Butternut Brioche, the "good enough" way

People who bake bread can have widely different approaches.

Take my friend, Bubba. Bubba is one of my online friends I've never actually met. I have a fair amount of those, which my husband thinks is hilarious. And kinda scary. Anyhoo, Bubba's recipe goes like this:

Ingredients: Flour, water, yeast, salt.
Directions: Mix, Rise, Knead, Form, Rise, Bake.
If it turns out badly, adds lots of butter and no one will notice.

At the other end of the spectrum is Susan, from one of my favorite food blogs, Wild Yeast. She is a scientist when it comes to baking bread. Her recipes are written in precise grams. She uses ingredients like vital wheat gluten (whatever that is). And she actually knows what Alton Brown means when he uses the term "baker's windowpane."

I fall somewhere between Bubba and Susan. I tried one of Susan's recipes, meaning to be as precise as she is, but quickly descended into half assedness. But even with my imperfect, imprecise ways, Susan's Butternut Brioche turned out pretty good! A little lopsided, but good enough that most people I know would say, "you actually made these?" And good enough, I think, to send to Susan's blog event, Yeastspotting.

I loved their pretty yellow color and the indentations made by my mini tart pans (a garage sale find that I finally got to use). The only downside was that I had hoped the squash flavor would be subtle, but they actually taste pretty squashy. So if you like the flavor of butternut squash, these would make a great addition to your fall or Thanksgiving table.

Her recipe -- and what I actually did -- is below. I converted it to cups for fellow Americans who, like me, are more comfortable with cups than grams (even though grams are the most precise way to go).

Butternut Brioche
A somewhat bastardized version of Susan's recipe on Wild Yeast

Yield: two 9-inch round loaves, or two 8-inch round loaves plus 10 rolls, or any combination

Desired Dough Temperature: 78 degrees F (I didn't notice this until after I had made the dough and it was rising. As a result, I didn't pay much attention to the temperature of the ingredients. Oopsies. Do as I say, not as I do. Read the explanation on her blog.)

Dough Ingredients:
840 g flour (roughly 5 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour)
60 grams egg yolks (yolks of 3 large eggs)
100 g whole eggs (2 large eggs)
34 g milk (about 2 Tablespoons)
480 g baked butternut squash puree (I halved it, took out the seeds, and baked it until soft. I pureed in the food processor and refrigerated. Nuked about 1 minute when I took out of the fridge so it wasn't cold. And I forgot to convert it to cups.)
1.5 g (generous 1/2 teaspoon) cinnamon
0.8 g (1/4 teaspoon) nutmeg
0.8 g (scant 1/2 teaspoon) ginger
10 g (3 1/4 teaspoon) instant yeast (Here's where I'm like Susan -- I love instant yeast. If you live in Rochester, get it at Niblack Foods in the regional market in Henrietta.)
14 g (2-1/3 t.) salt
water as needed (I didn’t use any)
126 g brown sugar (a heaping 1/3 cup, packed)
226 g butter (2 sticks), cut into half-inch cubes, softened (mine were still pretty cold)

Topping Ingredients:
one egg
finely chopped pecans (optional - I did not use)

Place flour, eggs and egg yolks, milk, squash puree, spices, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix at low speed for about 4 minutes. It is normal for the dough to be quite stiff at this point, but if the dough is too dry to come together, add just enough water to allow it to do so.

With the mixer in medium speed, add the brown sugar very slowly, in 5 or 6 increments. Mix for about two minutes following each addition. (If you add the sugar too quickly, mixing will take longer.)

I didn't notice the next step so I didn't do it. If I did notice it, I probably wouldn't know how to do it anyway. So do it if you understand it.: Continue to mix in medium speed until the gluten reaches full development, i.e., you can stretch a paper thin, translucent “windowpane” from the dough.

Turn the mixer back to low speed and add the butter all at once. Mix for a minute in low speed, then turn the mixer to medium speed and mix until the butter is completely incorporated. You should have a dough that is soft and satiny, stretchy but elastic. (Mine was also pretty sticky.)

Transfer the dough to a buttered, covered container. Ferment at warm room temperature (about 76F) for one hour, then refrigerate overnight (8 – 12 hours).

Divide the dough into 36 pieces of approximately 50 grams each. (I actually found it handy to be able to weigh the dough balls.) Squeeze each piece to get out any air bubbles. Form each into a tight ball by placing it on the counter with your cupped hand loosely around it, and moving your hand in a tight circle several times. Put in oiled brioche or tart tins. (You can also do a large round loaf -- if you'd like to, check out Susan's recipe.)

Brush the dough lightly with egg wash made from one beaten egg. Cover and proof for about an hour and 45 minutes at warm room temperature.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 380F.

Before baking, brush the dough again with egg wash. Sprinkle with chopped pecans if you like (I did some with and some without).

Bake at 380F for 15-20 minutes, until the brioche has reached an internal temperature (this is a great way to know if they're done. Use an instant-read thermometer) of at least 190F. The tops are meant to become a deep, dark chestnut brown, but if they become too dark you can lay a piece of parchment paper loosely over the top of the loaf after 25 minutes or so. (I didn't need the parchment. Mine looked like this.)

Cool loaves in their pans for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.