Brioche is an enriched dough; in addition to the usual dough ingredients of flour, water, yeast, and salt, an enriched dough typically includes egg, sugar, and dairy. In the case of brioche, most of the water content of the dough is obtained from eggs and the dairy component is provided by a mountain of butter. The end result is a supremely tender bread with a deep golden, but still soft, crust and a rich buttery aroma and flavour.
Brioche recipes vary somewhat. Some add water, milk, or even cream, along with the eggs, whilst others rely entirely on egg for their water content. It is often necessary to adjust the hydration of a dough during the mixing stage, so in this recipe most of the liquid comes from eggs, but with some from milk with which it is easier to make minor adjustments.
Sugar content can be varied according to use, whether the brioche is to be a sweet treat or used in a savoury dish; 10% of the flour weight is a good starting point. Butter content also varies widely between recipes; 50% of the flour weight is fairly typical. It is well worth using a good quality butter in any recipe for Viennoiserie or pastry as it contributes so much to the flavour and character of the dough; here I used an unpasteurised butter from Normandy. An unsalted butter is preferred so that one can control the total amount of salt in the dough.
Brioche dough is not easy to work by hand. It starts out somewhat stiff and sticky and, when the butter is incorporated, it becomes a sloppy mess. In the accompanying brioche videos I demonstrate how to work the dough by hand, but one might prefer to make it with the aid of a stand mixer.
The recipe below makes enough dough for around 18 buns, each scaled at approximately 75g, although the dough can be shaped into other forms, such as a brioche loaf, with baking time adjusted accordingly.
- 600g white bread flour
- 300g unsalted butter
- 360g egg (shelled weight, approximately 7 medium eggs), plus extra for glazing
- 70g milk, plus extra for adjustment of the dough where needed and for glazing
- 60g caster sugar
- 9g (c. 3 tsp) instant dried yeast
- 12g salt
Cut the butter into cubes and leave at room temperature to soften.
Place the flour in a mixing bowl and mix in the yeast.
Place another bowl on the scales and break the eggs into it until there is enough by weight. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, and weigh the correct amount into the flour.
Add the milk and then mix until the ingredients are incorporated.
At this stage, add a little more milk if needed to form a somewhat sticky but not unduly soft dough.
Add the sugar to the bowl and work into the dough.
Cover and leave for around 20 minutes for the flour to hydrate.
Knead the dough on a worktop, without using additional flour or oil, until fairly smooth and with some elasticity; about 5 minutes.
Cover the dough with the bowl and leave to rest for 10 minutes or so.
Spread the dough out a little and sprinkle over the salt. Rub the salt into the dough and work to incorporate it properly.
Spread the dough out once more and distribute the butter over the surface. Fold the dough over the butter and begin to knead the dough to incorporate the butter.
As the butter is absorbed the dough will become very soft, sticky, and may seem entirely unmanageable, but persist with the kneading until it returns to a reasonable state; this will probably take a good 10 minutes.
Scoop up the dough, sprinkle some flour onto the worktop and drop the dough on the floured surface. With lightly floured hands, form the dough into a ball.
Generously flour the mixing bowl, return the dough and cover. Leave to ferment for one hour.
After the first hour of fermentation, remove the dough, dust off the excess flour, and stretch and fold the dough to build some strength.
Return to the bowl and cover. Allow to ferment for 60 to 90 minutes more and then fold the dough again.
At this stage it can be shaped, proved, and baked, or the dough can be covered and placed in the refrigerator, typically overnight, where it will continue to develop slowly.
Divide and shape as needed; 75g portions make a good sized bun. Cut some pieces of parchment paper to a suitable size for the oven and place the shaped buns on the paper to prove. Flatten each bun a little as they will rise considerably in the oven.
Cover and prove for 60 to 90 minutes, or a little longer for refrigerated dough.
Half an hour before baking, turn the oven to 185°C, placing a baking stone or heavy baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat through.
Prepare the glaze by beating an egg with a splash of milk.
When ready to bake, apply the egg wash with a pastry brush, then slide the buns into the oven on the parchment paper and bake for around 20 minutes until a rich golden brown.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.