Torrijas are a traditional spanish sweet that is made particularly for Easter. I’ve recently read that in fact, just in Madrid, about 5 million torrijas are sold! We are about 3 million, so make your calculations! For those who don’t know, traditional torrijas are made by soaking thick slices of stale bread (any bread will do, but a special enriched pan au lait loaf is sold at this time for that purpose) in lemon rind and cinnamon infused milk. Then, they’re dipped in an egg wash and fried until golden brown. While still hot they are coated with a ground cinnamon and granulated sugar mix or with a hot infused syrup (I definitely prefer them just coated).
Apparently the analogy is that torrijas, like Easter, represent life and death of Christ. To the catholics, bread represents the body of Christ, who dies at this time, just like torrijas are “dead” (stale) bread. The milk and the eggs are a metaphor for the required baths for the body to resurrect, and the frying reflects the suffering he went through. So, the body is resurrected just as the “dead” bread is, that’s why it’s considered a divine dessert in Easter.
But, it is not these torrijas I’m referring to but a “pain perdú”-like version I first tried in Mugaritz back in 2002 (take a look at this photo), which had me dreaming about this dessert…until I learned how to make them during a short stage there. I wonder if the idea to this dish came from Martin Berasategui, as years later I found his book “Calendario de Nuestra Cocina Tradicional” on “refreshed” traditional cuisine published in 2001, which gave a very similar recipe. The beautiful book, by the way, is definitely worth having. I’ve been looking into it, since Andoni Luiz Aduriz was part of the group Berasategui at that time. Some sources say it was Aduriz’s creation, other Berasategui’s…what does it matter anyway? What matters is that it was created!
To describe it to you…imagine a thick butter-soft brioche soaked to saturation in an infused milk and cream mix, then seared from all sides in a sugar and butter caramel. So that when you take your first spoonful, you break the crisp outer caramel layer to expose the inner juicy and creamy brioche sponge. You’ll just have to try it!…The recipe that follows is a slightly simplified version, as the original after being caramelised on the skillet is layered with an almond pastry cream and further caramelised. I’ve omitted that part as it’s already good as it is…so why add more?
I’ve also included a recipe for brioche adapted from the fantastic Dan Lepard, in case you feel brave enough to do it and delight yourself with the buttery aroma that fills up the house!…and the incredible taste and texture, of course!
Brioche and Torrijas
(for one ~400g brioche loaf and 6 or 8 torrijas)
For the brioche:
200g strong flourFor the torrijas:
3.5g instant yeast or about 10g fresh yeast, see this yeast conversion table).
100g eggs (about 2 L eggs…Dan also adds in a yolk but I haven’t included it)
25g caster sugar
125g butter cut into small dices (this could be up to 150g)
1 extra egg to brush over the brioche
*Plus, you’ll need a dough scraper to work the dough!
The brioche loaf resulting from the above recipe (or any other brioche or pain au lait sort of bread loaf about 400-500g)
300g cream (35% fat)
300g whole milk
150g beaten egg (it’s 1/4 the weight of milk and cream together)
90g granulated sugarPlus:
(optional flavourings: I used a strip of orange rind, 2 of lemon and 1 cinnamon stick. A bit of orange blossom water instead is fantastic…but I’ve kept traditional)
extra granulated sugar to caramelise the torrijas
extra butter to grease the pan to caramelise the torrijasFor the brioche, 1 day ahead, boil the milk and leave until room temperature. This is done to destroy casein, a milk protein which toughens the crumb).
top up with warm water to bring back to 20 ml, if some milk evaporated.
Stir in the yeast and 1 tbsp of the total flour
Cover and rest about 20-30 min.
Beat eggs, yolks with sugar and salt and pour in.
Add remaining flour and mix as quickly as possible so that the flour takes in the liquid homogeneously. When completely mixed, cover and leave to rest 30 min.
Scrape the dough on a work surface and work it for a little bit until it feels slightly less sticky using this fantastic french kneading technique demonstrated by Richard Bertinet (if you look in you tube for “french dough kneading” you’ll find a funny video on the same technique). I think it works wonders with this sticky dough, the idea is to lift the dough and slap it against the work surface, then stretch it up and fold it in half over itself in an arc to trap air…using a pastry scraper as often as you need to bring the dough together, YOU WILL NEED IT!
Start incorporating the butter (it shouldn’t be too soft if you are doing it by hand, specially if in summer or it will melt and be a mess) and working it in little by little by kneading in the manner just described (lifting, slapping, stretching and folding) until your dough is soft and elastic, and starts to come off the surface by itself…and your fingers!
I think this step is important to develop the gluten. I’ve tried the same recipe without working the dough until it didn’t stick and believe me, the result is completely different. It is buttery alright, but it has a more cakey crumb structure. Also, I must warn you that by hand it took me a good 15 minutes to get to that stage! It’s good workout, though!
Cover and rest at room temperature for about half an hour, give it a book fold, turn 90º and repeat to get a tight ball and then place in the fridge overnight covered with cling film.(You could actually at this stage, leave it in the fridge for 2 or 3 days until ready to use it, just degas it if it rises).
The next day…it won’t have doubled, don’t worry. Butter a loaf tin, shape the dough into a cylinder and place into the mould.
Let rise until almost doubled (it will take about 2-3 hours). I’ve placed it in a cold oven over a pan with boiling water because since it’s winter, that way it will be at around 20-25ºC (in the house it’s not even 18ºC!) and with the vapour it won’t form a skin.
Brush with the beaten egg and bake at 180ºC for about 20 minutes. It should be dark golden brown and if pierced be completely dry. Remove from the oven.
As soon as it can be handled, remove from the tin and cool on a wire-rack
I wish you could smell the richness of the crumb, it’s sooo soft!
You can let cool and do the torrijas then, or you can just leave it for a day or two and do it without a problem…
Let’s begin by preparing the infused cream, if you decide to infuse it. Berasategui and Andoni don’t, but I like the traditional touch of the lemon and cinnamon. Like I said in the introduction, my favourite so far is plain, that is, not infused but with a touch of orange-blossom water! To infuse, just bring the milk and cream to a boil together with the cinnamon, lemon and orange rinds.
Cover with film wrap and let infuse for at least half an hour, or ideally until cool.
Meanwhile cut your brioche into torrijas. Cut all borders off to get an even rectangle and then you have two options. Either cut the brioche into 6 thick slices (about 60g each, which is the recommended serving portion) or cut it in 8 pieces, which I think is a reasonable size…plus, you get more torrijas! To do this, you would cut the brioche in half lengthwise and the into 4 slices. Below are is a photo showing you both options, the brioche is cut in half and each can be cut in 4 or 3:
See below each portion side by side…not that big of a difference, after all!
Beat the eggs and add in the infused cream mix and the sugar and stir until dissolved. Then strain into a tupper which will fit all the torrijas side by side.
Cover and leave to soak, turning once, for ideally over 8 hours. I always leave it overnight to soak up all the tasty and creamy mix.
The next day, when you are ready to serve your torrijas (you can do this ahead, but since it is nicer warm-ish, just place in the over at a very low temperature to warm a little, just a little or you’ll coagulate the egg and the filling won’t feel as juicy!) get as many as you want off the bath.
It varies a lot on the type of “bread/brioche” you’ve got how it sucks up the liquid and how it keeps together. If you see that your “brioche” is leaking a lot of liquid as you remove the torrijas to caramelise, then place them over any type of rack to remove excess liquid or they’ll break apart when you cook them.
Warm up over medium heat a frying pan as big as possible to hold all the torrijas you want to make in one batch with ample space to turn them comfortably and confidently!(specially your first batch!)
When it is warm, dust a thin layer of granulated sugar over the side of the torrijas that will go in first…
With a bit of kitchen paper grab a dollop of butter and grease the pan surface with it. Place your torrijas on the pan, sugar-coated side down.
When you see the bottom caramelised, it should take very little, a bit over 10-15 seconds (you don’t want to caramelise slowly or more juice will come out and the egg will coagulate) add another thin layer of sugar over the tops and turn with a spatula big enough to lift them up whole.
If you are not too confident, you could stop here, in fact in the video link of Berasategui in the introduction, he just does two sides…But if you dare go on, I think it’s much nicer caramelised on all sides to keep in the creamy juices.
So, turn your torrijas on their side, even if they have no sugar and coat the side that results facing up and immediately place that side down.
Now you can do the other side that’s been slightly “branded” with some more sugar.
Repeat with the last two sides. What I do is I keep the kitchen paper I used to grease the pan and after each turn, remove excess caramel attached to the pan, so that it doesn’t burn and stick to the torrijas as they turn. I’ve got to be honest, this is the way I like to do it so the coating of sugar is very fine and it doesn’t dissolve with the liquid. If you find it’s too complicated, what is usually done is to coat the torrijas with sugar on all sides and keep turning them, so you don’t have to bother to keep adding on each turn. Try and decide which method you prefer.
Remove the torrijas onto individual dishes to serve or a tray to later place onto dishes.
Finally, while warm clean up the pan with extra paper, since while it’s warm, it will come out easily, but later….it’ll be hell to clean up! Just watch your fingers, it’s caramel!
So, what do you think? Isn’t she pretty?
And let’s see inside…
Is that creamy or what?
And the crust, oh, the crust!
A delight! I hope you decide to try it and see for yourselves! Ah, warm with a scoop of fresh cream ice-cream (in Mugaritz it’s served with fresh sheep’s milk ice-cream and confit lemon zest)…I have no words!