Finishing Brioche, Savarin and Lemon Curd Tart

Week Four.

I thought we were getting into some good stuff before, but Week Four promised not to disappoint. Between finishing the brioche dough, making savarins and lemon curd tarts and having a discussion on meringues, there was barely a spare moment.

Brioche…the recipe continues. [bree OHsh] I left you hanging at the end of week three’s post, so I think you may be anxious to know how the brioche story ends. At that point, the teams had made the dough, it went through its first rise ( at room temperature), we knocked it down and put it in for its second rise (in the refrigerator). Here’s where we picked it up. The brioche dough had one more room temperature rise to complete in the pan before it could be baked. In order to get it in the pan, though, we, of course, needed to learn the proper way to work with and form brioche dough. We would be working the brioche for not only one type of pan, but two: individual brioches and brioche loaves. But that meant all the more brioche to eat or take home, so I wasn’t going to complain.

The following are the general steps for getting brioche ready for the pan. Once the brioche dough has completed its second rise, it needs to be deflated again by knocking it down (punching it in the nose and beating it about its head a couple of times). Weigh out an amount of dough equal to the volume of the mold. In the class’s case, each person made two individual brioches (about two ounces each) and two small loaves (about seven ounces each). This is where the process diverged.

An individual brioche is called “brioche à tête” [bree OHsh ah tet] (or just “à tête” if you’re in the know, which you now are). Tête in French means head, so brioche à tête means brioche with a head. You will understand why it is called this in just a bit.

Once the brioche dough has been weighed out into the two-ish ounce size piece, the piece is deflated again by smooshing it down (smooshing is the technical pastry term), and then rolled into a ball. The dough ball is then formed into a snowperson (Chef’s word, not mine). To make the snowperson, karate chop the ball at about one-fourth of its width to create a head, sort of sawing the dough back and forth to get a distinct head. Smoosh down the rest of the dough – the body if you will – and poke a hole in the center. Stick the head through the body to create the “tête” and then put the whole creation in the small brioche mold (pan). And that is why it is called brioche à tête.

No, Chef did not have us moonlighting on some strange bachelor party cake, this is the brioche à tête prior to going into the pan. Notice the “head” and the “body”?

And this is the brioche à tête in the pan. It actually makes more sense once the brioche is baked…sort of.

(Editor’s note: In past posts, I have included a fair amount of detail and pictures of the finished product. The idea, then, was to keep the posts shorter by saving the additional details and pictures for the recipes (which I am behind on posting, I know). However, as the class gets into more complicated recipes and techniques, I have decided to post additional pictures to underscore the nuances of the techniques I am learning. I hope you don’t mind.)

Brioche loaves. Once the dough has been weighed to the appropriate amount – seven-ish ounces in this case – it is deflated (see above about punching it and beating it) and rolled into a log. Cut the log into four equal-sized pieces, then roll each piece into a ball. Smoosh down each ball, then roll the balls into four logs. The length of each log should be the same as the width of the loaf pan, and the width of each log should be approximately the same as the other logs. Line the logs up next to each other in the pan such that the four logs fill the pan, but are not overlapping.

Once the brioche à têtes and the loaves are in the pan, they must complete the final rise, at room temperature, for approximately two hours or until double in size. Bake the dough. Brioche is manna from heaven when eaten when freshly baked, but it can be frozen as well. If freezing it for later use, freeze it immediately after removing it from the pan because it can dry out quickly. Note: I wrapped up in plastic wrap and foil one of my two loaves made in class, and ate it the next day for toast (ahem) and it was lovely. I haven’t eaten the frozen one, yet, so no report on that. But you can see how these beauties look hot out of the oven.


(The head is a bit difficult to see in this picture on the left. I should have taken the picture from the side so you can see it sticking up. Just Google it, alright? The picture on the right is the loaves, obviously.)

Ready for something sweet? Savarin is just what you need then. [sah vuh rin] Savarin is more or less brioche dough that is baked in a ring mold at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, and then baked at 200 degrees until the biscuits – as Chef called them – become dry as bricks. The reason the biscuits need to be dry is because they are subsequently soaked in a boiling light syrup, brushed with apricot glaze, given a tablespoon of rum and then topped with lemon curd and creme chantilly. Talk about sweet. Good Lord, a glass of water or milk, please. That’s all I’m giving you on savarin because there really isn’t much more to say. Okay, fine, I’ll say this: I didn’t love it because it was a bit too sweet for my taste. I did eat all of mine during class, but still. And now I think I’m grumpy thinking about those extra calories I consumed for something I didn’t love, so I care not to discuss this any longer. (How could I have known, though, never having had a savarin before?)

Let’s move on to something I did, and do, like: meringue, lemon curd and lemon curd tart topped with meringue. Have you ever had an honest-to-God meringue or lemon curd or lemon curd tart covered in meringue? It really should be required eating in school (but only a little bit – America’s kids are getting too pudgy. I mean, there’s an obesity epidemic.).

While ordinarily a lemon curd tart is built from the bottom up, I would like to start from the top and work down: meringue [muh rang]. Meringue is egg whites and sugar. Egg whites…and…sugar. Sugar and egg whites. Who doesn’t have these ingredients in his or her pantry right at this moment? And yet, who actually makes meringue? Not one single person I know makes meringue (or that I know of anyway). Why is this? It is because there is a conspiracy to keep pastry chefs and pastry cookbooks in business, so the secret of meringue is well-kept. That is my theory. And because people from the south are still mad at people up north. Southern cooks learn how to make meringue before they can walk or talk. It’s true. I just wish they would send this kind of information north. We are all one country now, you know.

Now that the secret is out, I have another secret for you. There are actually three types of meringue: French, Swiss and Italian. Chef told us a funny to help us remember the difference. Much like the personalities of the countries, French meringue is cold, Swiss meringue is warm (they were neutral, after all, in the war) and Italian meringue is hot. We all thought that was hilarious in class. 

French meringue is considered cold because the sugar and egg whites are cold when making the meringue. This is the meringue that is often used to make meringue cookies.

With Swiss meringue, the sugar is melted and the egg whites are room temperature or cold. But when combined together, the meringue becomes warm and must be cooled over an ice bath before using. Swiss meringue is the meringue type generally used for decorating.

When making Italian meringue, the egg whites are whipped, the sugar is cooked with a little bit of water to a soft boil and then mixed with the egg whites. Italian meringue is the safest and strongest meringue, and it is used in buttercreams and bavarians (more on that in coming weeks when class covers those items).

Next in the lemon curd tart assembly is the lemon curd. Lemon curd is simply lemon juice and zest, butter, sugar and eggs, which results in the perfect combination of sweet and tart. There are a few steps to achieve this result, but not many and nothing complicated. About 20 minutes until the first taste, and about 21 minutes until I was wishing I hadn’t had that first taste because it was a bit difficult to stop. Warning:lemon curd can last in the refrigerator for a month or can be frozen. I can have lemon curd any time I want it. This could be dangerous.

Finally pulling it all together, to make a lemon curd tart, roll out a sucree shell. I’ve gone over this enough. It is time to fly on your own (or check the recipe when it’s posted). Blind bake the sucree shell (about 20 minutes for a small shell, about 35 minutes for a large one), let it cool. Fill the cooled sucree shell with the lemon curd. Artfully decorate it with some Swiss meringue, and then use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue a bit for an added touch. Present to guests,spouse, neighbors, in-laws…they will think differently about you (in a good way).


(Lemon curd tarts made by Chef and by and Chef. Guess which one is mine. Okay, mine’s on the left…I wish. Isn’t his beautiful? I’ll get there.)

Amazing, oui?

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