Something only we know – Our favourite cinnamon shortbreads

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It’s still very much winter here in Skellefteå. In fact, we’ve had a blizzard over the weekend; snow, at times twirling around with the winds; and at other times, falling almost horizontally. A western under the snow. Not unlike the Dyonisos album that lullabied my teenage years.

Oh love me, Oh kiss me,
I’m lying on western under the snow
You’re the sky of my heart
So come to me and take off your clouds

But there’s been something different in the air. It might have started on a Monday, almost a month ago.

There are the birds. And a sun warmer and brighter than it’s been for months. There are the morning walks by the river. And the temperatures that have risen from -26°C to -10°C.

Today, we opened our windows as the sun rose – the crisp air filled our flat while we were safely nested under the duvet. A make-believe spring of some kind. Something only we know; or perhaps, something only we make up.

Not much has happened in our kitchen. Dinners made of glass noodle salad with barely-warm roasted salmon. A few nights made of crispy rice and red wine. And Kalle’s wonderful breakfasts; the latest edition involving tomato sauce with plenty of onion and garlic, golden-brown bacon, eggs – with a yolk runny as it should be, perhaps some beans too. But most importantly, the råg or vete-kakor [soft polar bread] that he cuts into four and fry in the rendered bacon fat until almost burnt.
You’d also find a glass-jarful of biscuits on the counter. Sometimes, drömmar or syltkakor; but mostly our favourite cinnamon shortbreads.

And just like we were in love with a crispy cinnamon biscuit recipe last year (which you should try too as they’re on the opposite spectrum of the shortbreads I’m showing you today), 2016 has been about kanelkakor.

best cinnamon shortbread

Our favourite cinnamon shortbreads
Adapted from Leila Lindholm’s A Piece of Cake.

In Swedish, these shortbreads are called spröda kanelkakor; literally brittle cinnamon biscuits. And they are just that. Crisp and golden. With cinnamon just so. And when bitten, they’ll crumble into tiny morsels.

I like to bake them until golden-brown, which would be considered an offense by any Swedish mormor [grand-mother]. Yes, here, most biscuits are likely to be baked into the palest shade of gold; when the base just starts to brown around the edge.
But no matter how far north I now live, you can’t take the French in me away from deep-caramel tones.

The original recipe calls for a tablespoon of water, which I of course replaced with vanilla extract. Yes, vanilla never is a bad idea. And yes, you can forever-quote me on that.

The dough itself comes together in a minute or so. And perhaps, that’s why we’ve baked these shortbreads more than any other over the winter.
And although the recipe rightfully suggests to leave the dough wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge for at least an hour before baking, I haven’t found it necessary when I used cold butter. However, if your kitchen temperature exceeds 18°C, I’d recommend going ahead with this step to make sure your shortbreads won’t spread too much.

best cinnamon shortbread

Our favourite cinnamon shortbreads

Makes 12 larges biscuits or 16 smaller ones.

For the dough
225 g plain flour
75 g icing sugar
60 g potato starch
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
225 g cold butter
, cut into 0.5cm cubes

For the eggwash
one egg, beaten

For the cinnamon sugar
Combine:
100 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon

Line two baking trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 175°C (165°C for a fan-assisted oven).

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on low speed until it forms a dough.

Roll the dough into a log and cut it into either 12 or 16 even slices, depending on the size you want your shortbreads to be.

Roll each slice into a ball, then flatten it onto the prepared baking tray. Repeat with the remaining slices.
Press a fork into each shortbread, then brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 to 24 minutes, or until golden-brown. Allow to cool down completely before placing them into an airtight box. These will keep for at least a week; although they’ve never lasted this long in our home.

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A brioche study, recipe: the “generic” brioche (control)

Analysing the impact of the egg-to-milk ratio in brioche formulas

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The formula

The recipe shown below will make two 500g loaves. I chose, however, to make half a batch, yielding to a single loaf, which is something I’ll carry on doing over the next experiments, as the kneading time of a half-recipe takes longer when done in a stand-mixer; more on that to come in part two: the method (ingredient list, pastry chef tips and techniques on brioche).

Brioche #1: Control formula

quantity ingredientBAKERS %
1038gtotal weight
500gflour100%
70gcaster sugar14%
15gyeast3%
8gsalt2%
150gmilk30%
150gegg30%
145gbutter29%

Notes

I haven’t finished writing about the method and techniques associated with rich doughs, so in the meantime, please refer to this article for detailed instructions on how to make brioche.

I ended up making the control brioche twice: after I baked brioche 2, I was amazed by the differences in between the two batches. So much in fact, that I thought something had gone wrong with the control brioche (I mostly suspected slow yeast or underproofing). So I went ahead and made the control brioche again, only to find out the differences were the result of the formula substitutions; and in no way related to the other ingredients or the method.

The difference in crumb colour on the pictures above is due to lighting (natural versus halogen) as I’ve just gotten an industrial halogen lamp so I would be able to take pictures at night – also known as 2pm here, hehe – and I’m still trying to figure it out.

Results

The oven-spring isn’t tremendous.

The crust is very thin and soft. As the loaf cools down, it wrinkles.

The crumb is light and soft, with a slight moistness to it. It’s has a beautiful texture and a lovely chew, almost reminiscent of a doughnut.

This “generic” brioche turned out amazing. I fell in love with its crumb and soft crust. The loaf stayed beautifully soft on the second day too; as we topped it with a thick layer of hjortronsylt [cloudberry jam].
I’ll definitely be making it again and again.

More on a brioche study

A brioche study, part one: the approach
A brioche study, part two: the method (ingredient list, pastry chef tips and techniques on brioche)
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #1, the control
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #2, the almost Chavot-brioche
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #3, the pain au lait
A brioche study, recipe: brioches #4 and #5
A brioche study, part three: impact of the egg-to-milk ratio in rich doughs.
A brioche study, ressources: Brioche in literature.

Explore the feature: A brioche study and follow our discoveries on instagram: #BRIOCHESTUDY.

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A brioche study, part one: the approach

Analysing the impact of the egg-to-milk ratio in brioche formulas

In the first part of my forever-unfinished feature How to be a pastry chef? – the checklist, I asked you some questions about brioche with the aim to develop your curiosity and drive you to research important techniques. It went along the following lines:

Do you know brioche dough is an emulsion? Do you treat it as such? Can you knead it by hand or in a mixer without over-heating it? And which temperature should the butter be?

But although these points are fundamental in a technical approach, I’ve since had been absorbed by some other questions that belong to the food science realm.

How do the milk and eggs respectively affect the texture of a brioche? Which kind of flour yield to the softest crumb? And how much butter is too much?

As with any mixture experiment, we have to study each of these variables – liquids ratio, flour properties, butter quantity – separately in order to develop an understanding on how they each have an impact on the finished product.
And for no other reason than it has obsessed me for years, I’ve chosen to start by examining the effect of the egg-to-milk ratio in rich doughs.

Eggs or milk?

If you ask Eric Chavot, a true brioche – or as he would say, une vraie brioche – is made using eggs as the only source of hydration.
And while I’m certain many would agree, the subject of brioche – from its etymology to its formula – has always been a controversial one.

eggs

In my kitchen, I tend to use a combination of both eggs and milk; with more or less of each depending on the texture I want to achieve. A knowledge that’s really more empirical than anything; and perhaps, relies a bit too much on wishful thinking.
So today, we will stop counting shooting stars and start analysing percentages. It will take five different loaves. Over two kilograms of flour and perhaps a litre or two of milk. A box of eggs. Most likely two. And hopefully, a few worthy notes that will improve my understanding of rich doughs.

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The approach

1. Develop a control formula that will act as a reference point during the experiment.
2. Define the range into which the variables will fluctuate.
3. Establish the method: ingredients (on both quantitative and qualitative – brand, temperature – points of view), process (order of incorporation, kneading time/speed, proofing time/temperature, shaping, baking time/temperature)
4. Make successive batches of brioches, each with a different ratio of egg to milk. All other variables (see method above) remain unchanged.
5. Record the organoleptic properties of each batch:
– texture (our main focus point): thickness/hardness of the crust, crumb appearance and mouthfeel.
– colour: darkness of the crust, tint of the crumb.
– flavour and smell.
I haven’t decided yet on whether or not to include objective qualities – such as: crust thickness in mm, loaf size, or even weight of the baked brioche – to measure the response. Yes, even though this is a matter of mixture design, I mostly want to document the results in a comprehensive yet accessible and home-practicable way.
6. Analyse the results.

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Developing the control formula

I could have used my favourite stand-alone brioche recipe, the one pictured above and which I told you about in Paris Pastry Club and the one I made tropéziennes with.
But out of all my rich dough recipes, it stands out by its high hydration and high fat quantity.

I thus wanted to create a generic rich dough recipe. To do this, I analysed my favourite recipes, ranging from brioche to burger buns, from challah to kanelbullar.
On the table below, you can see the ones that I consider the more relevant, with BRIOCHE 2 being my usual, the one I just mentioned.

Brioches: bakers percentage

 bullarbrioche 1brioche 2brioche 3burger bunsbrioche 4
flour100%100%100%100%100%100%
hydration64%58%65%60%64%60%
eggs38%19%55%
60%13%20%
milk26%38%11%0%51%40%
fat28%15%58%40%19%16%
sugar13%19%11%12%6%20%

Note: the hydration values, although inaccurate since milk and eggs don’t hydrate the dough fully (respectively at 87% and 73%), could have also been labelled “liquids”. I did however choose to go with “hydration” for ease of understanding and recipe development.

I then went ahead and calculated an average formula as seen on the table below. And by multiplying the bakers percentages, I got the recipe for two brioche loaves.
As you can notice, some of the measurements would be quite difficult to put into practice, so I used this “average recipe” as a guideline.

Brioches: average

 BAKERS %for two 500g loaves 
flour100%500 g
hydration60%
fat29%143 g
sugar14%65 g
eggs26%128 g
milk34%172 g

The percentages I chose to keep are as such:
– flour 100%
– caster sugar 14%
– milk 30%
– egg 30%
– butter 29%

I then added 3% of yeast and 2% of salt, and our control formula was done.

Brioche #1: Control formula

quantity ingredientBAKERS %
1038gtotal weight
500gflour100%
70gcaster sugar14%
15gyeast3%
8gsalt2%
150gmilk30%
150gegg30%
145gbutter29%

This control formula is a perfect starting point as its egg-to-milk ratio is 50%-50%, which will allow us to really analyse its impact on the dough and on the finished brioche.

The mixture design

I have in mind to make 5 different “brioche” recipes. Yes, “brioche” in quotes, as our experiment will range from actual brioche to pain au lait [literally, milk bread].

 1: controlbrioche 2brioche 3brioche 4brioche 5
milk50%0%100%33%67%
egg50%100%0%67%33%

Here are the different formulas, each associated with a number, which is used as both a name and a rank. We will start with the control brioche 1, move onto brioche 2, and so on.
As you can see above, we’re starting with the most extreme formulas as we might be able to stop our experiment after brioche 3, in the eventuality that the results will have given us enough information about the impact of the egg-to-milk ratio in the dough.
I will, however, most likely still decide to conduct brioche 4 and 5, with my personal recipe collection in mind.

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Ressources

– A clear explanation of mixture design.
– A few notes on brioche.
– A five-minute brioche?

To come

A brioche study, part two: the method (ingredient list, pastry chef tips and techniques on brioche)
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #1, the control
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #2, the almost Chavot-brioche
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #3, the pain au lait
A brioche study, recipe: brioches #4 and #5
A brioche study, part three: impact of the egg-to-milk ratio in rich doughs.
A brioche study, ressources: Brioche in literature.

I hope you’ll like this experiment as much as I do, even the most boring parts. Follow #briochestudy on Instagram for real-time science :)

And, of course, I wish you all the happiest new year! To 2016 and brioches. X

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