I'm an early riser. Most days, I'm up by 5.30am. What do I do? Well, after a cup of tea, I usually either switch on the television or step into the kitchen to bake. And then at about 7.30, I head on out to the gym. Last Monday, I woke up a little earlier than usual. By 5am, I was already sipping on my cup of tea. I was excited: I was going to make brioche. Or rather, I was about to bake brioche.
Brioche is a French Viennoiserie (a yeasted dough enriched with eggs, sugar, butter, milk, cream that's made into a bread). A good brioche ends up tasting like the perfect cross between bread, pastry and cake. Deliciously buttery, slightly sweet, slightly savoury, flaky and chewy. The impossibility of this juxtaposition of texture and flavour is what makes the brioche so special.
As complicated as it sounds, brioche dough is actually pretty straightforward to make. It does, however require some time: mixing the dough can be done in a jiffy but the dough needs time to rise and then more time to chill in the fridge before it is ready for the oven.
I made my dough two days before, on Saturday, and left it to chill in the fridge for a good 30 hours or so. Patience is not one of my strong points and waiting two days to actually use the dough took some will power. But, wait I did as I wanted a good result.
Mixing the brioche dough can be a sticky affair as the dough is rather wet and extremely clingy. As such, using a stand mixer is often recommended but I personally find it a chore to wash/clean my mixer and therefore decided to use a wooden spoon for the job. It's sturdy enough and much simpler to clean.
Once chilled, the dough comes together a little more and is easier to handle. It's still a little sticky but not too difficult to work with. The dough is also wonderfully soft... much softer than any bread dough I've ever come across.
To work with the sticky dough, I kept a little softened butter at my side to lightly butter my hands a little. I ended up with quite a large quantity of dough which was great as I wanted to make several things with the dough. The first was the brioche à tête, which is the most recognisable form of brioche for most of us: a small dinner roll with a small head/knob on top. The rolls are made in a fluted brioche mould which I replaced with a fluted mini tart mould which looked similar to the original, if a little smaller.
Brioche is usually eaten with dessert or tea. It is sometimes filled with raisins, chocolate chips and such sweet bits or it can also be eaten plain. I made two varieties of brioche à tête: one that was filled with some cranberry jam and the other was plain, with just some coarse sugar as a topping.
I also used to dough to make a stuffed braided loaf with a mushroom and cream cheese filling, topped with some poppy seed. I wanted to use nigella seeds but wasn't able to find any in the grocer.
Lastly, I used the dough to make some regular dinner rolls.
The smell of freshly baked brioche (in and out of the oven) is simply ... sublime. If you are easily intoxicated with the smell of freshly baked bread, you just might be in seventh heaven with the smell of brioche in the oven. Once again, it's the smell of the yeast mixed with the butter ... really, it's quite sublime.
A slight aside: there was a recent study by some French researchers from the University of Brittany in France on the effects the smell of freshly baked bread had on people. The results were that the comforting smell of bread actually made the subjects behave more kindly to strangers. Check it out here in this report from The Independent!
I don't know if I behave more kindly when bread is baking in the oven but I certainly am happy. And with the brioche, well I was extremely cheery ... and I didn't want to leave my house which meant, yes, I skipped didn't make it to the gym on Monday. And I ended up eating way too many brioche à têtes. Double whammy!
(adapted from artisanbreadinfive.com)
This makes a large quantity of dough which can be chilled for up to five days or frozen for longer)
340g butter, melted
8gm dry, active yeast (about 1 tbsp)
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (scant) sugar (or 1/2 cup honey as in the original recipe)
1 tbsp salt
1cup warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
Mix together the yeast, butter, sugar/honey, salt, eggs, water + milk in a tall, 5 liter container (I used my rice cooker pot which is medium in size -- can cook up to 5 cups of rice). Mix in the flour until it is nicely incorporated in the liquid. the dough will be wet and sticky. Cover with a cloth and let it rest and rise for about 2 hours.
After 2 hours, deflate the dough (it should have risen nicely) so that it comes away from the sides of the container. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
To make the brioche à têtes.
Pinch of a small portion of the dough and roll into a ball, Place it into the mould. Pinch off a smaller but of dough (about a third of the main ball), roll into a smaller ball and mount it on the roll. Brush the top of the brioche à têtes with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar/chopped nuts. Bake in a preheated oven (200C) for about 20 mins or until golden.