November 15, 2018

Sablée Brioche

Brioche is the granddaddy of sweet enriched breads; it’s rich and tender because it’s laden with butter—we’ve made delicious brioche with as much as 100% butter (in baker’s percentage). Generally speaking, fat can get in the way of gluten-bond formation, so although high-fat dough can take longer to mix, the lubricating quality of fat results in a more tender crumb.

In addition to having a wonderful texture, Brioche is versatile, forming the basis of many enriched breads. Brioche can be sweet or savory and handle a number of fats, such as flavorful infused butters. It can be divided into individual portions or baked into loaves; used to make sandwiches or laminated like a croissant; and baked, steamed, fried, or even microwaved.

The French sweetened pastry dough pâté sablée is the namesake of this relatively easy brioche recipe from Modernist Bread, and we borrow from it the traditional pastry-making technique of rubbing or cutting the fat into the flour. We recommend using a food processor to most efficiently accomplish that task. This technique will greatly reduce mixing time and reduce stress on the dough. The eggs and milk are blended in at the end, unlike with most other brioche recipes, which signal to add them early in the mix.

There’s a lot to understand about how to properly handle the dough so that you wind up with a well-executed brioche. Baking it is a balancing act that involves ensuring the crumb is strong enough to support the structure while not overbaking, which can create a thick crust. Careful baking results in a loaf of brioche that’s rich and satisfying. We love tearing off soft, delicate strands of freshly baked brioche—that’s something you could never do with a baguette. Those strands are long gluten chains made flexible by fat, but more to the point, they’re simply a pleasure to eat.

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Place the flour in the food processor cup, then add the butter, sugar, salt, and yeast.

Pulse flour, butter, sugar, salt and yeast until the mixture resembles very coarse oatmeal.

After adding the milk and eggs, mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the food processor as necessary.

Continue to mix until you obtain a homogeneous mass.

After the dough rests in the refrigerator overnight, perform the windowpane test. The dough should have reached full gluten development.

Tips and Substitutions

  • This recipe is based on our master Brioche, but it is made with cold butter instead of soft butter, and the amounts are reduced for a yield that will fit average-sized home food processors. If you have a larger capacity food processor bowl (such as that for a Robot Coupe, which can hold 1–1.2 kg), you can increase the yield as needed, and use an appropriately sized pan.
  • At 3.1%, the salt might seem high in this recipe; it is relative to the amount of flour, however, and there are also high amounts of butter, milk, and eggs.
  • Start with cold milk and eggs; mixing causes friction in the dough, which can make it very warm and potentially melt the butter once it is added. Starting with cold ingredients ensures a slower and more gradual warming of the dough than if you start with room-temperature ingredients.
  • When this dough is mixed in a food processor, the fat coating does not prevent the flour from hydrating. Although butter is 83% fat and about 17% water, which normally would not be enough to hydrate the flour, here the aggressive action of the food processor blades makes the hydration more forceful and efficient than in other types of mixers (stand, planetary, spiral). The initial hydration also keeps the flour “open” to the remaining hydrating components of the dough, such as the water in the milk and eggs. After this initial mix, we add the liquid portion of the dough to start the gluten development process, and we follow with an overnight autolyse in refrigeration. This rest time will finish the gluten development. We find that this process produces a very soft and airy crumb, with minimal effort and mixing time.
  • Since this dough won’t have the same strength as a dough that is mixed in a stand, spiral, or planetary mixer, it is important to divide it into at least two distinct balls per loaf and place those, side by side and seam side down, in your prepared pan. This will help the dough achieve a more uniform shape. If left whole, the surface tends to look uneven and sometimes tears in weak spots. You may also divide the dough into smaller balls if you choose to, such as with Brioche Nanterre.
  • We recommend using a loaf pan that measures 25 cm long by 10 cm wide by 7.5 cm deep / 10 in long by 4 in wide by 3 in deep.
  • If you are using an aluminum or steel pan, lightly and evenly coat the interior surface with cooking spray, and then either coat it with bread flour (tap out the excess), or line it with parchment paper or a paper cup made to fit your specific pan. If your pan is nonstick, we recommend using a light layer of cooking spray but no flour coating or parchment paper.
  • Start with cold milk and eggs; mixing causes friction in the dough, which can make it very warm and potentially melt the butter once it is added. Starting with cold ingredients ensures a slower and more gradual warming of the dough than if you start with room-temperature ingredients. Additionally, make sure your butter is soft and at room temperature before you mix it into the dough because it will mix faster and with more ease than if it is cold and hard.
  • A crucial aspect of baking brioche is setting the crust quickly to prevent it from ripping, but not so quickly that it hinders expansion and produces a low-volume loaf. This is why we recommend starting the bake in a home oven at a higher temperature and then dropping to a lower temperature.

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