Herb-‘Nilla Brown Butter Brioche

Before I say anything else on the topic of brioche, I want to say that, although I did in fact make this batch with my new stand mixer, YOU CAN make this by hand!  When I wanted to do it long ago before I had a stand mixer, I looked all over the web and didn’t really see directions for doing it this way.  I saw everyone saying you HAD to have a stand mixer, or else it was impossible.  It’s not.  I guarantee it.  It’s not easy – boy, is it not easy.  But it’s possible, I’ve done it.  You can use a hand mixer until it starts to stress the motor – you don’t want to break it.  After you turn your hand mixer off, go ahead and use a wooden spoon (or your hands) until you reach the desired consistency of the dough.

Here’s what I discovered after I made this, my third batch of brioche: I don’t really like brioche all that much.  I realize that’s going to sound sacrilegious to all of my fellow bread-and-butter lovers, but it’s true.  I actually find brioche too rich for me to eat anything but thin slices.  I guess I just like my butter ON my bread more than IN my bread.

During my “can I make puff pastry from scratch” experiment awhile back, I wondered whether it would be possible to make a puff pastry with brown butter.  It occurred to me that perhaps if I melted the butter, browned it, and then allowed it to reharden, I might be able to use it just the same as fresh butter.  Since I was planning to make brioche, I considered that the same thing might be possible.  And, as I was going to be melting butter, why not infuse it with some herbs?  And heck, I have a few vanilla beans around here, let’s throw one of those in for aromatics and sweetness.

So… was it amazing, toothsome, delicious?  Was browning the butter worth it?  Honestly… I would have to say, probably not really.  It made the entire process take longer, about a half hour longer, and there are other ways of flavoring your brioche besides infusing the butter – say, adding fresh chopped herbs or vanilla seeds.  I suppose if you’re committed to a pure, pale yellow dough, it would be worth it.  But, I didn’t taste much of a browned-butter flavor.  Then again, I have kind of felt that brown butter was overrated and overly rich, so perhaps I’m not the right person to ask.

Otherwise, I apologize profusely that I didn’t take photos, and plan to take some during the entire process next time I make brioche so newbies can see how it’s supposed to look.  The recipe is a totally serviceable (read: awesome), easy, and tasty version of brioche, so I recommend, if not the brown butter part.

Herb-‘Nilla Brown Butter Brioche (makes 2 loaves)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. unsalted butter (preferably European, organic)
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise down the middle
  • 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 c. warm milk, 100-110 degrees
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (I used Baker’s Choice from the bulk bins at Whole Foods)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg, beaten, or cream, for glaze
  • flaky or coarse sea salt for sprinkling, your choice

Directions:

  1. Place butter in a small saucepan, and add thyme, rosemary, and vanilla bean.  Heat over medium, and cook until butter boils.  Continue cooking until milk solids and butter are brown and the mixture is fragrant.  From solid to browned, this took me approximately 10-15 minutes.  Remove from heat, strain into a bowl, and freeze for about 15-20 minutes (or refrigerate until firm).
  2. Rinse the inside of your stand mixer bowl with hot water so that your milk will stay warm to prime the yeast.  Add warm milk and yeast to the mixer bowl, and stir gently.  Add a pinch of sugar and wait 5-10 minutes, or until foamy.
  3. Add sugar, flour, salt, and eggs to mixer bowl.  Mix on low speed until it comes together.  Rest dough for a few minutes, while you prepare the butter.
  4. If you chose to freeze your butter, around this time, it should be getting firm, so you can remove it and let it set at room temperature until you are ready to use it.  Mine was solid on the top and sides and still melted in the middle, but by stirring it, it became soft throughout and I left it out at room temperature.
  5. Turn your mixer to medium-high, and beat for 15 minutes, stopping the mixer to rest the motor and the dough, and to scrape the sides of the bowl, every 5 minutes.  The motor of my stand mixer got pretty warm, and I just rested it briefly to be on the safe side.  My mixer also bounced about a little bit, as this is pretty thick dough.  Just keep an eye on it and you should be fine.  By the end of the second 5 minutes, the dough should be wrapped around the dough hook and slapping the sides of the bowl, which should be relatively clean.  If your dough still seems too loose and sticky, add a little bit of flour.
  6. Be sure your butter has softened, and give it a quick stir.  Turn your mixer to medium speed, and while it beats your dough, add butter a tablespoon or so at a time, waiting until dough has somewhat incorporated before adding the next tablespoon.  My dough split into two sections, one wrapped around the mixer and one near the bottom of the bowl, and much of the butter was slicked in the gap between the two until I was finished adding butter.
  7. When all the butter has been added, increase the speed by a notch and beat about 5 minutes, or until sides of bowl are relatively clean and the dough is all one ball wrapped around the dough hook again.  You are looking for smooth, shiny, slightly sticky dough.
  8. Transfer to a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warmish place until it has doubled in size.  I let mine rise for 3 full hours.  Deflate by lifting up the edges of the dough.  Recover, and place in the refrigerator for 6-24 hours.
  9. Separate into two loaves, or individual rolls.  Place in their appropriate pans, cover, and allow to rise another 2 or 3 hours, until they have doubled in size once more.  Brush with egg or cream, and sprinkle salt over the top.
  10. Preheat oven to 375, and bake for 15-45 minutes, depending on the size of your bread, and your individual oven’s variations.  When loaves/rolls are done, they should be a medium-dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.
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