Since we make an extremely versatile, basic bread dough every week, we rarely have need for another style of bread. However, we’ve been thinking of searching out a great brioche dough. Why brioche? Well, think of it this way: our basic bread dough is pretty much a master recipe for all our savory breads: pita, bagels, loaves, you name it. If it’s a savory-style bread, we can generally make a good-to-great version just by changing up our master recipe a bit (although we still need to work on whole-wheat bread).
A good brioche dough is the sweet counterpart. Find a great recipe for brioche, and you’ll have great cinnamon rolls, a crust for a tart, even doughnuts, and a passable challah bread; basically, a good brioche recipe is perfect when you want a super-light, rich, eggy, end result. Which is what we wanted for Christmas morning when we baked up these little pecan breakfast rolls.
Now, this recipe is from Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller. We’ve had such good luck with his recipes that we figured, why not start our search for a brioche there? Now, we’ll point out that part of our steps were driven by the desire to have fresh pecan rolls right out of the oven on Christmas morning, and our schedule on Christmas Eve. Basically, we had to fill and shape our brioche without a chilling stage, which would have made it much, much, easier to work. Please make sure to chill yours before shaping. Also, we made 1/2 a batch, and that’s reflected in the photos below, but not in the recipe we give here.
Makes 18 pecan rolls.
Eggs, free-range, of course. We know that it’s harder to get free-range eggs in the winter, because the hens don’t lay as many, but they’re still the best you can buy. Butter, and only butter, and only unsalted, please. Now, we aren’t too sure about the cake flour. We used it, but to us, it might be overkill, as we know that many bakers are able to make brioche bread without cake flour. If you want to use only all-purpose, we’ll look the other way.
Procedure in detail:
Warm ingredients. If you haven’t done so yet, take the eggs and butter out of the fridge and let warm for a couple of hours. The butter must be soft before starting so it’ll incorporate into the dough.
Proof yeast. In a small bowl, preferably with a spout for easy pouring, mix the yeast with warm water. To warm the water, we place it in the microwave and hit it up with 10-second blasts of the magnatron. We do a quick temp check with an instant read thermometer, and, if needed, give it another blast. Once between 110 and 115°F, we stir in the yeast.
Mix dry ingredients. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together flours, salt, and sugar. Turn the mixer on low and let it spin the mix around for a minute or so.
Add eggs. Crack the eggs into the flour and mix on low for 1 minute. If needed, and it will probably be needed, use a rubber spatula to scrape the flour down the sides of the bowl and into the eggs.
Add yeast. With the mixer still running on low, slowly pour in the yeast and water. Let the mixer run for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes are up, scrape down everything and run the mixer on low for another 5 minutes. This isn’t a dough you want to make by hand, is it?
Add butter. Cut the butter into roughly 1-inch pieces. With the mixer running, add the butter in four additions, waiting a full minute before adding the next set of butter chunks. Once all the butter is in the mixer, let it mix on low for 10 minutes. Whew.
Rise. Use a dough scraper to turn the dough out into a large floured bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 3 hours. The dough will be very sticky, more like a thick batter than a dough.
Press down and chill. Turn the dough/batter out onto a generously-floured work surface and use a dough scraper to press down gently and squeeze out the air bubbles. Reshape into a ball, place back in the floured bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate overnight. This refrigeration will make the dough much, much easier to work. We didn’t do this, because of our schedule, but we really recommend that, if possible, you give the brioche dough a good chilling before attempting to shape, otherwise it will be quite tricky to shape and cut. Trust us.
Make filling. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, melted butter, and pecans. This will be your filling for the pecan rolls, so, if you want them less sweet, cut back on the amount of brown sugar. If you want to add cinnamon, you can do that, too. At the same time, butter a 9×13 inch pan, or two 8×8 inch baking pans.
Roll out and fill. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface, divide into two equal pieces, and roll out each piece to a rectangle about 9×18 inches. It should be about 1/2 inch thick. Spread filling over the surface and roll up the dough, sealing the filling inside.
Slice and proof. Slice each of the logs into 9 rounds, and place them snugly in the pan(s). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled, about 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Bake. Uncover and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until rolls are well puffed, lightly browned, and smell delicious. Let sit for 5 minute before serving.
This is a very rich brioche. Very rich. So rich, that we would probably only consider it for special occasions, such as Christmas morning; otherwise, it’s just too much for us. Too buttery and too eggy, but light and tender, closer to cake than bread. We might think about making traditional brioche breads, and skip adding the sugar and pecans, as that was just over the top. (Plus we have another dough that we really like for pecan rolls, one that suits rolls even better than this brioche; don’t worry, we’ll get to posting it). Overall, four stars.