Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Homemade Brioche Bread

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When you hear the word "brioche", what comes to mind? Eggs? French? Needless complication? How about sticky buns?

For me, brioche only became interesting when I discovered it could be used to make delicious sticky buns. I didn't care that it was French. I didn't care about the delicate eggy flavor. I didn't care about the history. Honestly, I just wanted sticky buns.

In fact, my quest for brioche bread began 10 months ago with a post called Waiting for Brioche which was inspired earlier that same day while flipping through recipe cards unpacked from boxes. Boxes from the long move from Ohio to Virginia. Boxes whose contents had been packed in a frenzy and promptly forgotten. So as I pulled random recipe cards from a random box, a tempting picture of sticky buns caught my eye. And quite randomly, I developed an instant craving.

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While staring at glorious sticky goodness on the recipe card, I concluded one should not bake sticky buns using a random recipe card from a random box packed in a frenzy of relocation nightmares. One should really understand the history, the complexity, and the tradition behind a recipe before boldly embracing something so delicious as sticky buns.

Thus I turned to Google and Google in turn pointed me to Epicurious, All-Recipes, and Food Network. Yet as I browsed recipes and ingredients, flitting from one site to the next in a vain search for perfection, I felt a growing panic. Was there no definitive recipe for sticky buns? Could no one save me from a random recipe card?

In desperation, I turned to the sticky buns Wiki - a fairly concise summary on the definition of what constitutes a sticky bun - but what about ingredients? Or traditional processes? Then my search led me to a FoodBuzz article documenting the history of sticky buns - but no ingredients, no methods. Fie on you, Google! Fie on my utter internet-dependency!

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Shaking my fist at Google, I turned to Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible for answers. She has a Sticky Caramel Buns recipe tucked happily into the "Brioche" section of her expansive tome and suddenly my hope for success burned bright - I chucked the original recipe card aside and began skimming The Bread Bible for instruction in ernest.

Guess what happened next?

I abandoned The Bread Bible after my first sticky bun attempt. The dough was far too sticky (I ended up kneading in over a cup of flour just so I could roll out the dough), I was terribly confused by the instructions, and I fairly chafed against the printed text. To be fair, I suspect my problems were self-inflected as I obviously did not pay careful attention to Rose's recipe, nor did I have the first clue about brioche. Sticky buns, dangnamit! Sticky buns!

After several more mediocre attempts using my own concocted recipe for sticky buns, I finally conceded the importance of first mastering brioche before attempting to transform the dough into something as spectacular as carmel covered cinnamon pinwheels. I needed to study techniques, ingredients, and history. I needed to restrain my gnawing hunger for sweet stickiness and return to Google yet again, this time in search of brioche.

If you're not familiar with brioche, perhaps you will recognize this infamous quote, "Let them eat cake!" According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a great princess once uttered these words in reference to the bread we now call brioche. This complex bread is also distantly related to German Jewish hallah bread (more commonly known as challah), although hallah uses less butter and does not require an overnight chill. And since we're on the topic of butter, brioche is a ridiculously rich bread with more butter and eggs than any bread rightly deserves. It is also unreasonably complicated with 5 proofing (rise) cycles and a 6 hour chill-time - just to develop flavor.

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But despite the complexity and inherent unhealthiness of brioche, it is also one of the most versatile bread doughs. A loaf of brioche can be sliced to create divine grilled cheese sandwiches or incredibly flavorful French toast. Just as easily, it can be cubed for delicious bread pudding, toasted as a simple base for berries and ice cream, or even simply spread with Nutella for a decadent treat.

Brioche dough is perhaps even more versatile than the baked loaves. It's perfect for crispy/flaky cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. It's easily transformed into incredible raisin bread. You can pick up special tins and bake beautiful single-serving fluted brioche. Or you could even use this dough to create savory treats such as herb and tomato pinwheels.

Brioche is nothing like white bread, nothing like biscuit dough, and nothing like pastry dough. It is so unique in flavor and texture, it feels like cheating to swap it out for an easier replacement dough. So despite the demanding nature this bread, I now find myself making brioche dough over and over and over.

But brioche is a bread for special occasions - not everyday loving. This bread is incredibly unhealthy. Period. The good news is, you will automatically curb your craving for recipes using brioche because it takes SOOOO long to make. Maybe you will bake a loaf when guests visit at Christmas and enjoy leftovers as French toast on Christmas morning. Or maybe you will mix up a batch of dough for sticky buns when your mother-in-law visits. Or perhaps bake a batch of cinnamon rolls as a house-warming treat for your new neighbors. Just please remember - brioche is not everyday sandwich bread.

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I am also submitting this recipe to Caroline and Ros' AlphaBakes baking challenge alternately hosted by the Caroline Makes blog and The More Than Occasional Baker blog (Ros the Baking Addict is the host this month). The concept of the challenge is quite simple - the hosts randomly select a letter of the alphabet and everyone bakes something prominently featuring the selected letter. This month the letter was "B" and of course the B in this recipe is "Brioche"! The challenge is open to everyone and it's great fun to see what others come up with, so be sure to check out AlphaBakes and send in your submission.


I am also submitting this post to Girlichef's wonderful Bake Your Own Bread challenge. Please visit Girlichef's blog to learn more about this bread-tastic monthly roundup.

BYOB Badge

My recipe adheres to the basic principles of brioche (high ratio of eggs and butter, slow addition of butter, long chill time) but I've tried to keep the recipe simple and use ingredients I always have in my kitchen. A lot of recipes use instant yeast, but I use active dry yeast in all of my other bread recipes, so the same is true for brioche. Some recipes use bread flour but I prefer cheaper (and a bit lighter) all purpose flour. And some brioche recipes have a crazy number of eggs (6+) or a crazy amount of butter (3/4 lb or more) - I've tried to balance these ingredients to maintain flavor without going hog-wild.

I've also decided to keep things simple and stick with a 2-loaf recipe with a quick-form method. All you will need is 2 bread pans - unless you want to buy fancy fluted pans. You can also bake just one loaf with half of the dough and save the second half for sticky buns or raisin bread - I do this quite often. The best part? This recipe is easy - as brioche recipes go - and it's reliable. I've been testing this same recipe since December and consistently arriving at success.

And now that I've shared my brioche recipe, guess what recipes you can expect soon? Hmmm... Raisin bread, sticky buns and cinnamon rolls anyone?

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A few disclosures about brioche before attempting your first loaf:
  • Brioche is all about flavor and texture - the flavor of the butter, the flavor of the eggs, the flavor of the yeast and the buttery soft springy texture under the light crispy crust. And every step in the recipe works to build these flavors and textures. So if you don't have time to make this recipe, don't cheat yourself by attempting to rush or shorten the cycles - make something else
     
  • You really need a stand mixer with a paddle attachment for this recipe. I'm sure an experienced baker could pull this bread together by hand, but the high ratio of butter makes this bread tricky to mix together by hand because the warmth of your palms will melt the butter in the dough and you'll end up with a greasy mess
      
  • Do yourself a favor and make the dough a day in advance. It will simplify your day, allow adequate time for the dough to develop flavor, and the well-chilled dough will be much easier to work with the next day
     
  • You will need to be available for approximately 3 1/2 hours to make this dough before the final overnight chill. Most of those 3 1/2 hours will be spent waiting for the dough to proof/chill, so haul out the vacuum or scrub bucket and put the time to good use
     
  • An instant-read thermometer makes life easier with brioche because you can eliminate guess-work when baking the bread. If the internal temperature of the baked bread is lower than 180F, it needs to bake longer
I attempt to keep all of my recipes more healthful by eliminating transfats, artificial dyes and flavorings, preservatives, and pre-prepared shortcuts. However, this recipe still contains a LOT of fat and plenty of carbs and is NOT a health-conscious food. Out of respect and love for your own body (and for those you cook for), please exercise restraint when consuming brioche!

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Homemade Brioche Bread
By JavelinWarrior
Prep Time: 7 hr 30 min  Bake Time: 25-30 min  Oven Temp: 375-475℉

Ingredients

Sponge
  • 2/3 cup warm skim milk
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Dough
  • 2 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs, very cold
  • 1 cup (16 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
Egg Wash
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons skim milk

Technique

  1. Add sponge ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on low speed until combined; scrape down the bowl and whisk for another 2 minutes on low speed, then set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients for the dough

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  2. In a separate bowl, sift together remaining flour and yeast, then add sugar and salt. Whisk dry ingredients together and gently sprinkle mixture over top of the sponge. Allow to rest for 45 minutes in a warm place. Bring butter out of fridge to warm (butter should soften to cool room temperature)

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  3. Fit mixer with dough hook and on medium-low speed add one egg at a time to the ingredients from step 2; once eggs are fully incorporated, raise mixer speed to medium and beat dough for 8 minutes until the dough is smooth yet sticks to side of bowl

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  4. Scrape down the sides of bowl; with the mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, waiting between each addition until dough has completely absorbed the butter before adding more (wait about 30-45 seconds between each addition of butter)

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  5. Once all the butter has been incorporated, turn off mixer and scrape dough into a large oiled bowl and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and a towel. Set aside and let rise for 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size

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  6. Chill dough in refrigerator for 1 hour, then deflate the dough and fold in thirds; chill for at least 4 hours (for best flavor, chill overnight)

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  7. Lightly flour a board and grease two rectangular loaf pans with lard or shortening. Turn-out well-chilled dough onto prepared board and divide in half; form each half of dough into a log and cut each log into thirds, then cut each third into thirds (total of 18 pieces of dough, 9 per loaf)

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  8. Roll each piece of dough between your palms to form 18 balls; place six balls of dough into the bottom of each pan (2 rows of 3) and evenly space 3 balls of dough on top of the balls of dough in the bottom of the pans

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  9. Brush egg-wash over the tops of the dough, making sure every bit of dough is sealed with egg wash. Place bread pans in a warm location to rise until loaves have doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours); Preheat oven to 475℉ during last 30 minutes of rise-time

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  10. Just before baking, brush both loaves with egg wash again. Reduce oven temperature to 425℉ and bake loaves for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375℉ and bake for another 15 minutes or until internal temperature of the bread reaches 180℉ degrees

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  11. Remove bread pans from oven and let bread rest in pans for 10 minutes before turning out loaves; allow to cool completely before slicing

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Tips
  • Since butter plays such a critical role in brioche, it really helps if it's the right temperature when you add it to the dough. I have indicated in the recipe when to pull the butter out of the refrigerator, but it really depends on the warmth of your kitchen the day you make the bread. If your kitchen is quite warm (maybe you've been using the oven), the butter will soften faster. You want the butter to be softened, but not mushy - it should hold the shape of your finger when firmly pressed without mashing

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  • Sifting the flour with the yeast helps to prevent the yeast from every coming in direct contact with the salt (which kills yeast on contact)

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  • This dough has so much life - it will continue to rise and grow in the fridge for a couple of hours, even after you punch it down and fold in thirds (per the recipe instructions). I recommend deflating the dough once again before going to bed and folding in thirds again, but it's not absolutely necessary
     
  • When forming the loaves, work with 1/2 of the dough at a time, keeping the second half of the dough wrapped in plastic and chilled in the refrigerator. Although it doesn't take that long to roll out the balls, brioche dough warms rapidly and will quickly become sticky and more difficult to work with

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  • I use my oven to proof the dough during the final rise before baking. I place my cast iron skillet on the bottom rack of the oven, preheat the oven to the lowest setting, and then shut off the oven and allow it to cool until I can comfortably grip the handle of the cast iron pan without burning my palm. I let the bread rise in this warm, stable environment, flipping on the oven for 15 seconds or so if the oven cools too much during the rise cycle
     
  • The first egg wash is to prevent the dough from drying out during the final rise - no need to cover the loaves with greased plastic wrap. The second egg wash ensures a beautiful golden crust on the outside of the bread. You can skip this final egg wash if you prefer

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  • You really do need to let the bread rest in the loaf pans before turning them out - this gives the internal structure of the bread a chance to set-up as the bread cools and the pan provides initial support for the sides and bottom of the bread. After turning out the loaves, you may want to cool them on one side and then the other during the first 5 minutes after leaving the pan

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41 comments:

  1. Yum! I love brioche. This loaf looks scrumptious!

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    1. Thank you, Russell - that's quite a compliment and sometimes I'm shocked myself at how beautiful a little eggwash and high bake-temp can make a loaf of bread ;)

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  2. I am not much of a baker yet I love bread, any kinds of good bread. I admire of you for baking brioche bread. It looks a lot of work, but I know it's so worth it and so DELICIOUS!!!!

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    1. When I first starting making brioche, I really was annoyed at how time-consuming the process was, but as I got more familiar with the process, I discovered it really was worth the effort and somehow it seemed like less work...

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  3. oh man i love brioche, this looks great! definitely want to try this recipe soon!

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    1. Thanks so much and I hope you have the chance - let me know how it turns out!

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  4. I know that brioche dough can be used in various ways, but I really like it best in a loaf like this. Kudos to your efforts to seek out the history as well as the best recipe for this. The bread does look fantastic! Perfecting the basic element first is the smart way to go as well. I mean, if the cupcake is bad-there really is no point to move on to the icing. Glad you perfected the bread which gets you closer to you squelching that sticky bun craving!

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    1. The good news is, now that I have a brioche recipe to work with, I can focus on those sticky buns in ernest - which means lots and lots of test batches ;) I just need someone to unload all these buns onto...

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  5. Oh. My. Gosh. Those sticky buns look incredible, and your brioche looks perfect! How I adore both..it's such a shame it is so not good for you…but that's probably why it tastes so good :) Great step by step photos, you always do such a great job with those!

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    1. Thanks Jessica - step by step photos are a pain when I'm in the middle of baking or cooking, but I find they help me later if I forget how to make a recipe ;)

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  6. Oh, I adore brioche...and it is darn sticky dough! And just look at your gorgeous loaves and sticky buns...perfectly done!!! Bravo, my friend!

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    1. Thank you so much, Lizzy - it means a great deal to me!

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  7. OMG--I loved your story of the quest for sticky buns! Lol. Brioche is amazing. For sure. End o' story. Great job at successfully making some!

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story, Kayle - sometimes I rambling does have a point ;) And thanks for the kind words...

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  8. Your brioche looks buttery golden and perfect! As for that picture with the caramel sauce smothered on top of it, it is drool making! :O

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    1. Thank you Lorraine - that means a lot to me! I'm so glad I could make you drool =)

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  9. Your brioche looks absolutley perfect! I love the step by step photos - very helpfull!

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    1. I'm so glad you found it the step by step photos helpful - and thanks for your kind words...

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  10. Wow! you've got 2 real huge brioches!! They look really good. I like brioche very much, but as you say, I am afraid I can't make them very often...

    It's great to see how much you have learnt about brioche after your previous attempts :) Also, how you started to appreciate the egg and butter flavor that you didn't think about at the first moment.

    Those sticky buns look amazing. I must confess I have never tried them. Can you believe it? There are not very common in Spain (Europe in general)... I baked cinnamon buns years ago, they were delicious.

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    1. Never tried sticky buns?! I love them, although I'm still not happy with mine just yet. But then I'm sure there's all kinds of Spanish food I've never tried or tasted... I'm so happy you like the post and your comment put a big smile on my face :)

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  11. Absolutely delicious!! Brioche has to be my favourite food ever :-) I've spoken to you on Twitter (sicilyconnect) but have only just come across your blog - I'll be sure to keep coming back now! Ciao.

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    1. Awww, thank you Debra - and I don't think I could call brioche my favorite food, but I certainly enjoy it...

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  12. Fantastic tutorial...and amazing looking loaves of brioche you've created! So funny that it all started with the inherent need to make sticky buns (which also look sinfully delicious, btw). And the bread studded with raisins (?) or are they blueberries!? Either way...I'm going to eat it all up with my eyes since I have no business making any more brioche (or at least eating any more) for a least a few more months. Delicious, thanks so much for sharing this great post :D

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    1. I'm so glad you liked the post - that means a great deal to me coming from you, Heather! And as much as I love the raisin bread and sticky buns, I'm still not happy with my recipes. More testing needed ;)

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  13. Wow JW, you really do your homework. Great post on baking brioche. I've eaten it aplenty, but never tried making it, although I did make a Challah on a bread course once. Your bread looks fantastic and I'm really looking forward to those cinnamon buns.

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    1. I have yet to make Challah but I'd imagine the process wouldn't be too terribly different - perhaps Challah is a bit more blessedly simple due to reduced proofing time and less butter... And I think my cinnamon rolls are almost ready for sharing, so stay tuned ;)

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  14. Wow, I am impressed. That is amazing that you baked brioche at home. You have done an outstanding job. It looks fantastic! I love baking but am a little intimidated to bake bread. You have really inspired me and motivated me . I love the amount of research you did before you baked this.
    Great job Javelin!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Asmita. I must admit, if I'd known how complex brioche was at the start, I probably wouldn't have tried it. However, I'm glad I did and really once you get the hang of it, it's mostly just a lot of waiting ;)

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  15. Great tutorial! Brioche is one of my favorite breads ever and hwat wonderful ways to use it. I would love that raisin bread!

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    1. Thank you so much - and once I get the raisin bread right, I'll post the recipe...

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  16. Wow! Your brioche looks perfectly baked! I am not much of a baker but this is something I would love to try when I find the time.

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    1. Aww, thank you Tina. And be brave - this bread is time-consuming, but definitely doable if you're motivated (especially for goodies like sticky buns)...

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  17. Wow I bow to you brioche master! I've never made brioche or my own bread for that matter. Thanks for an informative post - I think you should be your own Tuesday Tutor on this :) How was the grilled cheese on brioche? That slice with nutella looks sooo good - I want to reach into the screen and grab it! Thanks for taking part in AlphaBakes.

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    1. lol I'm no master, but thanks for the kind words. And the grilled cheese was delicious - but then how can you go wrong with cheese and bread and meltiness ;) It was another fun month for AlphaBakes!

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  18. This bread looks beautiful and delicious! I need to try making brioche one day when I have more time!

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    1. Thanks Amy - it is time consuming, but definitely worth it. And now that I've started, I can't seem to stop ;)

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  19. I worked at a Jewish bakery/deli in college and I remember the huge amount of work that went into the challah, but wow, was it worth it. You are so right though, it's worth the effort on special occasions! And the raisin bread looks fantastic, can't wait for the recipe!

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    1. Thanks Jody - I'm getting closer with the raisin bread, just need to work on the technique a bit. And I do want to attempt challah at some point, especially since the two breads are similar...

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  20. Lovely bakes! I also made Brioche for AlphaBakes! I particularly like the look of the Maple Nut Sticky Buns though...that's my kind of bake! :-)

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    1. I've never made that exact recipe of Maple Nut Sticky Buns - although it was that card that set me off on my quest for brioche ;)

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