ham and cheese brioche muffins

If you're ever in Brookyn–Williamsburg to be exact–you do NOT want to go to Smorgasburg. Definitely not. Never. Nope, not at all. So what is Smorgasburg, you might ask, and why am I telling you to stay away? A food lover's paradise, that's what, and if you don't go, there'll be more for meeeee! Row after row, stall after stall, every imaginable cuisine. Mexican, Thai, Indian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, South American, barbecue, condiments (like the gourmet horseradishes from Ish…swoon), coffees, spices, ice creams, baked goods…you name it, they've got it.

When Mr. Dough and I met up with Junior Dough not too long ago and stopped by Smorgasburg at East River Park (the better location so I hear), one of the things that really stood out (aside from the dosas, the summer rolls, the macarons, the brisket, the oysters…okay, not the oysters for me because, yuck) was the Bruffin, a cute little brioche muffin (BrUffin, get it?) featuring tastes from around the world–each bruffin in decorated with the flag of the country it represents. Now I'm not a particular fan of really buttery stuff overall but these, especially the British Bruffin with bacon and cheddar, were actually quite good. And I found myself wondering, "Can I can do this at home!" Answer: "Of course I can!" With ham and cheese? You bet.

I've only made brioche once before, in my Artisanal Bread course at the International Culinary Center so initially I went straight for that recipe from my class materials since I remembered thinking it wasn't half bad. But I had just bought a new bunch of bread books and while leafing through one of them, Simply Great Breads by Daniel Leader, I found another recipe for brioche muffins. (It was especially nice that I didn't have to break out my calculator to bring the recipe down to human proportions–the ICC recipe makes 20 LOAVES. 20 BIG loaves. Leader's makes 12 MUFFINS. Phew. Because math and I, even with a calculator? Not good friends.) I made a plain test batch first, to make sure it was a recipe I liked before investing in good ham and good cheese (I'm getting all Ina Garten here with the GOOD stuff. Like someone would deliberately buy BAD, Ina?). And they were fab. Light, airy, flaky, sweet but not too, buttery but not too. Perfect! 

This, like most brioche doughs, is a very soft dough that chills overnight so that it's easily workable. The original recipe calls for making each muffin with three dough balls crammed into a muffin cup but while that was fine for the plain version, I didn't think it would work for a filled muffin. So instead, I rolled out a rectangle on a well-floured board, covered the dough with diced ham and grated cheese, folded it thirds, and rolled it again. Then instead of rolling the dough up jelly-roll style, I cut it into strips, twisted each strip and then gathered the twist loosely into the muffin cups. (Got that?) What I ended up with was a very pretty, light and flaky savory muffin that made for some awesome eating–with the slight sweetness of the dough an excellent counterpoint to the savoriness of the ham and cheese. And if I do say so myself, they were way better than the original Bruffins that inspired them–nothing against Bruffins but fresh-out-of-the-oven wins every time. 

Now that I've got the brioche love, I can't wait to try other combos. So see ya later peeps, I think I hear brown sugar cinnamon calling my name. Or parmesan rosemary. Or sundried tomato and pesto. Or…

ham and cheese brioche muffins

Ingredients

Dough

  • 500g / 3.5 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 60g / 1/3 cup sugar
  • 15g / 1 tbsp instant yeast
  • 7.5g / 1.5 tsp fine sea salt or kosher salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 48g / 1/4 cup chilled water (55°F)
  • 140g / 10 oz unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" pieces, chilled

Glaze

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp water

Filling

  • 8 oz ham, diced
  • 8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded

Instructions

  1. Add flour, sugar, yeast, and salt to the bowl of your mixer.
  2. In a bowl or measuring cup, combine the 5 eggs and water and stir together.
  3. Add the egg/water mixture to the flour mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula until it comes together in a rough ball. Connect the bowl to the mixer and with the dough hook attachment, knead on medium speed for approximately 6 minutes, or until you see some gluten development.
  4. While the mixer is running on medium speed, add the butter one piece at a time but without stopping. You don't need to wait until the previous pieces are incorporated before adding the next. Once all the butter is added, the dough will be very lumpy with pieces of butter throughout. Continue kneading on medium speed until the butter is fully incorporated  and the dough is shiny and smooth, approximately 5–6 minutes.
  5. Remove and scrape down the dough hook and scrape down the side of the bowl, then cover with plastic wrap (or a reusable shower cap!), then let rest for about 1 hour at room temperature. After the dough has rested, place it in the refrigerator and chill overnight or for about 8–12 hours.
  6. The next day (or when the dough has chilled for 8–12 hours), prepare two 12-muffin capacity pans by spraying them with baking spray or lining every other cup with a muffin liner (I used tulip shaped parchment liners).
  7. Generously flour your work surface, turn the dough out onto it and dust the dough with flour. Roll the dough into a rectangle, approximately 8 x 16" and about 1/2" thick. Make sure to lift the dough frequently to be sure it's not sticking; add more flour as needed.
  8. Spread the cheese and ham evenly over the rectangle, then gently press them into the dough. Fold the top third of the dough over the middle, then fold the bottom third over the other two, a letter fold. (The dough is somewhat soft so I used my cake lifter to help with the folding.) Pat the edges to seal, then roll the dough into another rectangle, about 3/4" thick.
  9. With a knife or pizza cutter, trim the edges of the dough (save these and bake them up), then cut along the short side to make 10 even strips.
  10. Take each strip and gently twist the ends a few times in opposite directions, then holding the two ends, pick up the twisted strip at the middle, take the ends and place them in the bottom of the prepared muffin cups, and arrange the remaining loop on top (I know that sounds as clear as mud but it instinct kicks in here and it's really easy. Trust me.) Fill every other cup since these muffins puff up a lot.
  11. Cover the muffin pans lightly with plastic wrap and let rest for about 1 1/2–2 hours or until doubled in volume.
  12. About 1 hour before baking, preheat your oven to 375°.
  13. Whisk together the remaining egg and 1 tbsp water, then brush over the tops of the muffins.
  14. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, switching racks and rotating the muffin pans for even baking. Tent the muffins with foil if they're browning too quickly.
  15. Cool in the pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pans and allow to cool completely. The muffins will keep at room temperature for about two days – if they last that long.

Inspired by the Bruffins at Smorgasburg and adapted from Daniel Leader's Simply Great Breads