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As the attentive reader may have noticed from my previous posts, there is some divergence of opinions on how to to best prepare brioche among the contestants. It should be mentioned that for the purposes of making each as true to their respective creators, the butters I used differed for each preparation. Lupark, a Danish butter, was used for Joe Pastry as it is his professed favorite. Straus butter was used for Keller as it is organic/sustainable, local to the French Laundry and served in his restaurants. President butter was used for Hermé, frankly because it was the ‘best’ imported French butter available at my grocer. Other than the butters each recipe was made with the same brand flour (King Arthur Flour), the same eggs and sugar (both Whole Food’s brand), the same salt (Morton’s Kosher) and the same brand of yeast, Fleischmann’s - though Hermé’s was fresh and the others dry.
Some differences between the recipes:
Keller has an additional ounce of butter over Joe Pastry, making his flour:butter a true 1:0.5 (actually 1:0.49 as there is 5% additonal cake flour over the amount of AP flour, Joe Pastry’s is 1:0.44). His recipe calls for some cake flour, Joe Pastry uses AP flour exclusively. Joe Pastry also recommends instant yeast and Keller active dry, though in equal amounts (minus the 1/4 tsp. in Joe Pastry’s fermenting sponge). In the Keller recipe, all of the eggs are added at once to the dry ingredients; both the Hermé and the Joe Pastry method add them in steps - one at a time for Pastry and 1/2 (then 2 steps of 1/4) total at a time for Herme. Specifically Hermé says: “add half of the eggs to strengthen the dough. When it leaves the sides of the bowl, add half the remaining eggs. When it leaves the sides of the bowl again, add the other half of the remaining eggs.” Sheesh. Hermé, in accordance with his requisite dollop of vagueness, does not specify as to whether the eggs and/or butter should be cold or at room temperature (warm butter for Keller/Joe Pastry - cold eggs Pastry, room temp. eggs Keller). He does, however say that when the dough is completely mixed it “should be at a maximum of 22 C” which is about 73 F, so I decided to go with room temperature.
The bottom line:
The Joe Pastry method is time intensive, 3 days from start to finish. Who does this Pastry guy think he is - quite high maintenance, no? His method does have the advantage of the extended fermentation of the sponge releasing the otherwise untapped fullness of the flour’s flavor. For a brief but informative explanation of this please see his post on it here. His method also differed from Thomas Keller in that it specifically called for “cold” as opposed to “room temperature” eggs. In an exclusive interview obtained by www.imafodblog.com, Mr. Pastry, expounded that he prefers cold eggs because the dough is already “soupy” enough without the (added) “goopiness” of warm eggs.
The Keller method is fairly straightforward. He recommends the brioche dough be left overnight to “relax” in the fridge, but otherwise it is a single day affair. I did find his instructions, after the addition of the yeast to the egg/flour mixture, to beat the dough for 10 minutes to be a little extraneous as the consistency changed very little after the first 5 minutes.
Hermé is the only one to not recommend storing the dough overnight in the fridge. The Hermé Method is a true one day affair. He is also the only one forcing me to use an acute accent, and a calculator to convert metric into standard measurements (my stupid scale doesn’t do metric - doh!). Who do these European and Asians think they are with this base 10 system of measurements that makes perfect sense and is therefore mostly useless to Americans…
And now on to the results; I baked each dough off in a mini-coquette in 6 oz. loaves. The results are as follows:
The Joe Pastry brioche is noticeably lighter. The crumb is more open. Keller’s is slightly denser, with an intense buttery flavor, which I am fairly certain can be attributed to the benefit of the Straus butter. Keller’s brioche is definitely drier, Geoff said, “I want milk with the Keller brioche, nothing with the Pastry brioche.” The Pastry method also yielded a more uniform rise, which was clearly evident in the final product’s texture.
Hermé’s crumb is a cross between the two: more airy and open than Keller, more uniform than Pastry. The crust is superb by any standard. While the loaf emerged slightly greasy it was the clear winner, though it is kind of an apples to oranges comparison without noting the fact that this is a “rich man’s brioche” with a 1:1 butter:flour ratio. One would have to assume that all of that extra butter would help the overall appeal, at least as far as taste is concerned, in the final product.
There were no losers in battle brioche. We thoroughly enjoyed eating each one. In fact, I feel kind of silly having to judge something of such a high quality, it is hard to find anything upon which to reproach any of them. I find myself a little nonplussed; but because I said I would, here they are in numerical order:
In my opinion, the “ultimate brioche” is attainable through a combination of all three methods. In the future, I would use the Straus butter preferred by Keller for taste, the Joe Pastry pre/extended ferment for depth of flavor (even though it takes an extra day), and the Hermé ratio of ingredients and instructions (including the ridiculous egg adding in 3 stages and the hassle of finding fresh yeast and bread flour). At some future date I will formulate (or have Joe Pastry formulate and then claim ownership of) this ultimate brioche recipe and write a post about it. Until then, though, if you find yourself in need of fresh brioche, any of the three will satiate even the most discerning eaters.
If you enjoy baking with yeast you should check out Yeastspotting where this post is being submitted.