When I was living in Paris, I used to buy loaves of brioche at the little supermarket down the street. Sure, the fresh loaves from the many boulangeries were unbelievably rich and fresh, but there was something comforting about the kitschy feeling of purchasing so Americanized loaves of such a traditional French creation, in their plastic bags smattered with colorful graphics. Up until recently, though, I’d been completely unable to find a fresh (or even not so fresh) loaf of brioche anywhere in Memphis.
That was, until, I started whacking up the stuff on my very own marble counters.
We’re currently thinking about preparing for a local burger competition, and, let’s face it, buns are of utmost importance in a truly great burger. The meat can boast a perfect formula, beefy yet light, savory and balanced, but if it’s stuck between two bland, dry poofs of store-bought buns, it’s going to get lost. At the very least, it’s not going to shine. I thought that, in pairing our burger, meat freshly ground, with a smoky chipotle aïoli, melty, salty Tillamook cheddar, tart red onions sliced thinly, and homemade pickles, a rich brioche would work perfectly. I was right!
Brioche is a bit different from traditional homemade breads, in that the dough should be a good deal tackier. Because of this, it is imperative you use a flexible dough scraper. You’ll use the scraper to mix the dough, scoop it out of the bowl, and to knead it by lifting it up high and smacking it down on the countertop.
I’ve seen techniques that involve kneading the dough with the heels of your hand, like you would other doughs, and folding in butter pats, but this brioche is designed to be a bit lighter and fluffier, rather than dense and dessert-like on its own.
After the second rise, when the formed and fully risen rolls are ready to go into the oven, you’ll brush them with an egg wash to develop a beautifully brown crust. Take extra care here, as these deflate easily, and even the most slightly violent egg wash-brushing can cause them to give up and sort of slouch down and out.
So far, we’ve eaten these with burgers (omigod) and I whipped up a couple slices of brioche french toast out of one bun this morning – recipe to follow. They’re rich and slightly sweet, light and pillowy. Delicious. Make them.
Light Brioche Buns
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
Makes 8 4 to 5-inch burger buns
3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Flake sea salt or sesame seeds (optional)
1. In a glass measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.
2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.
3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours. (This only took me one hour, with the bowl perched over a warming oven. I suspect both rises will only take you one hour each, as well.)
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise in a warm place for one to two hours.
5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with flake sea salt or sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.