Simple Brioche

There are few things to do when trapped indoors due to a natural disaster. Board games, movie marathons, old episodes of SeaQuest. Usually these moments of incapacitation are best with friends, but in the latest bout of inclement weather, I found myself alone. Now, my preferred method of passing time is to tackle an insanely complicated recipe or seriously time-intensive baking (NOTE: This is not my cheesecake recipe; you’ll know when you see that one…). I did some digging through the Best Recipes of some friends of mine, and toyed with the idea of bagels.

Imagine it! Having a homemade bagel while the world ended around you? Doesn’t it sound lovely?

The problem: when dealing with the experts, you end up sometimes needing some special equipment. My rule has become that if a recipe requires more than two weird or supercilious ingredients, I pass. My kitchen is only 70 square feet; I have to make some editing decisions.

So you can imagine my disappointment when the bagel recipe not only has a random ingredient percentage that would put it on honor roll in most schools, but it’s complication factor is also enormous.

I tried digging for other bagel recipes, but could find nothing that seemed reasonable, which is how I stumbled on the recipe for brioche. I was visiting James Beard, seeing if he had an easier recipe for bagels (none, actually), and came across the seemingly stupidly easy recipe for brioche.

No sponge. No kneading to speak of.

He made a mistake. Surely.

No, no he didn’t. Granted, I did modify some of the mixing method (my changes are noted below), but this turned out some great bread – particularly in the dinner roll segment of the day’s work.

When I originally divided the dough for the loaf pan, it seemed rather small:

You would think I had learned my lesson about reading recipes, but I hadn’t. After augmenting the loaf pan, I was left with an admittedly paltry amount for the dinner rolls, turning them truly into an experiment.

What I liked about them as dinner rolls is that they had a marvelous croissant-like consistency that the loaf lacked. I’m not sure if it was the way the dough was shaped, or if it was simply the use of the muffin pan, but I think in the future, I’ll just use this recipe for dinner rolls and leave the loaf alone. (Though it does make marvelously delicious leftovers.)

Simple Brioche

adapted from James Beard, American Cookery

1 ½ packages active, dry yeast

½ c. warm water or milk, heated to 110 degrees)

2 T. sugar

1 c. butter, melted

1 ½ t. salt

4 to 5 c. all-purpose flour

4 eggs

1 egg yolk mixed with 2 T. milk or cream

Proof the yeast in the warm liquid and sugar, between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the age of the yeast. Melt the butter and add the salt, letting it cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, combine the yeast mixture, eggs, melted butter and salt. Using a wooden spoon (if mixing by hand) or the dough hook (if using a stand mixer), add the flour in two batches, two cups at a time. Beat the dough until it is smooth, glossy and without stickiness (this will not take as long as you think!) Add more flour as needed. Transfer to a buttered bowl and cover, letting it rise until doubled in size, about 1 – 1 ½ hours. Punch down the dough and knead very slightly.

For Loaf Pans: Divide the dough in half and separate into two 8 ½ x 4 ½ in. loaf pans. let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Brush with the egg yolk and cream wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For Dinner Rolls: Divide the dough into 24 pieces. Knead briefly with your fingertips and fold the dough around to make a seam on the back with a smooth, rounded top. Place the dough seam-side down in a well-buttered muffin pan. Let rise until doubled in size. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

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Oatmeal Butterscotch Bars

Admittedly, there aren’t tons of photos with this recipe. Oatmeal Scotchies (as my mom called them – turns out it wasn’t a name she made up!) were a family favorite growing up. I loved how the butterscotch chips almost turned into caramel around the edges of this wonderfully nubbly cookies. My plan had been to simply duplicate her recipe in a bar form. I find drop cookies to be laborious, and I would already be doing enough cooking for this week’s Wednesday Night Dinner.

I will say this this experience was a lesson in reading the recipe first! I am usually quite good at doing that, but I had failed to check the pantry before I got started.

Flour in the bowl, check!

Hiccough One: I, in my infinite wisdom, had thrown out my baking soda when I moved recently. It was at least two years old, and while it still worked, I thought it was just time to spend another dollar and buy a new box. Have I purchased this box yet? No. So, a-substituting-we-will-go! Turns out that you can use three times as much baking powder as a stand-in for baking soda. Originally, I was just going to do a 1-1 substitution, and I’m quite glad I checked before I did so.

Moving on with the rest of the dry ingredients, we’re fine. Butter is softened and tossed in the bowl with the sugars, beat until it’s fluffy. Eggs are next, one at a time. Thank God I had them because, do you think I had applesauce or other odd baking substitute on hand? Please.

Hiccough Two: No vanilla to be found. I swore up and down that I had vanilla, and for the life of me I can’t remember what I used it on. The recipe called for 1 teaspoon of orange zest if you didn’t have the vanilla, but do you think I had that on hand? Please. Sadly, there isn’t much to be done about no vanilla.

Continuing along this adventure, slightly demoralized, but not to be defeated, I added the flour mixture a bit at a time, scraping the bowl like a champ. Pour in the butterscotch chips. Next the quick cooking oats.

Hiccough Three: Yes, I had oatmeal. However, the recipe called for 3 cups. I had just over 1 1/2 cups. I was not about to back out now. Who knows what this thing will turn into, but I’m not backing out now for missing half my oats.

Into a 9×13. Into the oven. Time to wait.

And I’ll be darned if they aren’t pretty good. Good enough to serve for dessert tonight at Wednesday Night Dinner (though that crowd is pretty easy to please). Admittedly, you miss the vanilla, more than I thought I would. I pretty convinced that the missing oats are what made these bars a success. Normally, Oatmeal Scotchies are crisp, crumbly cookies; however, with half the oats gone, they are able to hold up pretty well as bars. I will say they are dense little suckers and they won’t win any beauty pageants, but tasty!

A quick note, because I always forget this: if you’re using a dark or glass pan, turn your oven down! The bottoms of these bars are a bit…carmelized. However, if you drop the oven temperature, it should turn out ok.