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I'm making brioche, which are turning out OK, but not at the softness/airiness that I want. I've been trying to research what exactly I need to do to improve the crumb structure to get to my desired texture.

I thought I needed a lot of gluten. I've been using bread flour that is 14% protein. I've also been doing everything I can to make sure the gluten develops well: I add the sugar and salt after most of my gluten has developed (as sugar and salt inhibit gluten development), and I add the fat last (as fat coating flour apparently also inhibits gluten development). I've even went as fast as separating my eggs so that I can add the egg whites early in the process (since it's mostly water), then add egg yolks last (e.g. along with my other fat).

However, some articles I've been reading seem to suggest that too much gluten is the culprit to not-so-soft crumb. Should I be using flour with a lower protein content? Should I not care what order I add my ingredients? Should I replace the sugar with glucose, corn syrup, or honey since they apparently retain more moisture? Should I just add more yeast? Or do something else?

Any suggestions are highly appreciated. I do enjoy learning about the technical and scientific aspects of baking, so including those in answers would be even better.

  • It would help if you added the exact recipe you're using, temperatures, times, etc. – Luciano Dec 12 '18 at 10:38
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You certainly don't need that much gluten for a brioche. A brioche is in fact somewhere between bread and cake, and very different in crumb from high gluten breads. 14% is not even typical bread flour, it is probably bagel flour. It will give you a gummy, resilient crumb even if you manage to bake large holes into it, while for the brioche you want cottony softness with just a hint of springiness so it is not like chomping down on а low quality sheet cake.

First, the amount of gluten in the flour. I have successfully made great brioche style bread (kozunak) with AP flour in the 8-10% range. Kozunak is supposed to have well-developed gluten, which in my experience cannot be substituted by using a flour with high gluten content. It is achieved simply by long kneading by hand, using a good stretch-and-fold for optimal alignment. This is less needed in a French brioche, so you can knead by machine.

Salt does not inhibit gluten, on the contrary it makes it tougher. And sugar is probably difficult to incorporate later and still have it dissolve well. So I would say that you should follow a standard recipe instead of tinkering with the process, so you will probably end up dissolving the sugar in the milk, or foaming it with the eggs, and adding the salt from the beginning. No need for separating the eggs either. You can even use a yolk only recipe for maximum tenderness, but note that the combination of high fat and pure yolk results in a very squishy bread that kinda disappears in the mouth cotton candy style. Start with a good recipe and then experiment with the ratio of egg to yolk from there, if you want to go in that direction.

For extra tenderness, you can try using lard or other solid fats instead of butter, but you will be changing the aroma too, getting something which is still a very tasty bread, but not a classic brioche. Using a liquid sweetener is also possible, but not entirely necessary.

In short, the big change you have to make is to indeed use the proper flour, which would be a very finely milled AP flour. That would overshadow the effect of tweaks in process or ingredient substitution. Once you have gotten the baseline right, you can go into these tweaks to get your recipe to perfection.

  • I've changed the flour to regular AP flour. Using the exact same recipe (I measure everything by weight), the dough seems to have come out wetter/stickier. I'm doing a cold rise right now. Will see what happens in 12 hours. If this results in being too difficult to shape, I assume I need to reduce my sugar, eggs, and/or butter? – CookingNewbie Dec 13 '18 at 11:05
  • BTW, I developed enough gluten that the dough passed the window pane test. However, is gluten the enemy of soft, airy bread? Should I not get to window pane stage? Should I use cake flour instead? – CookingNewbie Dec 13 '18 at 11:19
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    I totally agree, all this dorking with the recipe is just making it impossible to have any idea what is causing the problem. The first step would be to follow the recipe, than tweak one variable at a time if the results were not suitable. This is the real scientific method, not just assuming exotic ingredients and a process completely different – George M Dec 14 '18 at 0:29
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    @CookingNewbie Gluten is not "the enemy". If you want a certain texture, you need just the right amount of gluten, not more and not less. Window pane stage is rarely wrong for breads. I don't know why you are doing a cold rise, that's making your bread less brioche like, unless you used such extreme amounts of butter that you have to chill to make it workable, but even then, you only do it for an hour or so until it is firmer, not for rising. And in general, George M is right here: you are doing very strange things. The right way to do it is to take a good recipe, and follow it to the T... – rumtscho Dec 14 '18 at 8:16
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    ... without any changes. If it fails really badly, try another, preferably one that looks somewhat different. Only if the second and third recipe fail, you should consider that you are maybe bringing in some systematic error without realizing it, and try to hunt it down. But randomly changing all kinds of ingredients and steps at once is practically guaranteed to give you bad results without a chance for troubleshooting. – rumtscho Dec 14 '18 at 8:21

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