Bread Batter

It’s mesmerizing, isn’t it?  Can you imagine what’s being whipped around in the mixer?  Pancake batter?  Icing for a cake?  Nope.  Bread dough.  This is the ultra-high hydration olive oil brioche from the book Tartine Bread.  I mixed this up on Saturday morning knowing it would be wet, but after pouring more and more liquids into the bowl with a pittance of flour I knew I’d be in trouble.  Just like you, I watched the mixer spin around and around.  Six to eight minutes—this is how long the recipe predicted it would take for the dough to “clear the sides of the bowl”.  After ten minutes I was concerned, after twelve I shut it down, gave it a rest, then mixed again.  After another five minutes I called it quits and added the olive oil until I had bread soup.  It rose like gangbusters but I can’t call it bread dough.  It was bread batter.

How do you handle such a dough?  With extreme cursing, lots of flour, and a dough scraper.  Even with all this you won’t be able to lift and fold this dough, bench rest it, form it into boules, or do anything other than let it puddle on the breadboard for a while until you let loose a mighty bellow and dump handfuls of the goop into loaf pans.  Once baked, it came out light and airy with a delicious flavor and a structure halfway between bread and pastry.  I highly recommend making brioche with olive oil instead of butter.  I highly recommend using a little orange blossom water to add an exotic Provençal aroma.  I do not recommend using Tartine’s recipe.  Why?

[facepalm, heavy sigh]

Bread dough at around 60% hydration is pretty stiff.  For non-bakers or those with math deficiency, imagine a bread recipe with 1000 grams of flour and 600 grams of water.  That’s 60% hydration.  75% is pliable and supple.  90% is like batter but it can be corralled into place.  100% is almost impossible.  How does Tartine’s recipe stack up?  Please sit down and have smelling salts at the ready:  129% hydration.  Now look, I understand using wet dough and lifting and folding instead of kneading, but that is utter madness.  I’ve been baking bread for a while and I was completely stymied by this dough.  I can’t understand why you can’t have a lower hydration dough, even at 100% and not get fantastic structure.

But few bread stories end sadly, and this one is no exception.  Here’s the final bread, light, sinful, and delicious.

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