Monday, January 25, 2010

Brioche and Pain au Levain

Today was a successful day on the bread front. In between clients, I kneaded and turned and gently set my doughs in bowls to rise. I peeked in on them, deflated them when they needed and finally tonight baked them, separately, each waiting their turn, in a hot oven until they were both golden and puffed. They are possibly the two most different types of bread, so let me start with the brioche, which I promised I would tell you about today.

I used Rose Levy Beranbaum's Basic Brioche recipe. It required lots of steps and seemed a bit daunting, like many of her recipes I must admit. But when I broke it down and actually looked at the steps, I realized it wasn't that difficult.

The soft, golden yellow dough that I had set in the fridge last night puffed until the plastic wrap around it was really tight. When I looked at it this morning it reminded me of a chubby woman squeezed into a mini skirt. All I had to do today was fold it and leave it to rise. I decided to make it in a big loaf pan with white sugar crystals on top, my favourite topping for brioche. Then it baked for about an hour and voila! A real brioche made in my own kitchen. I tried to be patient, but patience is not a great quality of mine, so I sliced it carefully while still a bit warm and spread it with apricot jam from last summer. It was lovely, mildly sweet, golden from the free range eggs, rich from the butter and with a softness that I was surprised and delighted by. All in all, the brioche was a winner.

Now for my pain au levain. I was skeptical about the life of my starter. I again used Rose's recipe for starter and I realized after about a week or two that I had been stirring it with a metal spoon. Apparently that is a big no no, but in all my reading about starters, I couldn't figure out why. Some people claim that metal is warm and will kill the bacteria, others say that metal contaminates starter. I wasn't sure. So I kept dumping out a little each day and feeding it with flour and pure water. It was smelling like a starter, acidic, maybe even a little cheesy. It was bubbling a little bit, like a good starter should. It was a nice even colour, with no streaks. I decided to name it (as both Rose and Clotilde did) and came up with Yuki. So I set out to try Clotilde's recipe for Pain au Levain using my very own Yuki. Basically I used 600g flour (red fife, whole wheat and white), 400 g water, 200 g yuki, 1 tbsp wheat gluten and 2 tsp sea salt. This got mixed, rested, kneaded and rose all day. The baked in my beloved red cocotte. It didn't give away how lovely it was going to taste with much of a smell wafting from the oven the way the golden brioche did. I tried to wait patiently by distracting myself with the end of a captivating book, but I was dying to see what was going on inside the lidded cocotte. Finally an hour passed and I opened it up, only to find it a little bit pale and not as high as I hoped. So I took the lid off and popped it back in to get a bit more colour and hoped for the best. I still wasn't sure that the starter had done it's job very well. So with a bit more patience I waited for the miche to cool and then, finally, cut into it. Well, let me tell you, I needn't have worried. If I dare say this, it was almost as delicious as my favourite bread, Pain Poilane! It had a lovely, chewy, compact interior, a hard, carmelized crust and that nice, mildly acidic tang that a starter lends to bread. I can't believe that I was able to create such a nice bread in my own kitchen!

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