The first instruction, should you decide to attempt this recipe, is to listen to Edit Piaf on a loop. I fell in love with Brioche when my mother decided to move to Europe and start fixing up an old farm house in Cognac. There was a little patisserie in the town that she insisted upon going to for pain au chocolate and I insisted upon trying this delicious looking golden brown bread that was calling to me from the shelf.
One disclaimer- you will think that you’ve done this incorrectly until it is done! Don’t be frightened by the fact that it seems very odd to make. The second thing to keep in mind, I would suggest against making this unless you have a really good stand mixer with a dough hook. Unfortunately, some tools cannot be substituted and this in one of them. I am fortunate enough that in 2003 my friends got together to buy me a Kitchen Aid Artisan stand mixer for my birthday. It didn’t hurt that I was using it to make the wedding cake for Mr. and Mrs. Batty (on my birthday, no less!), but I love them, so it was a pleasure 😉
Brioche will stale very quickly, but do not fret- this is one of the single best breads to use for making French Toast and this is best done with stale bread.
For the Sponge:
1/3 cup warm whole milk (100ºF to 110ºF)
2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Dough:
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Egg Wash:
1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbsp cold water
For the Sponge:
Put the milk, yeast, egg, and 1 cup of the flour in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Mix the ingredients together with a rubber spatula, mixing just until everything is blended. Sprinkle over the remaining cup of flour to cover the sponge.
Rest: Set the sponge aside to rest uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes. After this resting time, the flour coating will crack, your indication that everything is moving along properly.
For the Dough:
Add the sugar, salt, eggs, and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge. Set the bowl into the mixer, attach the dough hook, and mix on low speed for a minute or two, just until the ingredients look as if they’re about to come together. Still mixing, sprinkle in 1/2 cup more flour. When the flour is incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 15 minutes, stopping to scrape down the hook and bowl as needed. During this mixing period, the dough should come together, wrap itself around the hook, and slap the sides of the bowl. If, after 7 to 10 minutes, you don’t have a cohesive, slapping dough, add up to 3 tablespoons more flour. Continue to beat, giving the dough a full 15 minutes in the mixer – don’t skimp on the time; this is what will give the brioche its distinctive texture.
Warning: Be warned – your mixer will become extremely hot. Most heavy-duty mixers designed for making bread can handle this long beating, although if you plan to make successive batches of dough, you’ll have to let your machine cool down completely between batches. If you have questions about your mixer’s capacity in this regard, call the manufacturer before you start.
Incorporating the Butter: In order to incorporate the butter into the dough, you must work the butter until it is the same consistency as the dough. You can bash the butter into submission with a rolling pin or give it kinder and gentler handling by using a dough scraper to smear it bit by bit across a smooth work surface. When it’s ready, the butter will be smooth, soft, and still cool – not warm, oily, or greasy.
With the mixer on medium-low, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time. This is the point at which you’ll think you’ve made a huge mistake, because the dough that you worked so hard to make smooth will fall apart – carry on. When all of the butter has been added, raise the mixer speed to medium-high for a minute, then reduce the speed to medium and beat the dough for about 5 minutes, or until you once again hear the dough slapping against the sides of the bowl. Clean the sides of the bowl frequently as you work; if it looks as though the dough is not coming together after 2 to 3 minutes, add up to 1 tablespoon more flour. When you’re finished, the dough should still feel somewhat cool. It will be soft and still sticky and may cling slightly to the sides and bottom of the bowl.
First Rise: Transfer the dough to a very large buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
Second Rise and Chilling: Deflate the dough by placing your fingers under it, lifting a section of dough, and then letting it fall back into the bowl. Work your way around the circumference of the dough, lifting and releasing. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight, or for at least 4 to 6 hours, during which time it will continue to rise and may double in size again. After this long chill, the dough is ready to use in any brioche recipe.
Storing: If you are not going to use the dough after the second rise, deflate it, wrap it airtight, and store it in the freezer. The dough can remain frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw the dough, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight and use it directly from the refrigerator.