I am very happily experimenting with yeast baking. I love the slowness, and the sheer life of yeast dough. It comes alive under your hands, it is wonderful stuff.
Mostly, I have been baking savoury bread. Wet doughs like focaccia, dryer doughs like my milk bread, sourdough rye. I've been using a scald, overnight proofing, generally fiddling about. Anything rather than just bung the ingredients into the mixer and mix it up.
Playing about with the way the dough is made is interesting beyond measure. Each different stage allows the yeast to break down different parts of the flour, resulting in lots of flavour, sometimes a more robust texture, and sometimes a pillowy soft one.
One of the initial fiddling abouts I am very fond of is using a sponge. I talked about this in my Milk Bread tips, and I still think it is an easy way to improve simple breads. It is easily incorporated into any recipe, it is all just a question of proportions. Sometimes, I use a flying sponge, i.e. a short sponge, where half the flour quantity in the recipe, an equal weight of liquid, and all the yeast, are mixed and left for a relatively short time, about an hour and a half until there is lots of bubbling in the mixture and it is rising vigorously.
But recently, I have been extending the time that I am fermenting this sponge to around 6 hours when the dough has risen, and is now falling, and looking as though it has acne. The development of the gluten in this mixture is good and strong, you can see lots of stringy bits in the dough when you mix it into the rest of the flour and add any other ingredients and the remains of any liquid from your original recipe. The white bread I make as an everyday bread is stunningly good using this method.
So now is the time to use this method in a sweet dough. I have made some sweet dough but not a lot. I found making gibassiers very satisfying, and this recipe uses a preferment, which sits overnight and only uses a tiny amount of yeast, the remainder of the yeast being added in the main mixing.
I wondered if my sponge, using all of the yeast, would work, or if the retarding effect of the butter sugar and eggs would negate the benefits? I don't have the science to explain what is going on, I can only try and see what works and what doesn't.
Well, I am pleased to say that it works fine. In fact, I think that it is a real improvement. The brioche type buns that I made are fluffy delicate clouds of delight, perfect with a cup of coffee in front of the computer
Very Light Enriched Dough Brioche BunsThis recipe is over 2 days, so start the sponge in the afternoon of the day before you want to bake, so that you can refrigerate the finished dough overnight to set the butter.
125g Bread flour
125g whole milk, scalded and allow to cool to room temperature (do scald and cool the milk, it makes a lot of difference to the softness of the final dough)
1 tsp instant yeast
250g Italian 00 flour
3 whole eggs lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
50g caster sugar
120g unsalted butter
one egg beaten lightly
First make the sponge by mixing the flour, milk and yeast together in a largish bowl. You don't need to knead it just bring it together into a ball. Cover lightly with plastic and set aside for 4-6 hours. It will ferment and grow, and then will start to drop, you will see the rounded top start to sink, and lots of little burst bubbles appear on the surface.
Mix together the sponge and the 3 eggs, and stir until they are well blended. Then add the flour from the main dough, the salt, and the sugar. Mix this thoroughly for a minute or two, it will be very wet, but it shouldn't be an actual batter. If it is a too wet add a little more flour.
If you are going to knead this by hand, and it isn't difficult, just tricky and sticky, do look at this Bertinet method video . (This video will also give you a good idea of the texture you are looking for in the dough)
However, I am lazy these days, and use my Kenwood stand mixer (best thing I ever bought! ) with the dough hook on a medium speed.
Knead the dough until it is smooth and supple and coming away from sides of the mixer, just holding a little at the bottom. Then start to add the butter about 20g at a time, kneading in each piece until it is incorporated before adding the next. Mix at a medium speed until it is all in and there is no slapping noise of the butter on the side of the mixer.
Scoop the dough out of the mixer into a bowl about twice the size of the dough, tuck it in around the edges to make a nice smooth top, cover with plastic and into the fridge overnight. It will last for a couple of days in the fridge if you don't have time to bake the following day, though it will continue to rise. If it overtakes the bowl, then just deflate it and cover it again.
When you want to bake, remove the dough from the fridge, and turn it out onto a floured board. Use a scraper to cut the dough into 12 pieces (or halve it, make 6 brioche and do something else with the rest). Form each piece into a neat round and drop it into a greased medium brioche mould (I have a silicone one with 6 moulds, but I think if I were buying from scratch I would sooner have individual metal ones. Allow to rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size and very puffy.
Brush with egg glaze - I sprinkled with pearl sugar before baking, but the heat was a bit too hot for the sugar and it caramelised. Next time I will bake with the egg glaze to give a lovely brown top and then glaze with sugar syrup and pearl sugar afterwards to keep the little white sugary pieces intact.
Preheat the oven to Gas Mk 7, 425/220 and cook for 15-20 minutes. Turn out upside down onto a baking tray and give the undersides another 5 minutes (especially if you are using silicone which doesn't brown very well. Cool on a tray and try not to eat all at once.
I am not sure how long these will last, I only made them this afternoon.... I will let you know!