A Tried, Tested and True Brioche Recipe

brioche nanterre strawberry rhubarb jam

Or two actually, but let’s not rush there.

Updating images of old posts has been on my list forever. I’ve come to a place with my photography where it’s getting somewhat embarrassing to face my early works… I try to focus on the progress but still, I realize those images are not good. Not that I’m super satisfied with what I make now, clearly there is room for improvement but I’ll stop the moaning right there. Confidence comes with practice, there’s really no other way of going about it.

Changing visuals for this Easter challah made me recognise it’s not just the images – recipes evolve too. And while I totally vouch for that one, I’ve been using an updated version lately and it’s time to share!

Brioche is a French pastry, an enriched bread with high egg and butter content. It has a lovely, rich and tender crumb making it ideal for many, many things. I use this type of dough not only when making a braided challah for the holiday table, but for all the sweet rolls, buns, knots, braids and babkas on my repertoire as well.

The ingredients are pretty basic, the method is not complicated either but admittedly there is one tricky bit, and that’s proofing. That is where brioche-making can go south. You have to pay close attention to achieve the perfect rise, but – good news! – I’ve found a way around having to babysit your dough.

It’s the overnight method, putting the controlled environment of your fridge to good use. Ever since I’ve first made the dough this way, I never gone back to the same-day process again and I guess that says it all.

But why was I teasing two recipes? It’s simple. First, there’s the base recipe to bear every sweet filling you can think of. But when I don’t fill the dough, I want the absolute sweetest, most delicate texture I can create (hint: even more sugar and fat).

When you master this dough, the possibilities become endless. All you need to do is plan a night ahead.

Overnight Brioche Dough for Filling

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Rich and tender French pastry, the basis for your sweet baking

Ingredients

500 g AP flour

1 packet active dry yeast

1 tsp salt

50 g sugar

1 egg + 1 yolk + 1 egg for eggwash (if recipe calls for it)

300 ml warm milk

50 g unsalted butter, softened

Directions

  1. Assemble dough the night before you want to bake. Sieve the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of your mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.
  2. Add sugar to warm milk (make sure milk isn’t hot, it could kill the yeast), stir to dissolve.
  3. Make a well in the flour, add egg, yolk and milk mixture. Set machine to low.
  4. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium and gradually add butter, leaving time between each addition for butter and dough to fully combine.
  5. Continue mixing on medium until a shiny, elastic ball of dough is formed, not sticking to the bowl.
  6. Transfer dough to a lightly floured, clean bowl, cover with cling foil. Let ferment on the counter for 1 h (45 min if your kitchen is warm).
  7. Transfer to the fridge overnight. The next morning dough should be double its original size.
  8. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll, divide, fill, braid, etc. according to your recipe. Let rest 30 min. before transferring to oven.
  9. Bake until golden, 30-45 min. Enjoy!

Overnight Brioche Dough

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Rich and tender French pastry, sweet enough without filling and perfect for braiding.

Ingredients

500 g AP flour

1 packet active dry yeast

1 tsp salt

15 g vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

45 g sugar (60 g if using vanilla extract)

1 egg + 1 yolk + 1 egg for eggwash, beaten

200 ml milk

100 ml heavy cream

50 g unsalted butter, softened

Directions

  1. Assemble dough the night before you want to bake. Sieve the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of your mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.
  2. Mix milk with cream, add sugar and vanilla sugar. If you can’t get vanilla sugar, use 60 g sugar and add 1 tsp vanilla extract. Slightly warm mixture in microwave, making sure milk is not hot (it could kill the yeast). Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Make a well in the flour, add egg, yolk and milk mixture. Set machine on low.
  4. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium and gradually add butter, leaving time between each addition for butter and dough to fully combine. Continue mixing on medium until a shiny, elastic ball of dough is formed, not sticking to the bowl.
  5. Transfer dough to a lightly floured, clean bowl, cover with cling foil. Let ferment on the counter for 1 h (45 min if your kitchen is warm).
  6. Transfer to the fridge overnight. The next morning dough should be double its original size.
  7. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface and braid. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, carefully transfer dough to tray. Wash with egg.
  8. Let rise 30 min, wash with egg again.
  9. Transfer to oven, bake until golden (30-45 min). Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Advertisements

The Science of Jam Making

apricot jam

Yes, the last snows have just melted and any fresh fruit is still a while away, but being prepared never hurt nobody, right? Read on so you’ll be well-educated and ready when all those lovely local strawberries hit the stands of your farmers market!

Up until recently, I thought jam making was kind of an occult science. Weird, because I watched my grandmother and mother make batch after batch after batch as I was growing up, and it seemed to be the most straightforward thing in the world. Still, I was intimidated to try myself because I could only think of the ways it could go wrong – what if my jam spoils and I food-poison my family?

I don’t think either granny or my mom ever worried about their jar disinfecting practices or pectin percentages, but I am admittedly a bit of a nerd. So if you too are curious about how jam making works, geek out with me for a bit and learn the simple science behind this preserving method. It’s gonna be fun!

First of all, why bother with jam making at all? Two reasons. First, although the quality of commercial jams are improving, those are still just the shadows of a good homemade jam, often containing more coloring, preservatives and artificial flavors than actual fruit. And also because buying jam gives no way near the satisfaction of making it yourself!

Once I made my first batch, there was no stopping me. Pictured above is a vanilla-cardamom apricot preserve from last summer. I have dozens of flavor variations in a notebook that I want to try, and the list is growing.

So what is jam?

The wonderful jams of summers past are actually creative exercises in chemistry. Today, jam generally refers to a spreadable, chunky-textured mix made from the juice and flesh of fruit. A clever balance of pectins, sugar, and acid turns the cooked fruit into our favorite topping for toast.

The fruit

The choice of fruit for jam-making is simply endless. Always try to use seasonal fruit to get the best flavour. Remove leaves and twigs, wash if needed, remove cores and/or stones.

The equipment

You’ll need a wide-mouthed pan big enough that the fruit does not reach more than halfway up the side. Use one with a heavy bottom for even heat distribution – otherwise the jam will catch and burn. Also, a wooden preserving spoon (it has a flat head that helps keep the mixture moving and stops it sticking to the bottom of the pan), a ladle, a funnel, jars, and optionally a food thermometer.

The chemistry

To achieve a perfectly set jam, a number of factors need to be just right. The three key elements that go into jam making are sugar, pectin, and acids. Understanding the chemistry behind why jam sets can also help you identify and fix problems.

The sugar

Sugar imparts a preservative effect: binding water molecules to itself reduces the amount of water available in the jam, to the point at which it is too low for microbial growth. Binding the water molecules also frees up the pectin chains so they can form their network.

Finished jams have a sugar content of roughly 60%. To achieve this, recipes comprise mostly equal weights of fruit and sugar. While you can totally play with this 1:1 ratio, be aware that too much fruit and you may lose the preserving effect, while too much sugar and the jam will be the consistency of set honey, losing the color and aroma of the fruit.

The pectin

Pectins are long, chain-like sugar molecules found in the skins and cores of fruit. These compounds are the ones that turn the wet, sloppy fruit sauce into the semi-rigid, elastic substance of our dreams, a texture referred to as a gel.

Through boiling, pectin is released from the fruit and at one point forms a mesh structure that holds the liquid together. As the pectin content of different fruits varies, some may require an added dose in the form of commercially packed pectin or a pectin-rich other fruit. See this chart for specific pectin contents.

The acid

High acidity makes your jam an unpleasant place for micro organisms to breed, helping to extend the shelf life. Acids also help the pectin branches to bond. Fruits naturally contain acids (the most well-known is citric acid), but often this won’t be enough to reach the desired pH. For this reason, lemon juice or powdered forms of citric acid is added. As a rough guide, the juice of a whole lemon (30-40 ml) will be needed for low acid fruits, half a lemon will be enough for medium acid fruits, and you won’t need any for high acid fruits. In general, fruits with high pectin will also have high acidity.

The process

Heat the fruits slowly, without sugar, until a very gentle boil is reached, then cook until just tender. The heat will break down the structure of the fruit, release the moisture and cause the whole fruit to soften. Add the sugar (it may foam up, so be careful). Allow the sugar to dissolve over a low heat then bring to the boil. If you want larger fruit pieces, avoid stirring at this point. Not only does the texture change by boiling, the water content is also reduced, increasing the concentration of sugar and fruit components. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the setting point is reached.

How do I know it’s ready?

There are simple ways of telling when the pectin network has formed and you are ready to pour the jam out. Get the thermometer: if the temperature is around 104-105°C, the sugar content is high enough to allow the pectin branches to join. A direct measurement can also tell the doneness: pour a small blob of jam on a saucer, let cool in the fridge and then push with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it means the pectin network has solidified and setting point has been reached.

You can now take the jam off the heat. Note that if you don’t boil it long enough the pectin network will not form properly and you’ll end up with a sloppy liquid. Boil it too long though and you risk having a too thick preserve, losing the fresh flavour and color.

Time to can

Allow the jam to cool and thicken for about 10 minutes before pouring into prepared jars (read how to disinfect jars and lids here). Don’t leave it any longer, as lukewarm jam is a breeding ground for mildew spores present in the air. Each jar should be topped up to just less than a centimetre below the surface. Adjust lids, process, than cool jars.

Don’t forget to test your seals before labeling and putting jars away in your pantry! Gently press the middle of the lids with a finger – if the lid springs up when you release your finger, it’s not sealed properly. No need to throw these out, just keep refrigerated and consume shortly.

Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place away from direct sunlight and accidental freezing. Once a bottle of jam is opened, micro organisms have been reintroduced. The same applies as with unsealed jars: keep in the fridge and consume shortly.

Hope all this makes sense and you’ll try your hand at jam making too! Let me know!

Love,

Fruzsi

 

Illegally Delicious Plum Preserves Infused with Tonka Bean

plums in paper bag

I was raving about plums almost exactly a year ago and guess what, I’m still a huge fan of this slightly overlooked stone fruit. Since they are in season, you can get them on the cheap now and that’s exactly what I did.

The result: a new addition to my rapidly expanding jam collection. This time, it’s a thick plum preserve with no added sugar and an extra layer of flavor thanks to shavings of a firm, dark brown and somewhat wrinkly seed resembling a woody raisin: the tonka bean.

I haven’t even heard about this spice until my mother-in-law gave me a few pieces recently. Have you? This is what I’ve found out since:

This haute cuisine ingredient is actually the seed of the cumaru or kumaru tree, a plant native to Central America and Northern South America.

tonka beans

Tonka beans have been banned by the FDA for sale in the U.S. as a food item because they contain coumarin, a chemical that is believed to cause liver problems. In extreme concentrations, that is: at least 30 entire tonka beans would need to be eaten to approach levels reported as toxic, when a single bean is enough to flavor 50 servings of food.

Coumarin has since been found to occur naturally in cinnamon, lavender, licorice and other commonly eaten plants too by the way, which are, to my knowledge, still freely available. Seems to me as a rather overreaching ban, no?

“Dreaded” coumarin is responsible for the seed’s unique, complex and very pleasant odor coveted by the perfume industry for centuries: a rich, heady, fruity aroma somewhat similar to vanilla. Just the twist my humble plums needed! Lucky it’s legal here.

I wanted this jam to be not sweet. I’d like to try it with meat (duck and game come to mind instantly) and use it in desserts that call for some tartness. When you don’t add sugar, you need to increase the cooking time a great deal to ensure your jam won’t spoil. And that’s where a crock pot comes into play: the low and slow temps and the nonstick pan allows you not to stand next to the batch all day.

It’s hard to tell the exact time it takes for the plums to break down completely and thicken, but be advised it’s not a quick process. I turned the slow cooker on early on a Saturday morning, and it was already getting dark outside when I sealed the jars. It’s time intensive, but not labour intensive in return.

The washed, pitted and halved plums go in, the machine is set on low with the lid on. Every now and then you check on it to make sure it’s simmering slowly and not catching. As the preserve starts to thicken, you need to stir more frequently. Approaching the end of cooking time, grate a tonka bean with a microplane, as you would with nutmeg, to infuse the jam with the exotic notes. After preserves reach desired consistency, transfer to sterile jars and seal.

Love,

Fruzsi

Plums in paper bag hoto by Katrín Björk

Tonka beans photo by Rebecka G. Sendroiu

Making Jam Then and Now

flatlay jam

Strawberry season is at its peak, and all the other fruits will soon start arriving to your farmers market. Do you make jam?

By the way, what is jam? If you think this question is plain silly, you were not paying attention to the news. The heated debate over EU regulations concerning preserves, marmalade, fruit-spreads, jams and jellies is far from over, some describing those rules as an example of unnecessary red tape and “gold-plating” of European Union directives.

After reading numerous articles and even a guideline leaflet on the subject, I still haven’t the faintest idea how my grandmother’s apricot jam would be correctly labeled under European law, were it ever to be sold commercially.

See, this is because our lekvár (pron. lehk-waar) is quite unique to this region. To try illustrate the difference: jams are gelled to a quite clear consistency, fruit pieces are still identifiable. Lekvár on the other hand takes longer to make, is homogenous and thick like a puree.

You must have noticed the worldwide revolution going on in the home canning and preserving front lately. I’m also trying my hands at making small batch jams, something I honestly never thought I’d do. But let’s take a short trip down memory lane to see how we got here.

What used to be necessary frugality for our grandparents in order to save as much food as possible has turned into a creative activity, yet not so long ago during the 90’s and early aughts, granny’s jams were far from trendy.

Post-soviet era Hungary, social gap growing swiftly. I was a kid then, and I used to look at those 25 oz. jars neatly labeled and lined up on the shelves of the village pantry – I know how bad this sounds – as a sign of not being well-off. My classmates ate jams bought from the store (which now also carried Kellog’s, I mean wow!) in pretty little hexagon bottles, their relatives not bothering with at-home preserving any more.

Little did I know (and care) at the time that most of those products have never seen actual fruit; all I remember is finding our homemade apricot and plum jams uncool. Well, times have definitely changed! I’ve tried many different flavors since, and as much I liked most of them, I’ve established that none are a match to the classics when it comes to crepes (What Nutella? Please…) or carnival donuts.

Anyway. The jam making frenzy of today is different from our ancestors’ ways in many aspects. First of all, fortunately it’s not about what we’re going to eat during a long winter any more. It’s rather a culinary hobby and the result of the demand to know what’s in our food.

I respect tradition, but I also like to create new and unique flavors in my kitchen through experimenting with fruit combinations and adding spices. Standing-next-to-the-stove-stirring-all-day jam making and 1:1 fruit to sugar ratios are a thing of the past. Modern jams are made quicker thanks to natural gelling agents with less sugar needed. Shorter cooking times also preserve more of the goodness of the fruit, result in better color and a more intense flavor.

So far I’ve cooked up a festive plum jam, a cardamom and vanilla flavored apricot jam, a strawberry and raspberry jam with ginger and a nicely tart vanilla-infused triple berry (raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant) jam. Next up, strawberries with a hint of lavender. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Last summer I did a blog series on the principles of home canning based on USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. If you feel like jumping on the bandwagon, feel free to refer back to my posts on food safety, sterilizing jars, ensuring the quality of your canned goods, and the steps of filling the jar properly.

Love,

Fruzsi

‘Sweet jar raspberry jelly homemade’ image by mrsiraphol / Freepik

Healthy (Kinda) Jam Shortbread Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Update: since I’ve first posted this recipe, I’ve further cut down on the fat, subbed AP flour one-to-one for whole-wheat, and used granulated birch sugar instead of brown sugar.

You know the ‘How to have a bikini body’ meme right? I’m positive we shouldn’t stress so much about our physical appearances (at least lot less than the media would suggest anyway), but I also don’t want to be a hypocrite.

I do watch what I eat and work out regularly, not so much as to fit any mould but to respect my body by treating it right. At the same time I also allow myself the occasional indulgence which I think is necessary for balance in life, and those treats are the things I like to post about.

Today’s recipe is an in-between in the sense that it’s most definitely a dessert, but it’s way less bad for you and that beach bod of yours than the average sweet. That’s what I call a win-win! Read on for my healthier take on the classic jam shortbread bars.

Shortbread is one part white sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. Here I have:

  • substituted 2/3 of the flour with oats, nuts and protein powder
  • swapped the butter for margarine and used less than 40% of the initial amount
  • cut white sugar completely
  • the jam was a naturally sweet, no-sugar-added (diabetic) fig spread

And believe it or not after all this messing around, it’s still amazing! Let’s see why altering the original recipe is good for you:

White flour is heavily processed, the most nutritional aspects of the grain like fiber, vitamins and minerals are stripped away. The downsides to it are an overall lack of nutrients, highly refined carbs and also the gluten if you have sensitivities.

Oats on the other hand are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. They are packed with important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are high in fiber and protein compared to other grains. Nearly all of the carbs in oats come from complex starches, which you digest slowly. Also, they are naturally gluten-free.

Nuts were walnuts in my case, but the recipe would work with almonds, pecans, hazelnuts or pistachios as well, so knock yourself out! They are nutritional powerhouses: complete packages of protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

I’ve been drinking protein shakes post-workout and just lately started replacing some of the flour with protein powder in baked goods. My favorite whey protein is gluten, lactose and also sugar-free, plus the vanilla flavor complements most sweets well. Work with a 1:3 conversion (that is 1/3 cup of protein powder for every 1 cup of flour).

Figs are a great source of fibre and they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well. They contain prebiotics, which help support the good bacteria in your gut. Moreover, their potassium content helps regulate the amount of sugar which is absorbed into your body. The natural sugar content of figs also allows you to cut further down on the amount of sweetener used in recipes. I made this with a sugar-free, thick plum preserve as well, if you want a more fall-ish taste.

On to the old debate: butter or margarine, as fats and calories in them are about the same. The cold hard truth is, the healthiest option would be to skip both. The problem with butter lies in saturated fat and cholesterol, while the main concern with margarine is trans fats, the result of hydrogenation. Experts suggest consuming monounsaturated fats whenever possible (olive oil uncooked or vegetable oil for cooking). When baking, use a hard stick of trans-fat-free margarine in place of butter but whichever you select, limit your overall consumption.

What I also love about this healthier take is the texture; how crunchy-crumbly it is thanks to the oats and nuts. Frankly, there’s still fructose (fruit sugar) and a fair amount of fat in these bars, but they are incomparable to the average jam shortbread square in nutritional value. If you want a guilt-free dessert, it won’t get any better than this!

And as with everything else, portion size is key!

Healthy Fig Crumble Bars

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Healthier, crunchy-crumbly squares filled with a yummy sugar-free fig spread.

Ingredients

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, fine

½ cup walnuts

1 cup whole-wheat flour

½ cup vanilla protein powder

1/4 cup granulated birch sugar (or other sugar alternative)

150 g (10 tbsp) cold margarine, cut to cubes

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp baking powder

1 ½ cup diabetic fig preserves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F), line a 22 by 22 cm (9×9”) baking dish with aluminium foil, covering the sides as well.
  2. In a food processor, pulse nuts until chopped but not too fine.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, mix oats, nuts, flour, protein powder, sugar, salt and baking powder for a few seconds until combined.
  4. Add margarine cubes one by one and mix until a coarse crumb of the size of peas forms and margarine is evenly distributed.
  5. With the back of a spoon, push 2/3 of the crumb mixture in bottom of tray. Bake until golden, about 20 min.
  6. Remove from the oven, spread preserves evenly on crust. Crumble remaining streusel on top.
  7. Transfer back to oven and bake until topping is golden, about 30 min.
  8. Remove from oven, let cool before slicing. Enjoy!

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

Festive Plum Preserves

festive plum preserves title

Plums are in season in the late summer and early autumn weeks. Right now that is, and I think they are unfairly underrated. This fruit is not getting the recognition it deserves, and that needs to change!

An incredibly nutritional powerhouse, plums are rich in fibers and antioxidants, high in potassium that helps control blood pressure, fortified with vitamins A, B and C, and have a low glycemic index to help control blood sugar.

Brought to Europe by Roman legions from Asia-Minor, this undemanding plant is grown throughout Hungary. And yet, all we seem to be making from it nowadays is szilvapálinka (seel-vah-pal-in-kah, a strong fruit spirit) whereas not so long ago, thousands of cauldrons were bubbling with another traditional plum product this time of the year.

The almost black, very thick plum jam distinct of this region was made with no added sugar on an open fire for 10-20 hours, requiring constant attention and quite the physique to stir. Of course, very few people want to make such labour-intensive things lately, but back in the day especially in poor rural territories you could not possibly let any food go to waste.

The original, hand-made variety is not easy to come by. However if you stumble across it – let it be a farmer’s market or a distant slightly masochist kinswoman – make sure to put your hands on a jar or two! It’s cooked for so long and to such a thick consistency that the jam keeps for years even without high vacuum (used to be stored in clay jugs simply covered with paper).

I am lucky to have folks living in the countryside who provide us with such traditional goodies every now and then, so I get to be the modernist when it comes to preserves. I don’t think it’s cheating to use a slow cooker instead of wood and matches, and I’m not willing to process truckloads of produce either, but rather mix different fruits and play with spices. Although my jam making is still in its infancy, the latest batch I cooked up is something I need to tell you guys about.

festive plum preserves prepared fruit

Bought really beautiful plums for such a sweet price last week that I decided to try a knockoff version of the spicy plum jam that was given to us by my soon-to-be mother-in-law last year. Although I did not have the recipe, I’d say the concept is heavily borrowed from her (credit where credit is due). And.just.wow.

Everyone knows cinnamon and plums are BFFs, but this jam is in a whole different league. Ginger-effing-bread spice! That’s right. The house smelled like Christmas on an August afternoon while I was making it, hence the adverb festive. My long time fav is Kotányi’s spice mix – good news that they went international so you can probably buy it locally. Or you can always mix your own.

festive plum preserves seasoned

This preserve was ready in a fraction of the time required for the old-fashioned variety (sugar and some natural preservative needs to be added in return). I’d love to tell you an exact time, but it depends… so I just say this: look for the jellying point to determine when your preserves are done.

festive plum preserves cooking

You can use a food thermometer (105 °C or 220 °F is the number you’re looking for), or do this simple test: if syrup forms two drops that flow together and a sheet hangs off the edge of your spoon, it will set nicely.

festive plum preserves on bread

I’ll give you the recipe for 1 kg/2.2 lbs fruit (net weight), feel free to multiply.

Festive Plum Preserves

Ingredients

1 kg plums, washed, pitted, halved (or quartered if they are big)

30 dkg sugar

1 tbsp gingerbread spice

1 tbsp citric acid

Directions

  1. Put plums, sugar, citric acid and spice mix in slow cooker, set machine on medium. Fruit will start releasing juices.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce to slow setting and simmer, scraping bottom occasionally to avoid sticking.
  3. When preserves reach jellying point, turn slow cooker off and transfer preserves to jars.
  4. Clean rims, adjust lids, and process in a water bath for 15 min.
  5. Let jars cool to room temperature, label and date.

Do you like plums? Is it a common fruit where you’re from? How do you eat them where you live?

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*