, beating until smooth. Preheat the oven to 400 deg F and prepare a large sheet pan (I used my half-sheet size, about 14x20") with a silicone sheet or parchment paper on the bottom.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll into an oblong. Spread the filling over the surface with a rubber spatula. Roll it up loosely (I did about three turns) so it has room to rise, tuck the ends, and transfer it to the pan.Slash the top diagonally, cutting deep enough to expose the filling. Allow to rise about 30 minutes. Bake for 25-28 minutes. Check it! This goes from 'I'm not sure' to BROWN very fast. Fortunately, it didn't taste burned.