Let Them Eat Brioche

This recipe may seem a little ill-timed, since tonight marks the end of the Carnival season and tomorrow is the beginning of Lent.  If you’re making any sort of Lenten resolutions, you probably won’t be baking this any time in the next forty days.  However, it was too good not to share, so I thought I’d go ahead and put it out there for you debaucherous souls who might want to give it a go.

Given that today is Mardi Gras, I wanted to treat the family to some traditional gumbo and a Gateau des Roi.  I didn’t grow up eating King Cake, or really observing Mardi Gras at all.  As such, I have no reference for what makes a good King Cake.  As an adult, I’ve seen a number of different (shortcut) variations, including cinnamon roll-based cakes and crescent roll based cakes.  While I knew that these recipes that used processed and pre-packaged ingredients were probably not the most traditional versions, they did give me a basic idea of what a King Cake entails – rich buttery dough, stuffed with a sweet filling and topped with a sugary glaze

With some digging, I discovered that traditional King Cake consists of rich brioche bread, filled with cinnamon, almond paste or cream cheese and glazed with simple icing sugar glaze.  They are often sprinkled with purple, green and yellow sanding sugar to reflect the colors of Mardi Gras.  I figured if I could find a good brioche recipe, the rest would be a piece of cake (ha-ha).

For the brioche recipe, I turned to a trusted and reliable source: Michael Ruhlman.  The tagline on Ruhlman’s website is “translating the Chef’s craft for every kitchen,” and he does a skillful job doing just that.  His recipes are well tested, and you can be assured that you will find success if you follow his instructions.  I knew that any brioche recipe I found on his site would be delightful.  When I saw that it called for five whole eggs and twelve ounces of butter (that’s three whole sticks), I figured it could not disappoint.

Since I followed his recipe almost to the letter, I’ll suggest that you click on over to his site if you want to make it.  I did substitute freshly ground hard white wheat flour for the bread flour that he suggests and I used honey granules in place of the sugar.  I also shortened the second rise, choosing to let the dough rise in a warm oven for one hour instead of in the refrigerator overnight.

To make the brioche into a King Cake, I made a cream cheese filling, combining eight ounces of cream cheese, 1/2 cup of honey granules, one large egg, three tablespoons of flour and the zest of one lemon.  I beat this all together until it was smooth.  After the dough had risen the first time (and doubled in volume – this took approximately three hours at room temperature), I punched it down and rolled it out into a long, thin rectangle.  I spread the filling evenly onto the rectangle and folded the dough over onto itself, pinching the edges to seal the filling inside.  I then formed it into a ring and placed it in a greased tube pan.  I covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm oven (preheated to 150F, then turned off) for about an hour.

To bake it off, I preheated the oven to 350F, baked the cake for 20 minutes uncovered, then 25 minutes tented with parchment paper (to keep it from getting too brown).  Once it was fully baked, I removed it from the oven, turned it out onto a cooling rack and allowed it to cool completely.

For the glaze, I combined 2 cups of powdered sugar with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream, stirring to combine.  I added a 1/2 a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, then glazed the cake once it had cooled completely.

Even if you don’t make a king cake, I highly recommend this brioche recipe – it practically melts in your mouth it’s so buttery.  I can imagine using it for breakfast in french toast, or making a decadent croque-monsieur (or even more decadent croque-madame) with it.  In this instance, stuffed (albeit unevenly) with slightly sweet cream cheese and smothered with creamy vanilla glaze, it was the perfect way to top off our family Fat Tuesday celebration.

Now, what to do with the leftovers tomorrow?

Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas ( A Round-up of Sorts)

Can you believe that tomorrow is December 1? I’m kind of in denial about the whole thing – holding on to November for as long as I possibly can.

Maybe it’s because I’m starting a new job on Monday. Yes, right in the middle of the holiday fray, I’m starting a new job and putting my youngest back into day care. What stress? What added pressure?

It’s definitely for the best, and I’m really excited about the opportunity. It just comes (as most things do) at a particularly busy time.

With that in mind, it might be a while before I post anything on the blog. It’s not that I won’t be baking and cooking, it’s just that I’m not sure how much writing and editing time I’ll have. I’m prepared, though. I’m arming you with some of my favorite holiday posts from last year to get you started. These were all big hits with my friends and family, and I hope you’ll enjoy making and giving them as much as I did.

Homemade Panettone (excellent for French Toast)
Time consuming, but totally worth it!

Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
A versatile cookie recipe that adapts to all manner of flavors and add-ins.

Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels
As delicious as they are beautiful!

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
If you’ve ever been intimidated by royal icing, this should help you overcome your fears!

So, thanks to all of you for continuing to come to this little corner of the internet.  I’m grateful for your support and feedback, and for your patience when things get a little sporadic.  Life continues to happen for all of us outside of cyberspace, and I’m thankful that I still have a creative outlet and a place to share the things I love.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes, and if you give them as gifts or keep them all to yourselves (I know I’m tempted to do that with those caramels, and with that panettone).  Hopefully I’ll find that I have time to continue to post regularly, but if not, maybe you’ll find some inspiration from these in the meantime.

Enjoy!

Holiday traditions: Panettone

For quite a few years, our family has had a tradition of making french toast on Christmas morning.  For the longest time we made it with Challa because of it’s rich eggy flavor and wonderful texture – perfect for soaking up all that custardy goodness.

One year, though, we discovered the wonders of french toast made with panettone, and we’ve never looked back (at least on Christmas morning).

For about five years, I worked for Williams-Sonoma, and believe you me, I took advantage of the discounts that their associates receive every chance I got.  Oh, how I miss that discount.

Anyway, every year at Christmas, they would sell these huge tins of panettone chock-full of dried fruit and these lovely candied chestnuts.  And every year I would hope and pray that there would be one left after they went on sale toward the end of the season (you see, they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 each, which was more than I was willing to pay for a loaf of bread – I don’t care how good it was).  Luckily, most years I was able to score one, and I would proudly bring it home and make the best french toast you ever did taste.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve worked at the old W-S, and I’ve managed to make do each year since with other brands of panettone, but the tradition has definitely continued.

A couple of years ago, my mother tried her hand at making panettone at home, and she was sorely disappointed with the results.  It turned out dry and cakey, without the lovely light, moist crumb that you expect from good panettone.  I’m not sure what recipe she used, so I can’t steer you clear of it, unfortunately.

This year, I decided to throw my own hat in the ring and make a go of it.  I searched the internet for recipes, wanting to find a really good authentic version.  Unfortunately, I found that most folks who claimed exceptional results were hesitant to share their secrets.  There was one constant thread, though, that ran through most of the success stories, and that was using a sponge starter, biga or sourdough starter.  Evidently, the most traditional versions are made this way in Italy, and the best results are achieved by doing so.

In my search, I came across this website, which gave a cute little history of the bread, detailing the story of a protective father, a smitten suitor and a resulting famous loaf of bread that has lived on in infamy for centuries.  Additionally, it gave a recipe.  It seemed straightforward enough and it used a sponge starter, which appears to be the key to all good panettone.

A couple of people who’d written up their panettone adventures mentioned using Peter Reinhart’s recipe from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  His starter uses buttermilk in place of water, which seemed like an intriguing idea to me.  I’ve recently begun replacing the water in my bread recipes with the whey I have leftover from various cheese-making experiments.  Since whey is similar to what buttermilk used to be before it became the modified food-starch and carageenen-laden cultured skim milk you find in the grocery store these days, I thought it might work here.

And I was right.

Panettone
prep time: 18-24 hours
bake time: 45 minutes
yields: 1 large loaf
Ingredients
1/2 Tablespoon dry  yeast
1/4 cup warm whey (110 – 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup apple cider
1 Tablespoon honey or agave nectar
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm whey
   (110 – 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon vanilla
4-4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped candied citrus peel
  1. Begin by combining yeast, 1/4 cup of warm whey and 1/2 cup of flour in a container.  Stir to combine thoroughly and let sit for at least 6 hours or overnight (mine sat for about 8 or 9 hours).
  2. Combine raisins, cranberries, apple cider and honey or agave nectar in a bowl and let soak while the starter is resting.
  3. After the 6-hour window has passed, drain the liquid from the fruit and press to remove as much moisture as possible.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the softened buttter, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, 1/4 cup warm whey and vanilla.  Stir to thoroughly combine.
  5. Add the starter to the egg mixture and stir to combine
  6. Gradually add the flour, sifting one cup at the time into the bowl an stirring to combine before adding the next cup.
  7. Once last cup of flour has been added, you may have to mix by hand to incorporate.  
  8. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead vigorously until the dough forms a smooth ball – about 10 minutes.
  9. Butter a large bowl, place the dough in there and turn to coat both sides with butter.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Set in  a warm place to rise for at least 6 hours (mine rose overnight, and actually over-rose the bowl I put it in – oops!).
  10. To make the panettone mold, I used an 8-inch cake pan with 2 1/2-sides, and made a tall collar out of parchment paper – the whole thing was probably 10-inches tall by the time I got done with it.
  11. Butter/spray your panettone mold thoroughly
  12. Punch down the risen dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
  13. Shape the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle the raisins, cranberries and candied citrus over the surface.
  14. Fold the dough in thirds, covering the fruit, and knead it to fully and evenly distribute the fruit (this was a messy process, and required me to continually add more flour to keep the dough and fruit from sticking to my board.  In the end it yielded a fairly homogeneous mixture).
  15. Place the dough in your prepared pan and allow it to rise for at least another hour (I let mine go for a couple of hours, while I was running last-minute Christmas errands).
  16. Preheat your oven to 375F.
  17. Cut an X in the top of the dough and place the panettone in the oven to bake at 375F for 15minutes (the top element of my oven gets really hot, and tends to burn things if I’m not careful.  After the first 15 minutes, I had to cover the panettone with foil to keep it from burning to a crisp.  As you can tell by the pictures, it got pretty brown in that first 15 minutes).
  18. Lower the temperature to 350F and bake for another 30-35 minutes, or until a long skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  19. Allow to cool on a rack on the countertop for 30 minutes before removing it from the mold.

What resulted was a lovely, light, moist loaf of panettone.  It isn’t too sweet, and it has just enough fruit in it so that you can taste it, but it’s not overpowering.  I think it will make a wonderful french toast on Christmas morning.

If I don’t eat it all before then.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!