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On the menu for Week 1:  Brioche.

When I recently read Melissa of The Traveler’s Lunchbox‘s post about successful brioche-making, I thought that perhaps there could be home-made brioche in my future.

You can imagine how pleased I was to learn that the first breakfast bread we would be attempting in the course I am taking would in fact be brioche.

For those of you that have been my little cream puff buddies for some time, you’ll know that this past summer I enrolled in a Basic  Baking course at George Brown College. At the time, I was entertaining the idea of pursuing a Bakery Arts Certificate on a part-time basis. George Brown has an excellent Culinary Arts program that offers part-time courses for those of us that cannot participate in a full-time professional culinary program.

After completing that course, I made the decision that I owed it to myself to pursue and complete the certificate. I have no idea where it will lead, but for once in my life I’m not going to worry about that. I’m going to enjoy the course for what it is:  an opportunity for me to receive some professional training in a subject area that is so near and dear to my heart.

The Bakery Arts Certificate requires the completion of 10 courses. Six of those courses are compulsory and four are elective. The Basic Baking course I took during the summer was the first compulsory credit that I earned.

From September through November, I will be taking my second compulsory course called The Art of Bread. In addition, I have picked up an elective, the aforementioned Breakfast Breads, which I figured would compliment the compulsory bread course that I’m taking. The Art of Bread is on Thursday nights and Breakfast Breads is on Saturday mornings. As I did with my summer course, I’ll be posting a weekly update of my progress so I certainly hope you’ll stick with me as we go back to school!

When I got to class this morning, I was five minutes late and found that the instructor had already delved into the course material. This was very different from the Basic Baking course where the first part of the first class was devoted to an introduction. The atmosphere in today’s class couldn’t have been more different. We hit the ground running! We were expected to know where everything was, to collect our ingredients quickly and to get to work.

It was incredibly fast-paced and I’ll admit, I was a bit rusty. To top it all off I did not have a partner. I’ll be honest when I say that the idea of working alone is sometimes appealing. However, being in a new lab, not knowing where everything was and arriving late made me feel a bit off kilter so it took me awhile to get into the swing of things. A partner would definitely have helped. Fortunately, the instructor has two assistants who will help wherever they can and both of them were extremely helpful. Considering I didn’t have a partner, I think I did pretty well.

We began by mixing compressed baker’s yeast with warm milk and then adding flour. As with the Basic Baking course, we used bread flour as opposed to all-purpose flour. I asked the assistant why bread flour was used as opposed to all-purpose and his response was that bread flour has higher protein content, which results in a better end product. I’m not completely sure what the relationship is between higher protein and a better baked good so this is something that I’ll have to investigate as I pursue these courses.

After mixing our flour/yeast/milk mixture, we let it sit it for 30 minutes to rise. This mixture was called a sponge and our instructor explained that a sponge of this nature can be the basis for many breads. After the sponge had rested (and risen), we added bread flour, sugar, salt, vanilla extract (again with the artificial clear vanilla extract!) and lemon zest. We mixed this into our sponge (using a stand mixer) for almost 10 minutes before adding softened butter, in small pieces. The butter was added gradually so as to allow the butter to be worked into the dough by the mixer.

I’m not sure if I made a mistake when measuring out my ingredients, but my dough was problematic in that it was far too greasy. The instructor suggested I put it back in the stand mixer to beat it longer in order to allow the butter to work itself in fully. But that didn’t help much. I have a feeling that I may not have accurately measured the flour.

In any event, I proceeded with my dough by covering it in plastic and letting it rise for 20 minutes. It wasn’t as smooth as the dough of some of my other classmates, but it rose just fine.

When it came time to form the brioche, we did so by using a very funky machine called a dough separator. It’s basically a large press that operates with a lever. You put your dough in a round pan, place it under the press and pull down the lever. This will score your dough making it easy for you to separate it. You can adjust the separator depending on how many pieces of dough you want.

The class assistants helped me roll out my brioche. The rolling motion that the instructor taught us was new to me and will definitely take practice (guess I’ll have to make more brioche). We baked our brioche in muffin tins and formed them by placing one ball of dough in the muffin tin, making a hole in the centre and attaching a smaller knob of dough to form the head of the brioche. As you can see from the picture above … Cream Puff needs practice!

By the time the brioche came out of the oven, the smell in our baking lab was more than enough to make up for whatever problems I’d experienced in making the dough and forming the brioche. And I’ll admit, being able to take all those brioche home instead of sharing them with a partner was pretty sweet!

Upon arriving home, we sat down and slathered our brioche with either butter and jam or Nutella. The brioche had a nice buttery taste and were not too sweet. Overall, not bad for a first try.

It’s sometimes amazing to me how I can feel so competent baking in my own kitchen and then feel like a baking simpleton when I’m in class. But I think that this is part of the reason why these courses are so good for me. They force me to step out of a comfortable environment and challenge myself.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I taken on this next challenge!

Ciao!

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