So I was slaving away on brioche research the last week and I started writing up a post. Then I took a look at my pictures. Yes! I have a cache of pictures taken with my spanking new Nikon that look…meh. Especially the ones that I took of my “loaf” of brioche. I’m still trying to get the hang of this thing. I can’t get over how much better the pictures I took with my old G5 were. I know it’s just because I have no idea how to properly use a SLR, especially the lenses. They confuse me. ANYWAYS, I did make this tart, and the pics aren’t toooo bad. While I have a ton of historical tidbits to impart as well as some close up and personal pics of yeast, they’ll have to wait for a proper brioche post (which I hope to get to next week, along with a post on homemade crème fraîche *cough*). My family will have to suffer through loaf upon loaf of brioche attempts as well as other brioche-filled recipes. I’ve even got a pumpkin brioche version planned! Oh, the horror. And just in time for Halloween too.
But as I said, in the meantime I’ve got this tart. The tart can be found in Baking With Julia which is recipe kin to the Viennese Cream Brioche included in Nancy Silvertion’s Pastries From The La Brea Bakery. You know, the same pastry that apparently brought Julia Child to tears with the first bite. What you will find in this tart is a billowy pillow of brioche cushioning a fluffy crème fraîche custard served with a “white secret sauce” which is like a saucy type of sabayon. If you really want to go all out (which I did this time) you can whip up a fruit garnish poached in a caramel wine mixture for a pretty presentation.
The brioche recipe in Baking With Julia is great, but it is designed to be used with all different types of brioche dishes that are in the book. I’ve made this recipe twice as outlined there, but I decided to mix things up a bit this time and make the tart with the brioche recipe included in the La Brea Bakery book. The only real differences between the two are the eggs, Nancy’s has six instead of five, and of course…the butter. This dough is padded with not one, not one and a half (as in the Baking With Julia recipe), but TWO, yes two full sticks of butter because you know, you can never have too much butter.
I’m including some small suggestions here and there in the recipe of course, but let me tell all of you out there without a stand mixer – BRIOCHE CAN BE MADE BY HAND! YES YOU CAN! That said, a stand mixer (which my angel of a Mother bought for me as a Christmas gift last year, AND I’ve been meaning to write about but I hit my basket case wall) will make brioche an actual pleasure to make instead of one you feel like you have to train for. If you love brioche and don’t live near a place where you can buy it regularly, I strongly recommend beg, borrow, or stealing a stand mixer. Why am I making such a rash suggestion? Well, when making brioche by hand you cannot, let me repeat that you CAN NOT use a hand mixer, you will kill it. Nay, it is set forth in stone that one who dost desire to make golden buttery loaves of goodness must put down your arms in sacrifice to the Lord (watched Monty Python And The Holy Grail the other day, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch bit cracks me up). That’s right, roll up those sleeves and break out your strongest wooden spoon and stir, stir, stir, stir…. It’s tiring, Dorie Greenspan compared the experience to running a half-marathon, and unless you want to be stirring for a full hour (instead of a half hour – yes, I’m afraid so), you just have to resign yourself to never quite getting the same dough consistency that you get with a stand mixer. Truth be told I didn’t really notice a difference with the finished tart, and only a slight one with the crumb of the loaf.
I would have like to have had a thorough set of pictures of the process to create the “secret sauce” and I started out swimmingly, but a series of unfortunate events conspired against my pictorial goals. Actually it was just one event…my Mom became CRAZY sick. We still don’t know what it was, but pretty much post caramel-wine sauce creation I was juggling a baking tart, mixing up some secret sauce, and a technicolor yawning Mother. It wasn’t pretty. I gave up any pretense of even paying attention to the mixing caramel-wine-yolk concoction that was whisked away for probably more than an hour by my new best friend, the trusty stand mixer. My time was preoccupied with scattering myself between tending to my Mother getting sick upstairs and cleaning up the aftermath of her getting sick downstairs. Around an hour later when I was finally able to check the mixture, it was a lot thicker than mayonnaise. I ended up with more of a whipped cream consistency rather than a sauce. The pictures you’ll see later of a slice are with a proper batch of sauce I made later. That’s not to say that the initial batch was a failure, quite the contrary. It was delish! In fact, I preferred it to the properly made batch, but I don’t think the fact that I mixed it a full hour was the reason for the improvement in the taste. I think I cooked the caramel a little too long for my tastes with the second batch, so keep an eye on that, especially if you’re using vanilla extract instead of beans. Don’t cook it for any longer than an extra 10 minutes, and at a very low simmer, unless of course you like things a little more bitter.
While the recipe suggests serving the tart the day that it is baked, and let me tell you, fresh out of the oven I can see why Julia Child shed a tear when she ate this. I managed to stretch it out over a couple of days keeping it in the fridge and taking it out for about an hour to bring to room temperature before serving. If you want, warm a slice in a microwave for 10 to 15 seconds, but not longer or the custard will turn, I know this may sound weird considering it is a custard, but mushy. Don’t forget to have a hankie nearby for that first mouthful!
my notes are in italics
(from Nancy Silvertion’s Pastries From The La Brea Bakery)
Yields: 2 1/4 pounds dough
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) packed fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast (I used active dry yeast)
1/3 cup whole milk, warmed to 100-110°F
6 extra-large eggs
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I spooned the flour into the measuring cup, then leveled off with a knife)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, soft, but not greasy
Place the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer, and pour the milk over to soften for 1-2 minutes. (I actually sprinkled about a teaspoon of the sugar on top of the yeast-milk mixture and let it sit for 10 minutes to proof. Personally I think this is a wise course of action to make sure that your yeast is viable. I’d hate to think of wasting 40 minutes waiting for a sponge to proof only to find that your yeast is bad. If after about 10 minutes you don’t see some foaming yeast and something similar to what is pictured below, then you have bad yeast which means start over with fresh yeast, otherwise you can proceed.)
Add one of the eggs and one cup of the flour and stir to combine. Sprinkle one more cup of flour over the mixture, without stirring. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the surface of the flour cracks, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Add the sugar, salt, remaining eggs, and remaining 1 1/2 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture. Using an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix on low for 1-2 minutes, until combined. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and continue to mix for about 15 minutes, until the dough wraps itself around the hook and is smooth, shiny and slightly sticky. If you are doing this by hand, add the ingredients and get out your wooden spoon and stir. You will need to do this for about a half an hour. You want the dough to be as smooth as possible. As you mix the dough you should notice a change in the consistency and the dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl more easily. This is a sign that you’re good to go on to the next step. It may be necessary to add another tablespoon of flour to encourage the dough to leave the sides of the bowl.
Turn the mixer down to medium-low and add the butter a few tablespoons at a time. Mix the dough after each addition until well combined. After all of the butter has been added, turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat the dough for about 2-3 more minutes, until the dough wraps itself around the hook. If mixing by hand, mix the dough for another 10 minutes. Again, look for the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If necessary, add a few pinches of flour to encourage the dough to leave the sides of the bowl. The dough will be smooth and shiny, but not oily.
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to gather into a ball. Clean the mixing bowl and lightly coat it with vegetable oil. While I did wash my mixer bowl this time, I think next time I will just transfer the dough into one of my big glass Pyrex bowls for the rises. This way I can just move fluidly through the steps instead of stressing about my “dough-out-of-bowl” for such a long period of time while I get OCD about the cleanliness of my bowl. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Punch down/deflate the dough by lifting it in sections and letting it drop in the bowl. Once the dough has been deflated, rub some butter over a sheet of plastic wrap and cover the bowl tightly with it. Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 to 6 hours, but preferably overnight. After this last rise in the refrigerator the dough is ready for any recipe.
Brioche Tart With White Secret Sauce
(from Baking With Julia)
1/2 recipe (about 1 pound 2 ounces) Brioche dough, chilled
1 cup crème fraîche, homemade (page 447) or store-bought, or sour cream
1 large egg
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
Crystal sugar, for sprinkling
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and butter a 1 1/4-inch high 10-inch flan ring or the ring of a 10-inch springform pan. I used a 10-inch springform pan. Personally, I think this is preferable because you can “spring” the pan away easily from the finished tart.
Gently work the dough into a ball, flatten it into a 5-inch disk, and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a circle that’s at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches larger than the flan ring. If your circle is ragged, trim it to an even round.
Center the flan ring on the dough and press down on the ring gently so that, when lifted, it leaves a clear impression. This impression will be your crimping guide. Keeping the fingers of your left hand (right, if you’re left-handed) against the guideline, lift a little of the dough from the edge with your right hand and fold it over so that it falls about 1/4 inch past the guideline. In this position, you should be able to pinch the dough between the index fingers of both hands and crimp it. Twist your fingers slightly and the dough will have an attractive diagonal crimp. Work your way around the tart and don’t be concerned about getting it just so–as luxurious as this custard-filled brioche will be, it is still a simple, rustic tart. Seriously, if you understood those shaping instructions you deserve a medal. I didn’t and I ended up with the gloppy mess you see below. Don’t stress about it though because it will still turn out looking okay, albeit a little more rustic. For a video demonstration of her crimping technique, as well as the whole recipe, go here. PBS used to have the whole series streaming from their website, but not anymore.
Place the flan ring on the parchment-lined baking sheet and lift the dough up and into the ring. Work your fingers around the crimped edge, pressing your fingers into the dough so that you lift up the thick, crimped edge a bit and firmly press down the base of the dough.
Let the dough rise, uncovered, at room temperature until it doubles in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275°F.
Filling The Tart
Whisk the crème fraîche and egg together in a small bowl and keep close at hand.
Press your fingertips into the dough, covering all of the tart, except for the crimped edge, with abundant and deep dimples–don’t be afraid to press your fingers down almost to the bottom of the pan. Spread the crème fraîche mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart, going right up to where the crimping begins.
Sprinkle 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar over the custard. You’ll know how much sugar to use because the custard will tell you–it will only absorb a certain amount. Stop when it appears that the custard won’t take any more. Unless of course you like things a bit sweet. Then load it until you see a patchy dusting of sugar on top like so.
Baking The Tart
Brush the crimped edge of the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle it with crystal sugar. Bake the tart for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is just about set. The custard should be a little loose; it should jiggle slightly when you shake the pan gently. Remove to a cooling rack. A few minutes after the tart comes from the oven, slide a knife between the tart and the ring/pan and release the tart from the pan and place it on a cake plate or other serving dish. Serve the tart slightly warm or at room temperature, with or without the sauce and fruit garnish.
The Secret Sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, preferably Tahitian (I only used one and it was Bourbon, I did add a teaspoon of vanilla though so if you’d like you don’t have to use beans at all and just extract, either 1 or 2 teaspoons depending on whether you are including any beans or not)
1/3 cup water
2 1/4 cups dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
To make the caramel syrup for the sauce, put the sugar into a heavy-bottomed medium skillet with high sides or a saucepan. If you’re using vanilla beans, split the beans, scrape the seeds into the pan, and toss in the pods. Pour in the water. Tip the pan around to moisten all of the sugar, but don’t stir. Turn the heat on high and bring the mixture to a boil. To wash down any crystallized sugar that may have formed on the sides of the pan you can either cover the pan or wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.
As the mixture continues to cook, you’ll notice that the bubbles will get bigger. Shortly after that you’ll see the first sign of color. As soon as you see some color in the mixture, begin to swirl the pan gently over the heat. Keep swirling the pan frequently over the heat. I recommend occasionally removing the pan briefly, all the while swirling, in an effort to carefully bring the caramel to a warm golden color. While you can always generate more heat to deepen the color of the caramel, you can’t turn back burnt sugar. You can test the color by putting a drop of the caramel on a white plate. It may take 6 to 10 minutes to get the right color.
Once you’ve got the color you want, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the white wine. Stand back as you pour in the wine because the caramel will bubble and sizzle–it will also seize and harden. Return the pan to the heat and bring the syrup to a boil again to melt the caramel. At this point, if you are using vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans, or only one vanilla bean, add either 2 or 1 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the caramel. Turn the heat down low simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the syrup through a strainer into a heatproof measuring cup. Reserve the remaining syrup in the pan; you’ll use it to cook the fruit garnish. If you are not making the garnish, discard the extra syrup.
Put the yolks into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer or a heatproof bowl and, whisking constantly, drizzle in the hot caramel. Put the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water–the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl–and whisk without stopping until the yolks are voluminous and almost too hot for you to stand when you dip your finger into the mixture: This should take at least 5 minutes, but the yolks may need as long as 8 minutes of heat and constant stirring. You will go from a dark yellow color with a watery, foamy, bubbly consistency to a lighter color and an almost heavy cream consistency. (If the eggs start to cook, a bad sign, or are heating unevenly, lift the bowl out of the pan, whisk for a few seconds off the heat, and then return the bowl to the heat and continue to whisk.)
Attach the bowl to the mixer, fitted the mixer with the whisk attachment or use a hand-held mixer, and beat the yolk mixture at medium-low speed for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is cool to the touch, pale in color, and about tripled in volume. The bottom of the bowl should feel cold and the mixture should have the look of whipped mayonnaise. If you’re lucky enough to have a stand mixer and a hand-held mixer, then you can whip the cream into stiff peaks while the caramel is being whipped by the stand mixer. Otherwise you whip the cream to stiff peaks when finished whipping the syrup-egg yolk mixture. Once both components have been whipped properly gently fold in the whipped cream. The sauce can be kept covered in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.
Assorted ripe but firm fruits, such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, and/or plums, or assorted dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, apricots, and/or peaches
The remaining caramel-wine syrup (above)
Chopped toasted blanched almonds (I COMPLETELY forgot about these)
Confectioners sugar (Forgot about this too, whoops!)
If you are using fresh fruits, slice them. If you are using a selection of dried fruits, dice the fruits, soak them in hot water to plump them, and then drain them. Pat them dry before using.
Bring the caramel-wine syrup to a boil in the pan in which it was made. Add the fruit and swirl the pan. Cook the fruit, swirling the pan and stirring the fruit as needed, until the fruit is softened.
To serve, place a slice of the tart on each plate. Spoon on some of the sauce and the caramel-poached fruit, lifting the fruit from the pan with a slotted spoon, and decorate the plate with a shower of toasted nuts and a dusting of confectioners sugar.