english muffins

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I always struggle with how to describe yeast bread dough precisely enough so that someone can reproduce the results I got. Almost every dough is elastic and smooth after kneading, so that doesn’t really help. Sticky and not-sticky are good, but each describes a wide spectrum.

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My first inclination is to compare it to a standard sandwich bread. Is it on the more-liquid looser side (like ciabatta), or the more flour-firmer side (like bagels)? That works great for experienced bread bakers, but what about everyone else?

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Apparently I’m not the only one with this problem, because Reinhart’s “soft and pliable, not stiff” description didn’t keep me from keeping this dough a little firmer that I think it was supposed to be. He later says that the rounds of dough should “swell both up and out”, which…well, no, that didn’t happen, although they did swell up nicely.

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Fortunately, bread is a lot more forgiving than people often think, so just because I had to smoosh my muffins down in the skillet to flatten them doesn’t mean any real harm was done. They weren’t cratered with nooks and crannies as dramatically as I had hoped they’d be, but they will be next time. Because now I know: the dough should be just a bit softer than sandwich dough, but not wet enough to be sticky. Which is very helpful, but only if you know what sandwich bread  dough feels like.

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One year ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins
Two years ago: Braised White Beans with Potatoes, Zucchini and Tomatoes

Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make these English muffins whole wheat.  I made the pre-dough out of 5 ounces whole wheat flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ cup milk or buttermilk.  After letting that sit overnight, I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients – 5 ounces white bread flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 1¼ teaspoons instant yeast, ½ tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon shortening or unsalted butter, and ¼ – ½ cup milk or buttermilk.

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English Muffins (completely rewritten from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, because his recipes are so darn long)

Makes 6

My dough was elastic, supple, and a little soft, but the rolls didn’t expand out so much as just up, so I pressed them down in the pan while they were cooking. This seems to work just fine, although my nooks and crannies were on the small side.

2¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoons instant yeast
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon shortening or unsalted butter
¾ to 1 cup milk or buttermilk, at room temperature
cornmeal for dusting

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and gradually pour in the milk. Continue mixing on medium-low until the dough is elastic and supple, 8-10 minutes. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.

By hand: Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.

2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Set the dough aside to rise until it has doubled in volume, about 1 to 1½ hours.

3. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface. Cut it into six equally-sized pieces and shape each into a ball. Transfer the balls of dough to a baking pan that’s been dusted with cornmeal; sprinkle more cornmeal over the top of the balls and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Set the dough aside to rise for 1 to 1½ hours; the balls will nearly double in size and should swell both up and out.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

5. Spray a large nonstick skillet (or a griddle) with spray oil and heat over medium heat (or 350°F). Place the balls of dough in the skillet with a least 1 inch between them. Cook until the bottoms are very dark brown, just short of burning, 5-8 minutes. Flip the rolls and cook the second side another 5-8 minutes, until it is also dark brown. If, after 5 minutes, the rolls are only golden brown, increase the heat slightly.

6. Transfer the rolls to the prepared pan and immediately bake them for 6 minutes to make sure the center is baked through. Repeat the pan-frying and baking with the remaining rolls.

7. Transfer the English muffins to a wire rack and allow them to cool for at least 30 minutes. For maximum nook-and-cranniness, use a fork to split the rolls instead of slicing them.

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brioche raisin snails

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I’m very comfortable cutting recipes in half. Some people say that they don’t like to deal with the math, but I come from a family of three engineers and a math teacher, so I can handle math. Plus, I’m cooking for just two people now, and I lived alone for six years before that, so my options are either to make half-recipes, throw a lot of food away, or eat the same thing for weeks. Given those choices, I take fractions all the way.

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Even if a recipe specifically recommends making the full recipe because smaller amounts are harder to work with – eh. Whatever. I usually cut it in half anyway. Cakes, caramel, bread dough, whatever. You’d be surprised what you can get away with, although you might, as in this case, have to split the occasional egg in half.

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Dorie’s brioche raisin snails are a rich yeast dough with pastry cream and flambéed raisins rolled into it. It probably sounds like quite a bit of work, and frankly, it is, but it’s a nice change from cinnamon rolls if you find yourself making those often.

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If you follow the recipe exactly, you’ll end up with twice as much brioche as you need for the snails, so you can always make some of Dorie’s fantastic sticky buns too. Or, just cut the brioche recipe in half like I did. Does anyone really need two different kinds of buttery tender breakfast breads tempting them at once?

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One year ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Brioche Raisin Snails
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Makes about 12 snails

You’ll only need half of the brioche dough, and while Dorie recommends making the full recipe and saving half for later (the dough takes well to freezing), I found that I could successfully make half the recipe if I used a faster mixing speed than the recipe recommends. If you find that there isn’t enough dough for the dough hook to work effectively, knead with the paddle attachment, switching to the dough hook for just the last few minutes of kneading. The full recipe is presented below.

You can shape the rolls into a log and then wrap the log well and freeze it. When you’re ready to bake, let the log defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then cut the rolls and let them rise at room temperature.

2 packets (4½ teaspoons) instant yeast
⅓ cup warm water
⅓ cup warm milk
3¾ cups (27.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

Pastry cream:
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2½ tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into bits

1 cup moist, plump raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum
1½ teaspoons sugar
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
about 1 teaspoon water
drop of pure vanilla extract

For the brioche: Put the yeast, water, and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can – this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off in a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you’re doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point you’ll have a fairly dry, shaggy mass.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You’ll have a dough that is very soft, almost like a batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough b lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the covered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Divide the dough in half, reserving half for another use.

For the pastry cream: Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get into the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool is quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

To assemble: Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Put the raisins in a small saucepan, cover them with hot water and let them steep for about 4 minutes, until they are plumped. Drain the raisins, return them to the saucepan and, stirring constantly, warm them over low heat. When the raisins are very hot, pull the pan from the heat and pour over the rum. Standing back, ignite the liquor. Stir until the flames go out, then cover and set aside. (The raisins and liquor can be kept in a covered jar for up to 1 day.)

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

On a flour dusted surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long, with a short end toward you. Spread the pastry cream across the dough, leaving 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Scatter the raisins over the pastry cream and sprinkle the raisins and cream with the cinnamon sugar. Starting wit the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it up to 2 months; see Storing for further instructions. Or, if you do not want to make the full recipe, use as much of the dough as you’d like and freeze the remainder.)

With a bread knife or unflavored floss, trim just a tiny bit from the ends if they’re ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into rounds a scant 1 inch thick. Put the snails on the lined baking sheet(s), leaving some puff space between them.

Lightly cover the snails with wax paper and set the baking sheet(s) in a warm place until the snails have doubles in volume – they’ll be puffy and soft – about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

When the snails have almost fully risen, preheat the oven: depending on the number of baking sheets you have, either center a rack in the oven or position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Remove the wax paper, and bake the snails for about 25 minutes (rotate the sheets, if you’re using two, from top to bottom and front to back after 15 minutes), or until they are puffed and richly browned. Using a metal spatula, transfer the snails to a cooling rack.

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pumpkin yeast bread

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Let’s see, so far this year, I’ve made pumpkin pie, muffins, tea cake, oatmeal, pancakes, cheesecake, cupcakes, risotto, soup, ravioli, scones, chili, and biscotti. Wow, when you put it that way, it’s a little embarrassing. Clearly I can’t leave any categories out, and so – pumpkin yeast bread.

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Truth be told, my mind jumped immediately to French toast when I saw this recipe. Tender pumpkin-tinged bread, sliced thick and dipped in fall-spiced custard, fried in butter until golden, topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. Oh yeah.

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That’s exactly what I got, and it was even better than I’d hoped. Perfect French toast, and I’m also thinking this bread will be fantastic just toasted and topped with butter. Ooh, or with pumpkin butter! Or made into bread pudding! Or heck, just eaten plain, still warm from the oven. I love pumpkin.

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One year ago: European-Style Hearth Bread

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Pumpkin Yeast Bread (from King Arthur Flour via Sugarcrafter)

Makes 2 small loaves

It seems like I had to add quite a bit of flour to this to give it the right consistency. It shouldn’t really be sticky, so don’t be afraid to add more flour if necessary.

4½ cups bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
⅓ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1¾ cups pumpkin
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted and cooled

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flour, yeast, spices, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. In a large measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the pumpkin and butter. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the liquid ingredients. Continue mixing on medium-low until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not sticky.

By hand: Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In a large measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the pumpkin and butter. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not sticky.

2. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Set the dough aside to rise until it has doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Using a serrated knife, cut the dough in half, then cut each half into three equally sized pieces. Roll each piece into a 10-inch rope.

4. Working with three ropes at a time, place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Braid them together, pinching the ends together and tucking them under the loaf. Repeat with the remaining logs. Set the braids aside, covered with lightly greased plastic wrap or a damp dish towel, to rise for 1 hour; they should look puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.

5. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375°F. Bake the loaves for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center reads 185-195°F. Remove the braids from oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack. Serve them warm or at room temperature.

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Moving to a small remote town in the middle of a desert, there are definitely things I’m going to miss.  Other a big grocery store, that is.  Sushi restaurants, for one, and long fall and spring seasons, and skylines, and squirrels and deer in my backyard, and, well, green things.

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On the other hand, there are things I’m really looking forward to.  Skies that go on forever, shockingly colorful sunsets, lizards and antelope, cacti, two national parks within 50 miles, mountains.  And New Mexican food.  Green chile, red chile, rice and beans, sopaipillas.

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Sopaipillas are maybe the New Mexican equivalent of donuts.  Dough, enriched with lard and leavened with either yeast or baking powder, is rolled flat and fried.  It puffs like a pita in the oil, forming a pocket that’s pretty much designed to be filled with honey.  Or carne adovada, if you’re thinking dinner.

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A basket of these is served with any meal in a restaurant serving New Mexican food.  Or if it isn’t, it’s cause for complaint about how cheap the restaurant is to charge, even a dollar, for something that by all rights should be included for free with a meal.

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Everyone has their own tricks for eating their sopaipillas with honey.  Bite a corner off and squirt honey inside?  Drizzle the honey over the top?  My favorite way, for maximum coverage with minimum stickiness, is to form a pool of honey on my plate and dip each bite.

There may not be sushi in Carlsbad, NM, but by god, there’ll be sopaipillas that I don’t have to fry myself.

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One year ago: Comparison of 4 chocolate chip cookie recipes

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Sopaipillas (adapted from Simply Simpatico, by the Junior League of Albuquerque)

Makes about 2 large dozen sopaipillas

4 cups (19.2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1 cup whole wheat flour
2¼ teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups milk, warmed to 100ºF
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons lard or shortening, melted
vegetable or canola oil for frying

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flours, yeast, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the milk, water, and lard.  Continue mixing on medium-low until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. (You can refrigerate the dough overnight at this point.)

By hand: Mix the flours, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk, water, and lard. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

2. Let the dough rise until it’s doubled in size, about 1 hour. Knead it lightly to expel air.

3. When the dough is almost ready, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven to 350ºF.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough, in portions if necessary, until it’s just under 1/8-inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into squares or rectangles of whatever size you want – a few inches per side is standard.

5. Place the squares of dough on lightly floured pans and lightly cover.  The cut sopaipillas can stay at room temperature for up to 5 minutes; otherwise, refrigerate them until you’re ready to fry them.

6. Carefully drop two or three sopaipillas into the hot oil.  When the rolls begin to puff, gently push them into the hot oil several times to help them puff more evenly.  Turn several times; fry until pale gold on both sides, 1-2 minutes.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve immediately.

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croissants 2 (martha stewart)

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Hey, remember, uh, a long time ago? When I said I was going to do a series on croissants? Whatever happened to that anyway? I certainly didn’t stop making croissants. I just stopped talking about it. I suck!

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Part of the problem was that these, the second batch of croissants I made, were just so bad. And it was all my fault. Well, mostly my fault; really I blame the yeast.

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This is one of the only recipes I’ve made that calls for fresh yeast. I know you can substitute instant yeast, but my grocery store sells the fresh stuff, and I was curious to try it.

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It ended up being probably the worst bread I’ve ever made. Maybe my fresh yeast wasn’t so fresh? Clearly something went very, very wrong. These croissants were dense dense dense, without any trace of flakiness.  My only other attempt at bread made with fresh yeast was a failure as well.

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Definitely not a success, and it’s hard to fairly judge the recipe when so much of what went wrong was my fault. Still, I learned things: 1) No more fresh yeast for me. 2) I like Martha’s method for shaping the crescents, where she stretches the wider part of the triangle a bit so that the center of each croissant isn’t so thick. 3) And the obvious: if the rolls don’t look like they’ve risen, they probably haven’t, and it might be best not to bake them yet, even if it’s already been over twice as long as the recipe recommends.

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I should really try this recipe again using the type of yeast I’m more familiar with, because I’m sure this attempt didn’t do it justice. When I do, I’ll be sure to update with a continuation of my experiments with croissants. And this time I’ll try not to wait six months.

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One year ago: Asian Peanut Dip

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Croissants (from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes 2 dozen

If using dry yeast instead of fresh, heat the milk to about 100ºF, then stir in the yeast to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes, and proceed with the recipe. The dough can be made ahead through all of the turns and frozen for up to three months; before using, defrost the dough in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours. After baking, croissants are best eaten within six hours.

2 cups cold milk
2 tablespoons honey
1½ pounds (about 4 ½ cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
4 ounces (1 scant cup) unbleached pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1½ ounces fresh yeast, crumbled
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons salt
1¼ pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Make the dough package: Pour the milk and honey into a 1-quart liquid measuring cup, and stir to combine; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, stir together 1 pound 6 ounces (about 4¼ cups) bread flour, the pastry flour, sugar, yeast, and salt; stir to combine. Add milk mixture, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface; gently knead to form a smooth ball, about 45 seconds. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Make the butter package: Lay the butter sticks side by side on a piece of plastic wrap, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 ounces (about ¼ cup) flour. Pound with a rolling pin until flour is incorporated, and roll into an 8-inch square. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

4. Remove dough package from the refrigerator; place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to a 16-by-10-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you. Remove butter package from the refrigerator; place on the bottom half of the dough; fold the top half of the dough over the butter, and pinch the edges to seal.

5. Roll out the dough to a 20-by-10 rectangle about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you; keep the corners as square as possible. Remove any excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Starting at the far end, fold the rectangle in thirds, as you would a business letter. This completes the first of three turns. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Repeat rolling and folding as above two more times, starting with the flap opening on the right, as if it were a book, and refrigerate at least 1 hour between turns. To help you remember how many turns have been completed, mark the dough after each: Make one mark for the first turn, two for the second, and three for the third. After the third, wrap dough in plastic, and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.

7. Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 30-by-16-inch rectangle. (If the dough becomes too elastic, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.) Using a pizza wheel or pastry cutter, cut the dough in half lengthwise to form two 30-by-8-inch rectangles. Stack one piece of dough on top of the other, lining up the edges. Using the pizza wheel, cut dough into triangles, each with a 4-inch base (you will have scraps of dough at both ends). Cut a 1-inch slit in the center of the base of each triangle. Place triangles in a single layer on a clean work surface.

8. To shape croissants, stretch the two lower points of each triangle to enlarge the slit slightly. Fold the inner corners formed by the slit toward the outer sides of the triangles, and press down to seal. Using your fingertips, roll the base of each triangle up and away from you, stretching the dough slightly outward as you roll; the tip should be tucked under the croissant. Pull the two ends toward you to form a crescent. Transfer the crescents to two parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart (12 on each sheet). Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until very spongy and doubled in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes.

9. Preheat the oven to 400ºF, with the racks in the upper and lower thirds. Lightly brush crescents with the beaten egg. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the croissants are puffed and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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sandwich rolls

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Allright, so. NaBloPoMo. National Blog Posting Month, or in my case, Clean Out the Crazy-Full Pending Folder Month. I remember it being pretty tough last year, and it’s looking like it’s going to be even more challenging this year, because we finally (!!!) got a move date, and it’s the first week of December. That means November will include not just travel for Thanksgiving, but flying across the country to look for houses, and packing packing packing!

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Keeping with NaBloPoMo tradition, I’m starting with the oldest recipe in my Pending folder – from six months ago, yeesh. Please don’t take the delay as a sign of its quality! Truthfully, I’m just lazy and it’s a time-consuming entry.

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I’ve been battling with finding or developing the perfect sandwich roll recipe for years, and I finally nailed it. My grocery store makes great sandwich rolls – fluffy and with a soft crust so your filling doesn’t squoosh out the other end when you try to bite into your sandwich. The problems with these rolls are twofold: First, they’re completely white bread, and I always like at least a little whole wheat flour in my bread. Second, they’re a bit too big for grilled cheese with tomato soup. And I suppose there’s a third problem: Our grocery store isn’t moving to New Mexico with us. So sad.

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My initial attempts to make sandwich rolls tended to be either too dense, with a crust too tough, or misshapen. I had difficulty getting round rolls without deflating the risen dough. Or the dough didn’t have enough structure so the rolls turned into pancakes as they expanded instead of balls.

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I believe I’ve solved all of those problems with this recipe. A slow overnight cold rise improves flavor, and then two turns of the rising dough gives it plenty of strength, so that when it rises, it rises up and not out. To shape the rolls into even circles, I pulled the edges around and pinched them together to increase the surface tension of the doughballs. This is a bit risky, because you have to be gentle and just tug at the very edges of the dough without deflating the dough. Then just roll it around a bit to even out the edges.

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Perfect! Light and fluffy, tall, with a soft crust, and completely adaptable with regards to size and degree of whole wheatiness. And I figured it out just in time – before moving far, far away from my trusty favorite grocery store and their wonderful sandwich rolls.

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One year ago: Mushroom Phyllo Triangles and Crawfish Phyllo Triangles

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Sandwich Rolls

Makes 12

Feel free to substitute whole wheat flour for some of the unbleached flour. If you use 1 cup whole wheat and 3 cups white flour, you’ll hardly notice a difference in flavor, texture, or rising time. At 2 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups white flour, the difference will be more significant but the rolls will still be excellent. If you want to use even more whole wheat flour, I would adapt 100% whole wheat sandwich bread into rolls.

If it works better for your schedule, go ahead and skip the overnight chill.

4 cups (19.2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons milk for brushing the rolls

1. Stand mixer: Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the water and oil. Continue mixing on medium-low until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not really sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

By hand: Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the water and oil. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – soft but not really sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm and rise at room temperature until it’s double the original volume, 2-4 hours (depending on the temperature of the ingredients you started with and the room temperature).

3. Give the dough one turn, by folding it into thirds like a sheet of paper going into an envelope, than in half the other direction (as shown in the photos above). Allow the dough to rise again, which should take about an hour. Give it another turn, then let it rise again, which will probably take less than an hour.

4. Once the dough has doubled in size for the third time, cut it into 12 pieces. Very gently pull the edges of each dough ball around to one side and pinch them together, as shown in the photos above. Roll the dough between the palm of your hand and a board, lightly floured if necessary. Place the formed rolls, pinched side down, on 2 baking pans lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

5. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400ºC. Let the rolls rise until puffy and about one and a half times their original size, 30-45 minutes. Brush them with milk and bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown and an instant thermometer inserted into the center of one measures 185-200ºC. (I suggest baking just one pan of rolls at a time. An extra 15 minutes of rising won’t ruin your rolls.) Let cool until room temperature before serving, about 45 minutes.

100% whole wheat sandwich bread

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My guidelines for nutrition can pretty much be summed up by:

  1. Only eat when hungry. But don’t eat too much.
  2. Don’t eat processed crap.
  3. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can stand.
  4. Don’t be a baby about whole grains.

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I’ve been getting worse and worse about that last one recently. I’ve walked by Reinhart’s book on whole grain breads in the bookstore so many times and never even bothered to pick it up. It’s just that white bread, made well, is so darn good, you know? I’m not talking about Wonder Bread or something, I mean a nice sweet tender sandwich bread or a fantastic complex rustic baguette.

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But my interest was sparked when I saw the whole wheat bagels that Stefany made from this book. They look at least as good as any bagels I’ve made – but they’re so much healthier.  Within a week, I tried the recipe, was pleased with the results, and bought the book.

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It’s Peter Reinhart, so we’re not talking about the most simple recipes here. In general, they’re two day affairs. The first day, you mix two things. One is a thick paste of whole wheat flour, liquid, and salt, and the other one is a mixture of whole wheat flour, liquid, and yeast. These both set overnight (or longer, if necessary) and are incorporated into the rest of the dough the next day. On the day of baking, you follow essentially a normal bread-baking procedure, from mixing and kneading, through rising, shaping, proofing, and baking.

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Most homemade whole wheat bread recipes call for, at most, half whole wheat flour. This recipe uses 100% whole wheat flour, and it’s as good as any of those other recipes. It’s tender and light, just like you want from a sandwich bread. And it tastes seriously good. Obviously it tastes whole wheaty, but it has more to it than that. The long soaks from the pre-doughs give the bread a full flavor that includes sweetness and a bit of acidity. I am officially hooked on 100% whole wheat breads.

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One year ago: Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

Printer Friendly Recipe
100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread (from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Reinhart also has a “Transitional Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread” that is made the same way, except it uses white unbleached bread flour in the biga. If you decide to make this version instead, keep in mind that you’ll need a little less water when working with white flour (1-2 teaspoons per ounce of flour).

1¾ cups (227 grams) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon (4 grams) salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (198 grams) milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soy milk, or rice milk

1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

1¾ cups (227 grams) whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon (1 gram) instant yeast
¾ cup (170 grams) filtered or spring water, at room temperature (about 70F)

1. Mix all the biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough.  Using wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to be sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead it again with wet hands for 1 minute. The dough will become smoother but still be tacky.

2. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

3. About 2 hours before mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator to take off the chill. It will have risen slightly but need not have risen significantly in order to use it in the final dough.

Final dough:
All of the Soaker
All of the biga
7 tablespoons (56.5 grams) whole wheat flour, plus extra for adjustments
5/8 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
2¼ teaspoons (7 grams) instant yeast
2¼ tablespoons (42.5 grams) honey or agave nectar
1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil

1. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the soaker and the biga into 12 smaller pieces each (sprinkle some of the extra flour over the pre-doughs to keep the pieces from sticking back to each other).

2. If mixing by hand, combine the soaker and biga pieces in a bowl with all of the other ingredients except the extra flour and stir vigorously with a mixing spoon or knead with wet hands until all of the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed into the dough. It should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more flour or water as needed.

If using a stand mixer, put the pre-dough pieces and all of the other ingredients except the extra flour into the mixer with the paddle attachment (preferable) or dough hook. Mix on slow speed for 1 minute to bring the ingredients together into a ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, occasionally scraping down the bowl, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pre-doughs become cohesive and assimilated into each other. Add more flour or water as needed until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then toss the dough in the flour to coat. Knead by hand for 3 to 4 minutes, incorporating only as much extra flour as needed, until the dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, slightly oiled bowl.

4. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute to strengthen the gluten and make any final flour or water adjustments. The dough should have strength and pass the windowpane test, yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1½ times its original size.

5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  To shape it for a loaf pan, pat it out to a square approximately 1-inch thick, then roll the dough into a cylinder.  Place the dough in a greased 4 by 8½-inch bread pan. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1½ times its original size.

6. Preheat the oven to 425F. When the dough is ready to bake, place it in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 195F in the center.

7. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

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This is the third time I’ve made this bread, and the first two times just didn’t do it for me. It seems like a given, right? Bits of sausage and cheese dispersed in a tender buttery bread? What isn’t to like?

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The first time, it was the type of cheese I used that ruined it. I generally like provolone, but I’d accidentally grabbed an exceptionally sharp specimen, and it was way too intense. The next time…I don’t know. Maybe it just didn’t fit the occasion. I just remember it seeming a little too rich, maybe even greasy.

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Reinhart does compare this bread to brioche, and while not all brioche is as rich as the one I made a few weeks ago, you’ll never hear one described as lean. But once you add sausage and cheese to the bread, I don’t know that much butter in the dough is necessary.

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In fact, I didn’t add butter at all. I added bacon fat instead. Yeah, bacon fat doesn’t sound like much of a health improvement over butter, but I did use half the amount of fat called for in the recipe. I really prefer this slightly leaner version.

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Especially because I probably doubled the salami. I wasn’t so much measuring at this point, and I just figured that the more add-ins there were, the more the bread would resemble a built-in sandwich. Which – yum. I admit that I had trouble keeping all of the tasty bits from falling out of the dough, but I’m not complaining about the excess.

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This was by far the best casatiello I’ve made. The bread was tender and light, but not greasy like I remembered from when I’ve made this before. We ate it on a roadtrip, and the muffin-size was perfect for a quick and easy on-the-road lunch. I have a few more casatiello rolls waiting in the freezer, and I think they’ll be great for a plane ride next week. These are my new favorite travel food.

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One year ago: Pain a l’Ancienne – another Reinhart recipe, and probably the one I make the most

Casatiello (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

I prefer this dough to be a little leaner, so I like to cut the fat in half. I also like both the sausage and the cheese chopped into about ¼-inch cubes.

½ cup (2.25 ounces) bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk, lukewarm

4 ounces Italian salami (or other similar meat)
3½ cups (16 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup coarsely shredded or grated provolone or other cheese

1. To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a bowl. Whisk in the milk to make a pancake-like batter. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. While the sponge is fermenting, dice the salami into small cubes and sauté it lightly in a frying pan to crisp it slightly.

3. Stir together the flour, salt, and sugar with a spoon. Add the eggs and the sponge until the ingredients form a coarse ball. If there is any loose flour, dribble in a small amount of water or milk to gather it into the dough. Mix for about 1 minute, then let rest for 10 minutes. Divide the butter in 4 pieces and work into dough, one piece at a time while mixing. After mixing about 4 minutes, the dough will change from sticky to tacky and eventually come off the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in more flour to make it do so.

4. When the dough is smooth, add the meat pieces and mix until they are evenly distributed. Then gently mix in the cheese until it too is evenly distributed. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

5. Ferment at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until the dough increases in size by at least 1½ times.

6. Remove the dough from the bowl and leave as 1 piece for 1 large loaf or divide into 2 pieces for smaller loaves. Bake in 1 large or 2 small loaf pans by misting the pans with spray oil, shaping the dough, and placing it in the pans. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover.

7. Proof for 60-90 minutes, or until the dough just reaches the top of the pans.

8. Place pans in a 350F oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until the center of the loaves registers 185-190F. The dough will be golden brown on top and on the sides, and the cheese will ooze out into crisp little brown pockets.

9. When the bread is done, remove the bread from the oven and from the pans and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

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brioche plum tart

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My opinion of this recipe might be biased based on the morning I was having.

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First, it was 4th of July, possibly my favorite holiday and the second day of a three-day weekend. I got up early, after getting plenty of sleep (rare on the weekends; usually I stay up late but can’t get myself to sleep in). I went for the best run of my entire life, and when I came home, not only was Dave already up, but he’d done all kinds of chores that we’d been putting off.

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I loved the tart. Are you surprised?

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Plus, it wasn’t hard to make. The brioche dough, which is on the less-rich side of brioches, is mixed and kneaded the day before. Once it’s chilled, it’s easy to stretch it out to the dimensions of the pan. There’s a bit of waiting, as it needs to rest after being stretched, which is the perfect opportunity to prepare the fruit, jam (I used a ginger orange marmalade that my friend sent me), nuts, and sugar that will fill it. Then it’s shaped and filled and needs time to rise before it’s baked, then cooled.

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It’s in the same category as, say, cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, but just a little less work and so much more elegant. The bread is fluffy and tender, the nuts toast in the oven, and the sugar, which seemed like an excessive amount when I first sprinkled it on, reduces to a glaze while the tart bakes. Even the plumcots I used, which tasted bland on their own, were delicious after their flavor concentrated during baking. I can’t wait to find an excuse to show this off to company.

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Denise chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie and she has posted the recipe.

One year ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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You know how you hear people talk about getting ready for bathing suit season? Um, yeah, I’m no good at that sort of thing. A month before I went on a vacation to the beach, I decided I should undertake a croissant project. A week before the trip, I made brioche. On the drive to the beach, we ate casatiello (a less rich brioche full of sausage and cheese bits). Maybe it’s maturity, or maybe it’s laziness, but I just don’t find myself as worked up about looking perfect as I used to. I’m healthy and that’ll do for now.

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I certainly could have made the brioche less rich, if I was worried about that. Peter Reinhart gives three brioche recipes – his rich man’s brioche has the most butter, and poor man’s has the least, with middle-class brioche in between. I was having trouble choosing and eventually went with “upper middle-class brioche”, by averaging the rich man’s (buttery and delicious) and the middle class (easier to work with) recipes.

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Brioche, with all of its extra butter and eggs, isn’t made too differently than any other type of bread. It starts with a sponge, because Reinhart loves his long fermentations. Then a lot of eggs are added – five eggs for the amount of flour that usually makes one loaf of sandwich bread. After the dry ingredients are mixed in and the dough starts to form, softened butter is slowly worked in. I used, I kid you not, almost one stick of butter per cup of flour.

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The rising process is different from the traditional bread method though, as the dough is immediately refrigerated, and needs to remain cold while it’s being shaped. It’s proofed at room temperature, then baked and slightly cooled. (For all my talk about not caring how I look in a bikini, I did go for a run while the rolls rose.)

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Oddly, I’m not sure I’d ever eaten brioche plain before. If I had, it wasn’t memorable. But this? Is memorable. I couldn’t get over how light they felt. All that butter is all-too-easily hidden. We ate the tender, delicious rolls plain for breakfast, and when we came home from strawberry picking in the afternoon, we toasted slices and smeared them with farmer’s market strawberry jam. I would definitely rather eat brioche than be a size smaller.

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One year ago: Blueberry Pie

Upper Middle-Class Brioche (very slightly adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 12-16 petite brioches à tête, 2-4 large  brioches à tête, or two 1-pound loaves

½ cup (2.25 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
½ cup (4 ounces) whole milk, lukewarm

5 large eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups (13.75 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) granulated sugar
1¼ teaspoons salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy, for egg wash

1. To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Stir in the milk until all of the flour is hydrated. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 30 minutes, or until the sponge rises and then falls when you tap the bowl.

2. To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and whisk (or beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment) until smooth. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add this mixture to the sponge and eggs and stir (or continue to mix with the paddle attachment on low speed for about 2 minutes) until all the ingredients are hydrated and evenly distributed. Let this mixture rest for about 5 minutes so that the gluten can begin to develop. Then, while mixing with a large spoon (or on medium speed with the paddle), gradually work in the butter, about one-quarter at a time, waiting until each addition of butter assimilates before adding more. This will take a few minutes. Continue mixing for about 6 more minutes, or until the dough is very well mixed. You will have to scrape down the bowl from time to time as the dough will cling to it. The dough will be very smooth.

3. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Transfer the dough to the sheet pan, spreading it to form a large, thick rectangle measuring about 6 inches by 8 inches. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the pan with plastic wrap or place it in a large food-grade plastic bag.

4. Immediately put the dough into the refrigerator and chill overnight, or for at least 4 hours.

5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape it while it is very cold. If it warms up or softens, return it to the refrigerator. If you are making brioches à tête, lightly oil or use spray oil to grease the fluted molds. Divide the dough into 12 to 16 portions for petites brioches à tête and 2 to 4 portions for larger shapes. (The size of each portion should correspond to the size of the molds; petites brioches à tête are typically 1.5 to 2 ounces each, while larger versions can range from 1 to 2 pounds. Whatever size you are making, the molds should only be half full with dough to allow for expansion during proofing.) Shape the petites brioches à tête into small balls and the larger ones into round loafs. Dust your hands with flour, and, using the edge of your hand, divide a ball of dough into a large and small ball by rolling down, but not quite all the way through, the dough. Place the large ball into the oiled brioche mold and use the tips of your fingers to indent the top and to round and center the smaller ball. Place the molds on a sheet pan after final shaping. If you are making loaves, grease two 8.5 by 4.5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 3 pieces and shape the dough into loaves.

6. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap, or slip the pan(s) into a food-grade plastic bag. Proof the dough until it nearly fills the molds or loaf pans, 1.5 to 2 hours for petites brioches à tête and longer for larger shapes. Gently brush the tops with egg wash. Cover the dough with plastic wrap that has been lightly misted with spray oil. Continue proofing for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until the dough fills the molds or pans.

7. Preheat the oven to 400F with the oven rack on the middle shelf for petites brioches à tête, or 350F for larger shapes.

8. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes for petites brioches à tête and 35 to 50 minutes for larger shapes. The internal temperature should register above 180F for the small ones and about 190F for the larger shapes. The bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and be golden brown.

9. Remove the brioches or loaves from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven and cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes for small brioches and 1 hour for larger shapes before serving.

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