It seems like without fail there is always a week of unseasonably warm weather in April or May. I remember it fondly from college because it usually hit around study period. For the afternoon I’d abandon the air conditioned cave that was the library basement (my study location of choice because it was open 24 hours during finals and was always reliably quiet) and take my books to the BU Beach. This college spot was aptly named not because it was a real beach, but because the traffic off Storrow Drive, which separated this grassy hill from the Charles River, vaguely sounded like waves. I’d sit cross legged on my purple fleece blanket half studying, half soaking in the rays.
Even though I now live in Chicago and am far removed from my student days (as evidenced by the fact that the DePaul students in my neighborhood make me feel incredibly old and lame) I still relish those freakishly warm weekends. This time though my joy comes not from laying outside, but planning a baking project to beat the warm weather. Maybe it’s just me, but when I know steamy weather is on the way I like to sneak in a few baked goods before the heat kicks in and makes the idea of turning on the stove unbearable.
My recipe of choice was for Brioche. I landed on this lusciously soft bread because warm weather has me craving simpler food, like sandwiches, even though it’s often too warm to bake the homemade bread to make them special. Luckily before our highs of 80+ degrees kicked in I was able to sneak out one loaf. With its combo of butter and eggs this enriched dough is definitely on the indulgent side, but worth it for the special flavor and texture it imparts. Best of all, it freezes incredibly well so it’s worth it to bake and slice a loaf while the weather is still temperate to freeze away for warmer weather sandwiches. I’m also thinking this dough would be fantastic in the form of buns for a nice veggie burger or hamburger. Yum!
Adapted from King Arthur Flour Baking Companion
Yields one loaf, 12 slices
-2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
-1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
-1/4 cup cool water (about 70 degrees F)
-4 large eggs, plus 1 yolk for glaze
-2 tablespoons sugar
-3/4 teaspoon sea salt
-1 cup (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter
Place 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast, water, and whole eggs in a mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed, using the flat beater paddle, until smooth. Cover the mixture and let sit for 45 minutes. It will develop some bubbles, but not change a lot due to the thinness of the batter. However, the yeast is getting a head start.
Add the remaining flour, the sugar, and salt, and beat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowls and is shiny and elastic.
Sprinkle a work surface with a small palmful of flour (about 2 tablespoons of flour). Place the butter on the flour. Pound with the side of a rolling pin until it has become a cohesive rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Fold it over several times as you pound; it will become pliable without getting too warm or soft. Add it to the dough and beat until it is fully incorporated.
Cover the dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm room for an hour. It should be very soft and have risen about 1/3. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and fold it over several times. (Use a bench knife or dough scraper to scrape up any bits that stick to the table.) Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover the bowl, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or up to 16). The dough will firm up considerably and be easier to work with.
Working quickly, shape the dough in a 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ x 2 3/4″ high loaf pan. Cover the dough lightly and let it rise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until it is doubled and is crowded well over the top of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water and brush all exposed surfaces with the egg wash. (Try not to let any egg wash drip onto the edge of the pan as it will cause the bread to stick.) Cut four slashes in the top of the loaf.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until its internal temperature reads 190 degrees F and the top is golden brown. If you like a lighter crust, and I do, tent the bread with aluminum foil after 20 minutes of baking.
Remove the brioche from the oven and cool it in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn it out of the pan and let it cool completely on a rack. Slice the brioche when it is completely cool.
What about you? Are there any baked goods you’re dying to make before the weather gets too warm?