For most people, Super Bowl Sunday is a time to gather around the television with friends and family to experience the joy of a shared viewing experience, regardless of one’s interest in sports. For the more deranged minds among us, it’s a time to get competitive and do your best to one-up everyone else at your friend’s Super Bowl party by creating a themed dish with a punny name. Because I fall into the latter camp, I would like to teach you how to make Pink Brioche Buns for your Sloppy Joannes.
Today’s culinary adventure began with this recipe from Jane Sigal at The New York Times. “Light Brioche Buns” sounded right because while Joanne was a personal album with some atypically dark and emotional moments, I wouldn’t call it “heavy.” To my surprise, Pink Sloppy Joanne Brioche Bun-making required just three ingredients I didn’t already have on hand (bread flour, red food coloring, active dry yeast) and one kitchen tool (a dough scraper), so I began my morning with a trip to the nearest kitchen supply store.
The scrapers available were either made of metal, wood, or plastic. I opted out of the metal options to avoid scraping my countertops and said no to the green plastic one because it was, frankly, hideous, and went with the wooden guy, who was both dishwasher safe and had a lifetime guarantee—a perk which led to a brief, satisfying daydream about how it would feel 10 years down the road (if the world hasn’t ended by then), to win an argument with the manufacturer about why I deserved a replacement dough scraper for free. After a quick stop at the grocery store, I came home, laid everything out on the counter for a photo (see below), and read the recipe one more time to familiarize myself with the steps. (Celebrity chefs love telling you to do this, so of course I listen.)
Most of the cooking time was inactive, as the buns required 1.5-hour rises, and the dough-making itself was considerably less fuck-uppable than I expected. I got that yeast to start feeding on some sugar, dumped the flours in a bowl, added salt, beat an egg, mixed it all together, and turned it all into this:
In the 8 to 10 minutes I spent working the dough into the “smooth and elastic” ball Sigal asked for during which I sang, “I’ve got smooth skin, and an elastic ball” quietly to myself to pass the time, I remembered some warnings from commenters saying it would be quite sticky. Odd comments, I thought, because isn’t dough sticky by nature? And isn’t a scraper meant to make sticky dough easier to work with? The answer to both of those questions is yes, and I continued scraping until realizing that getting lost in thought about the inherent qualities of dough caused me to forget the most important ingredient: red food coloring. I gasped and added a few drops to the minimally worked mound and instantly wailed over not remembering to add it sooner. The color struggled to blend evenly into the dough (like it would have had I remembered to add it to the wet ingredients first), and the end result less solid pink than it was tie dyed red.
I set the bread aside to rise in a warm place, which ended up being a table just a few feet away from my radiator. My building never gets warm enough in the winter, and this dough is the first object to have ever been satisfied by the heater’s output. For the next batch, I adjusted the recipe and added 10ish drops of the red chemical I low-key fear will kill me into the beaten egg, which was both a good idea and disgusting.
After eight more minutes, I had the uniformly pink dough I’d been hoping for. 90 minutes after that, it was—dare I say it—sort of beautiful—like a red giant from another solar system, or a butt cheek smashed against a pane of glass.
After cutting the dough into 16 individual rolls, I laid them out on two baking sheets and let them rise for 90 more minutes. Once brushed with an egg wash, I realized that a circle of sesame seeds would be a fun, obvious way to represent the ribbon on Gaga’s pink hat. Cute? Easy? Not really! Making a circle of sesame seeds on each bun seemed tough to do freehand, so I MacGuyvered some circle-making tools out of a few things within reaching distance.
The first was the lid of a Mason jar. Nope! Too wide. The second was a cone I constructed out of paper because I thought i could just drop the seeds on the sides of the cone and watch them gracefully fall into place.
While my conical concoction technically worked, the diameter was too small, and I felt appropriately dune-like for constructing something so silly for a task as theoretically easy as sprinkling sesame seeds on a freshly egg-washed Brioche bun. Then it suddenly hit me, Bobby, you’re an idiot. Make a stencil. So, reader, I made a stencil.
It wasn’t until this very moment that I realized I could have used the ring from the Mason jar instead of its lid, or x-acto knifing out a circle. Wow, I’m truly stupid.
Anyway, now came the time to bake. I split the buns into three batches, which gave me two opportunities to learn from my mistakes. Batch 1, which followed Sigal’s directions precisely (bake for 15 minutes on the center rack of a 400-degree oven, turning once midway through) left me with overly browned buns that masked the pink color I’d worked so hard to attain. I consulted with a former recipe tester friend of mine, who suggested I move the rack to the bottom, reduce the temperature to 350, and cook for slightly longer. This was an improvement—aka a more noticeable pink tint—but it wasn’t perfect. If these buns were to work—that is, be successfully photographed a social media post—they could not be golden brown. The pun would be lost!
After two batches, we suddenly realized the culprit: the egg wash. It should have been obvious, but it wasn’t, and now I was left with one remaining batch of Pink Sloppy Joanne Brioche Buns that had already been tainted with egg. What now? The answer, I learned, was aluminum foil. In the same way foil can be laid atop the edges of pie crusts to prevent them burning during the cooking process, it can be draped over a batch of pink Sloppy Joanne Brioche Buns to prevent the egg wash you absent-mindedly brushed them with from reacting so dramatically to the oven’s high heat.
20 minutes later and one turn later, I’d done it.
I hope you decide to bake these for today’s big game, or, you know, any day you want to invite your “Grigio Girls” over and celebrate Lady Gaga’s 2016 album.