One of the best things about my job at Book Larder, besides being surrounded by beautiful cookbooks, is getting to meet amazing cookbook authors. Some people who have come through the store are new to me and some are true culinary heroes of mine. If you asked me to draw up a list of ten people I would want to meet, Patricia Wells would definitely be high on that list. And I got to meet her.
Let me set the scene. There is a kitchen area at the back of the shop which is where I often spend some of my working hours. We like to have things coming out of the oven to taste and I am also often prepping for events or classes. On a day I was working, a man came up to me and we started chatting about books, events, etc. He asked whether we would be getting Patricia Wells’ new book, one on truffles, and I said we were just waiting for it to arrive. Then he said, nonchalantly, “You know, I’m friends with Patricia Wells and she is coming to town for an event on Whidbey Island – would you maybe want to do a signing with her here?” And this is where my theatre major came in handy. I did not freak out and scream, “Of course we would!” I said, calmly, that we were all fans of hers and we would love to have her if we could make the dates work. Clodagh, our wonderful manager, got involved to talk specifics, and he left saying he would be in touch. “Thank you!” our voices chorused as we closed the door behind him. Then we turned to each other and freaked out like little girls who were told that they would meet Justin Bieber (or whoever the freak-out-able boy of the moment is).
You know that old saying “never make something for the first time for company”? I’ve never subscribed to that theory. I love to try out new things on guests. But how about for Patricia Wells? How about working with a new-to-me ingredient (truffles) and making a new-to-me bread (brioche)? For one of the most respected cookbook authors of all time and one of my true culinary heroes? NO PRESSURE.
Fortunately, there is a reason she is one of the most respected cookbook authors of all time and one of my true culinary heroes. Her recipes work. They are well-tested, clearly written, and they taste exactly as they should – delicious. Even if you are new to something, like making brioche, she makes it clear enough with the written word. For our morning together, along with 35 lucky ticket holders, I made the inside out oreos from the new book – that is a beautiful thin truffle slice sandwiched between two slices of soft goat cheese and laying atop the aforementioned brioche which has been slathered with a truffle butter and broiled until crispy. Wowza. I won’t lie – my hands were shaking a bit as Denise and I assembled the nibbles, with Patricia looking on. But she approved and everyone though they were delicious. I even had several people ask me where I bought the bread.
I’m not going to assume that you have access to fresh French truffles so I’m just going to share the brioche recipe. It’s a long one but no part of it is hard. A few pieces of of advice. No pan size is specified but I would definitely use two 8×4-inch pans. While I don’t think you need a stand mixer to make most cake or cookie recipes, you do need one for this bread. It mixes for a very long time and I can’t imagine the arm muscle you would need to accomplish that without help. There is quite a bit of rising time associated with the bread, including an overnight in the refrigerator, so read the recipe through first and plan accordingly.
One Year Ago: White Bean Braise with Delicata Squash, Parsnips, and Purple Cabbage
Two Years Ago: Sweet and Salty Cake (still my favorite cake)
Three Years Ago: Middle Eastern Lentil Rice Rolls
Makes 2 rectangular loaves
1/3 cup milk
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Butter, for buttering the bread pans
1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
1. Prepare the sponge: In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the milk, yeast, and sugar and stir to blend. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Then add the egg and 1 cup of the flour, and stir to blend. The sponge will be sticky and fairly dry. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup flour to cover the sponge. Set aside to rest, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes. The sponge should erupt slightly, cracking the flour.
2. Prepare the dough: Add the sugar, salt, eggs, and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge. With the dough hook attached, mix at low speed for 1 or 2 minutes, just until the ingredients come together. Still mixing, sprinkle in the remaining ½ cup flour. When the flour is incorporated, raise the mixer speed to medium and beat for 15 minutes, scraping down the hook and bowl as needed.
3. To incorporate the butter into the dough, it should be the same consistency as the dough. To prepare the butter, place it on a flat work surface and with a dough scraper, smear it bit by bit across the surface. When it is ready, the butter will be smooth, soft, and still cool – not warm, oily, or greasy. (DT: I did not do this step. I just cut the butter into tablespoons.)
4. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time. When all of the butter has been added, raise the mixer speed to medium-high for 1 minute. Then reduce the speed to medium and beat the dough for 5 minutes. The dough will be soft and sticky.
5. First rise: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2 to 2½ hours.
6. Chilling and second rise: Punch down the dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight, or for at least 4 hours, during which time it will continue to rise and may double in size again.
7. After the second rise, the dough is ready to use. If you are not going to use the dough immediately, deflate it, wrap it airtight, and store it in the freezer. The dough can remain frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw the dough, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight and use it directly from the refrigerator.
8. To bake the brioche: Butter 2 8×4-inch pans. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, each weighing about 2½ ounces. Roll each piece of dough tightly into a ball and place 6 pieces side by side in each bread pan. Cover the pans with a clean cloth and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1½ hours.
9. Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
10. Lightly brush the dough with the egg wash. Working quickly, use the tip of a pair of sharp scissors to snip several crosses along the top of the dough. (This will help the brioche rise evenly as it bakes.) Place the pans in the oven and bake until the loaves are deeply golden and an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center of the bread reads 200ºF, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place on a rack to cool. Turn the loaves out once they have cooled.
(You can store the bread, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for a day or two. To freeze, wrap it tightly and store for up to one month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.)