I was watching the Barefoot Contessa this week and she made something she called “French Toast Bread Pudding”. And she kept going on and on about how she invented baking French toast in a stroke of brilliance. Which, of course, irritated me to no end.
Either you’re making baked French Toast or you’re making bread pudding. The only differences are: time of day served and the size of the bread. Full slices of bread in the morning? Baked French toast. Cubes of bread served after dinner? Bread pudding.
There is no such thing as “French Toast Bread Pudding”. Its redundant. Like saying souffléd chocolate soufflé. And Ina, honey, you can’t claim you invented baking French toast in 2012 when Martha’s been making it since the 90’s.
What does this have to do with brioche? Brioche makes for the best French toast (bake or otherwise) and bread pudding. And homemade brioche makes it even better. I would know, as that is the fate some of my brioche met.
Unfortunately, brioche really is one of those doughs that you need to have a stand mixer to make. There really is no way around it that I know of. For starters, the bread is sticky. That’s one of the reasons brioche has an identity disorder. Secondly, I have no idea how one would work 20 tablespoons of butter into dough without it.
Oh, but if you can make this brioche, it is magical. Its a bread masquerading as cake. Or is it a cake masquerading as bread? Either way, it is buttery and tender (from the cake flour and the butter) and begging to be smothered in béchamel and cheese or soaked in custard and fried.
And it just feels cool. After the first rise, you push the bubbles out of the dough. But the bubbles feel teeny tiny and oh so plentiful. Its like someone hid Pop Rocks in the the dough. Or the first sip of a cold, freshly opened soda. Lots of little bubbles just exploding everywhere. I’ve never felt a bread like it.
Before I finish (and I’m almost done) there is one last thing to mention. This recipe is from The French Laundry Cookbook. Which means I’ve been congratulating myself for the past 5 days on popping my Keller cherry. And yeah, it also means it is probably the best brioche any of us will ever eat.
Adapted from Thomas Keller
This recipe will make 2 full sized loafs or 6 mini loafs. It needs to be started the night before you want to use the bread. If you want to freeze the extra loaf, immediately wrap the hot bread in foal and freeze. When ready to use, reheat (without thawing and still in the foil) in a 250° oven for 20-25 minutes.
1/3 cup warm water (110°-115°F)
One 1/4 ounce package active dry yeast (or 1/2 ounce fresh yeast)
2 1/3 cups (10 1/2 ounces) cake flour
2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
20 tablespoons (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2 tablespoon pieces, plus more to butter bowl and loaf pans
Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes, then stir until the yeast is completely dissolved.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flours, sugar, and salt by hand. Put the bowl on the machine and fit with a dough hook. Add the eggs and beat for 1 minute at low speed. Slowly add the dissolved yeast and continue to beat at low speed for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, scrape any dough off the hook, then continue beating on low for 5 more minutes. Add the butter, about 1/2 stick at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Once all of the butter has been added, beat for 10 to 15 more minutes.
Place the dough in a large buttered mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, about 3 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured board and work out the air bubbles by folding the dough over several times while lightly pressing down on it. (Feels like Pop Rocks right?). Return dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate over night.
Generously butter two loaf pans. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. With floured hands (or a bench scraper) divide the dough in 1/2 and shape into two rectangles to fit the loaf pans. Place the dough in the pans and let the dough rise uncovered in a warm place until the dough is 1/2 inch about the top of the pans, about 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the brioche until it is well browned on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately turn the bead out onto a wire rack.
If using immediately, allow the bread to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.