Quick Brioche Braid {ModBak}

The first recipe in the third section of The Modern Baker is a bread with which I am quite familiar, having baked three versions from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and one from Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Around My French Table. What differentiates Nick Malgeri‘s brioche recipe from others I’ve made is that it comes together very quickly, is shaped immediately after mixing, and rises only once.

I made this bread twice. The first time I departed from the recipe in two ways. First, I mixed the dough in the stand mixer instead of the food processor.

As you can see, the dough was very wet. After mixing it, I put the dough in bread pans (the second departure from the recipe, which calls for braiding the dough).

Even though it remained slack, the dough baked up nicely, and I was pleased with the look of the resulting brioche.

As far as the taste goes, I would have to say it wasn’t my favorite of the brioches I’ve made. It tasted fine, but wasn’t exceptional. I made Dorie’s brioche at the same time and liked it better.

I made the first batch of brioche before we actually go to this section of the book, and I decided to remake it, this time following the recipe. So, I mixed the dough in the food processor instead of the mixer. I’m still having the issue of liquids leaking out of the food pro when I use it to make dough, but I’m starting to think it’s either something with my Cuisinart or user error, as others don’t seem to have this problem.

After mixing the dough, I shaped the loaf. The dough was much less slack than the first time I made the recipe and was easy to handle. First, I divided the dough into three pieces, rolled each piece into a rope, and then braided the ropes.

I allowed the bread to proof for about two hours, until it doubled in size.

After brushing the loaf with beaten egg, I baked it in a 350° oven for about 40 minutes, until it was well-risen and golden brown.

The bread smelled amazing. And it looked really nice when I sliced it. The big question, of course, was how it would taste.

Although I didn’t have another brioche to compare this one to, this loaf would stack up well against any of the other recipes I have tried. In fact, given how easy this one is to prepare, it may just become my go-to recipe for brioche.

Prosciutto/Lebanon Bologna Bread {ModBak}

The next recipe I tackled in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge was Prosciutto Bread. I have committed myself to baking all the recipe in the book, so there was no escaping this one, but it did present a dilemma. I don’t eat pork products, so I was left with the choice between making a bread I couldn’t eat or finding a substitution for the prosciutto. Faced with a similar problem during the BBA Challenge when baking Casatiello, I used Lebanon bologna in place of salami with great results. So I decided to do the same thing here, substituting Seltzer’s Beef Lebanon Bologna for the prosciutto.

If you’ve never had Lebanon bologna, it is similar to trail bologna — smoky and slightly sweet. But unlike trail bologna, it is the size of regular bologna and is usually sliced thin for sandwiches. One of my family’s favorite ways to eat Lebanon bologna is to fry the slices briefly in a skillet then eat them on a sandwich.

Other than the addition of meat to the dough, this is a fairly straightforward enriched bread that consists of flour, salt, sugar, ground black pepper, yeast, water, and olive oil. I recalled that when Kayte baked this recipe, she observed that the bread was too salty. Lebanon bologna isn’t as heavily salted as prosciutto, but it is still fairly salty, so I cut the salt in the recipe back from 1 1/2 teaspoons to a scant teaspoon. The amount of pepper — 1 tablespoon — seemed like a lot to me, but I went with it, grinding pepper into a tablespoon measure before adding it to the rest of the dry ingredients.

The main thing that distinguished this bread from Casatiello was that the Prosciutto Bread doesn’t have any cheese in it. I was a bit leery of this, as the gooey cheesiness was one of the things that made the Casatiello one of my favorite recipes in the BBA Challenge. But I wanted to stay as true to the recipe as I could, so I made it without cheese.

After mixing the dry ingredients, I combined the water, yeast, and oil in a measuring cup, then added them to the dry ingredients and mixed until the dough was evenly moistened. I then folded in the Lebanon bologna. After a brief autolyse, I folded the dough in the bowl with a bench scraper about 20 times. Then I put the dough in an oiled bowl to ferment.

The dough took about an hour and a half to double. The recipe suggests shaping the dough into batards but also gives the option of making braided loaves. I decided to do one of each. I shaped half the dough into a batard, then divided the remaining dough into two pieces and did a two-strand braid.

The dough proofed for almost two hours, until it doubled. Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 400° F.

I baked the loaves for 30 minutes — the recipe says 40 — at which time the internal temperature was 195° F and the crust was golden brown. The bread smelled amazing while it baked: there is nothing like the smell of Lebanon bologna while it cooks. It reminded me of Casatiello, and I was really excited to try it.

I let the loaves cool for a few minutes before slicing into the braid. The crumb was soft and studded with bits of meat.

I eagerly grabbed a slice of bread, slathered it with lightly salted cultured butter, and took a bite. It was good. A bit too peppery, but otherwise really good. I ate about five slices for dinner and was perfectly satisfied.

But it did seem like there was something missing. Then it occurred to me — it needed a slice of cheese. So in the end, it was almost as good as Casatiello and might have been just as good if, like the BBA bread, it had cheese added to it.

Moral of the story:  if you’re going to add meat to bread, you might as well add cheese, too.