Parsnip Parsimony- A vegan baking and science blog.

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Some experiments involving vegan brioche

Posted by Susie on January 5, 2008

 Can you guess which brioches contain extra gluten? Read on to find out!

So, when I made vegan challah a while ago, I think I got pretty close to determining both what eggs do in a lean yeasted bread, and a good way of replacing them. Rich yeasted dough, however, has slightly different needs.  Typically, since fat weakens dough structure, the amount of eggs called for in rich bread increases as the butter content increases.  Eggs, therefore, serve as structure providers in doughs with high fat content, as opposed to their use as tenderizers in lean eggy doughs such as challah.  Back in spring of ’06, I was determined to find a method of replacing eggs in these rich yeasted doughs. I remember looking through my baking text book in order to find the bread formula that called for the most eggs and the most butter. The dough I found that had the highest egg and butter content was brioche. I believe that particular formula called for a ratio of 80g butter to 100g flour (80% in the bakers percent terminology), which is a whole LOT of butter. My first attempt to veganize this recipe was the same exact method I had luck veganizing challah with. (The challah experiment I posted here a month and a half ago was really a re-creation of an experiment I had done in ’06.) I replaced the butter with margarine, and the egg with tofu with enough water pressed out that the protein and water content would be the same as egg. This failed horribly. The dough was crumbly, and never came together because it was way too stiff and dry. The baked brioches this dough made were not so good, either. “SO”, I thought, “I need another method of veganizing rich yeast bread than I do lean yeast bread”.

Since I was pretty sure the eggs were called for as structure providers (and maybe also as emulsifiers due to the giant quantities of fat in the dough), I decided to try the “other” structure providing protein, good old wheat gluten, to see how it did at holding up all that fat.  Now, wheat gluten, if used in high quantities in dough, can make some breads “chewy”.  Bagels are made from 13% gluten flour, and I calculated that if I replaced all the egg protein called for by my brioche recipe by adding gluten powder, that it would essentially be like using flour that is 16% gluten (!), which is really a high amount of gluten, comparatively. “BUT!”, I figured, “This is a dough that is one third fat! and I really doubt that it will be made tough, dense, or chewy, because that is a lot of fat”. So I tried another brioche dough, this time adding the amount of water, fat, and lecithin I calculated was called for by the recipe, and replacing the egg protein with gluten protein. I ended up with gorgeous little brioches, and my baking teachers couldn’t tell the difference between my vegan and traditional brioches.

Fast forward to this friday. I have been meaning to re-start my brioche studies while now. I realised that I was missing one important thing from what I did before: I knew brioche didn’t work when I tried to use tofu, and I did know it did work when I used gluten, water, fat, and lecithin, but I didn’t know if it would have worked if I had only added the water, fat, and lecithin, and not the gluten.

I found a new brioche formula. This time, I based my experiment off of “Rich Man’s Brioche” from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”. It called for even more butter than the formula I had used before: butter and flour in a near 1:1 ratio! I decided to try making two doughs simultaneously, both with enough added water, oil, and lecithin to replace what would have been in the egg Reinhart called for, but that I would add an amount of gluten protein to one of the doughs to replace the missing amount of egg protein. Here is what happened:

Each dough had a starter consisting of:

  • 0.6 oz bread flour
  • 0.1 oz dry yeast
  • 1.0 oz unsweetened soymilk

The starter was mixed with:

  •  1.6 oz tap water
  • 0.2 oz oil
  • 1 drop liquid soy lecithin

Once the starter was dispersed and broken up into the water, I added:

  • 4.0 oz bread flour (King Arthur brand)
  • 0.3 oz sugar
  • 0.1 oz salt (Next time I make these, I plan on omiting this salt, because the original recipe calls for unsalted butter, but they don’t make unsalted Earth Balance, so my final product was very salty)
  • To one of the doughs, I added 0.2 oz vital wheat gluten at this stage.

This addition was mixed at a slow speed for 6 minutes, then on a slightly faster speed for 6 minutes, then allowed to rest for 5 minutes. (I used a 6 quart kitchenaid mixer and a dough hook.)

Using a dough hook, then switching halfway through to a paddle attachment, I mixed the following into my dough, a small amount at a time, frequently scraping the sides of the bowl:

  • 4.0 oz Earth balance buttery stick (one stick)

Once all of the margarine was incorporated, I mixed the dough about 5 minutes more on a low speed, scraping the bowl as needed.  Each dough was placed in a bowl, covered with saran wrap, and allowed to ferment, chilled, overnight.

The next day, I formed each dough into balls and put them in a mini muffin pan. I put 5 mini-brioches made from the dough without the added gluten on one side of my muffin pan and 6 mini-brioches made from the dough with the added gluten on the other side. (to remind myself which side had “less” gluten.) The remaining dough I formed into balls and placed next to each other in a mini-loaf pan. I covered all the formed dough with saran wrap, and put it outside to proof for about 5 hours, then brought it inside to proof at room temperature  for about 1 hour. I baked the brioches at 400 F until they were golden brown, and then let them cool.

Both doughs looked like they had formed reasonably decent brioches. Neither collapsed, which was a big fear, considering all of the fat that dough had to hold up. However, the brioche with the extra gluten rose considerably higher, looked fluffier, and had a much more resilient structure.

Both of these brioches weighed 21 grams, but the brioche on the left has added gluten protein to make up for missing egg protein. The brioche on the right does not.

These are the same brioches opened up:

The brioche with extra gluten also has a more resilient structure than the brioche without extra gluten. This is the loaf with both doughs baked side by side. I poked each side with equal pressure, and the extra gluten containing brioche bounced back much quicker and more completely.


Added gluten brioche wins!

So, in conclusion:

Its good to know that even in rich yeast breads containing a 1:1 flour to fat ratio, that egg protein isn’t totally nessasary to keep the bread from collapsing, and it is even better to know that a little gluten can make a vegan rich dough even nicer, have better volume, and be more resilient than otherwise.

Also, on a less technical note, these vegan brioches were really good. I can’t say I’ve ever even had brioche before, but they reminded me of another buttery yeast dough: croissants! They sure are rich and flakey, but you know, these are MUCH easier to make than croissants! No rolling and folding! I plan on making them again, for sure. If anyone tries this, make sure you omit the salt though, unless you happen to find unsalted vegan margarine, in which case you should tell ME where to find it.)

7 Responses to “Some experiments involving vegan brioche”

  1. Tofu Mom said

    Fascinating, just fascinating! I am such a nerdy cook, I always need to know “why” things work the way they do and why certain vegan subs work and others don’t… So this is great stuff. I’ll definitely be back…

  2. sarah said

    Wow…I would consider myself a “food nerd”, but you outshine me. I’m thinking I’m going to have to recreate these, partially for the experimental aspect, but also because they look so freaking yummy. 🙂

  3. Straw said

    Have you ever tried baking with butter flavored shortening? I use it for almost all vegan baked goods. It doesn’t leave vegan baked treats lacking the taste of butter. The mouthfeel may not be quite the same as butter, though, but I still prefer butter flavored shortening to Earth Balance and it isn;t salted, plus it’s easier to work with than butter or margarine sticks, it has built in emulsifiers, has tiny bubbles in it that aid in creaming, etc. What do you think about it?

  4. Susie said

    Hi Straw!
    I have often played with the idea of mixing non hydrogenated shortening with artificial butter flavor, and maybe some protein isolates and water for good measure. I’ve never gotten around to actually trying it though. Pre-flavored shortening sounds very convenient! I will keep an eye peeled.

  5. Straw said

    I’ve tried using the artificial butter flavoring too, but I find that the flavor cooks out quite a bit in baked goods, and that’s even when I practically use the whole bottle in a recipe, and you have to compensate for the extra liquid, unlike with shortening that’s already flavored. The butter flavored shortening tastes more like butter than real butter, in baked goods at least, if that makes sense. I wouldn’t spread it on toast or anything, of course. The only butter flavored shortening that I know of is made by Crisco, but they claim to be trans fat free, now.

  6. […] instead, I just added chocolate and orange to the added-gluten brioche formula I developed in January. The orange zest and bittersweet chocolate chunks made for the most outrageous yeast dough I have […]

  7. As a classically trained carnivore chef and now a practicing vegan. I too have tried to “veganize” several recipes and rich yeast doughs have been one that I have yet to explore. I was quite impressed with you calculations for the baking formulas (which I use as well–on the job training as an assistant pastry chef) I do have one question…when using lecithin, I have only used the granulated type what is the conversion from liquid to granulated for future reference.

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